There’s nothing better than taking a walk down memory lane on Spotify or putting an old mix CD in your car. Hearing familiar lyrics will take you back to your youth or evoke a happy time in your life. But you’d be lying if you said you weren’t a little shocked by some of the controversial lyrics.
Over the last 10 years, writing standards and filtering on the radio have dramatically changed. Lyrics that once came across as fun and edgy can leave you wondering, “How did they get away with that?”
Whether it’s Paramore’s “Misery Business,” which Hayley Williams has removed from their setlist, or Panic! At The Disco’s signature “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” there are definitely some lyrical choices that wouldn’t fly in 2020.
1. “Misery Business” — Paramore
Controversial lyrics: “Once a whore, you’re nothing more, I’m sorry that’ll never change”
Despite being the lead single off Paramore’s 2007 Riot!, Hayley Williams made the decision in 2018 to no longer include the track on the band’s setlist. In a recent Instagram post, Williams stated, “I know it’s one of the band’s biggest songs, but it shouldn’t be used to promote anything having to do with female empowerment or solidarity.” Prior to her recent post, Williams explained that the “lyrics in question” were written by a 17-year-old version of herself. We 100% respect the band’s decision to omit the track from their live performances, no matter how catchy it is.
2. “Last Caress” — Misfits
Controversial lyrics: “Well, I got something to say/I raped your mother today/And it doesn’t matter much to me/As long as she spread”
Glenn Danzig’s writing for the Misfits always bounced between being grindhouse retro-cool doo-wop and uncomfortably ultra-violent brutal, but the lyrics to “Last Caress” take Danzig’s blood-and-guts imagery to a baffling, and wince-inducing, level unmatched by anything else in the Misfits catalog. They may have songs about eating brains and chewing on children’s veins. But their cavalier use of the word “rape” stings the ear in a way that overshadows and tarnishes the otherwise singalong nature of the track—pulling the listener out of the requisite suspension of disbelief that allow lyrics such as “Hack the heads off little girls and put ’em on my wall” to be sung along to without shame.
3. “Not The American Average” — Asking Alexandria
Controversial lyrics: “I knew when I first saw you, you would fuck like a whore”
Asking Alexandria’s 2009 track “Not The American Average” is one of those songs that is so raunchy, they added an “explicit content warning” intro to it. The band really put it all out there and had no shame writing this particular track. Since releasing their debut album, Stand Up And Scream, the group have really shown their lyrical growth. Although “Not The American Average” was a staple of the band’s setlists, it has since been removed.
4. “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” — Mayhem
Controversial lyrics: “Maggots crawling in her cunt/I just love to lick that shit/Bury you in a slimy grave/You will rot forever there!”
Even just reading these Mayhem lyrics makes us blush to the point of turning our corpse paint beet red. Couple them with vocalist Sven Erik “Maniac” Kristiansen’s clogged-up garbage disposal vocal performance and listening to this track closely will make your stomach feel like it’s being fed into a meat grinder. Everything about Norwegian black-metal pioneers Mayhem is drenched in extreme violence. Murder and necrophilia aside, just the idea of licking maggots out of anything is utterly repulsive. This song is full of lyrics that are vile and ethically bankrupt, but Mayhem’s focus on details such as the slime of the grave and the maggot licking are just so hyper specifically grotesque that if you’re a metalhead who happens to be even slightly germaphobic, one thorough listening of this song will most likely induce a panic attack and a two-hour hand-washing session.
5. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” — Panic! At The Disco
Controversial lyrics: “And, yes, but what a shame, what a shame/The poor groom’s bride is a whore”
“I Write Sins Not Tragedies” put Panic! At The Disco on the map in early 2006. Despite having a few controversial lyrics in the track, frontman Brendon Urie still includes the staple song in every live performance. However, Urie chooses to filter the word “whore” from the lyrics, and he always pokes fun at the audience when they sing the lyrics back to him, saying, “Yeah, you said it, not me.” We stan a musician who understands the negative use of the word and also has fun with his audience.
6. “Retarded In Love” — Say Anything
Controversial lyrics: “Falling in love, there’s no rehearsing/Retarded in love”
There’s no denying that Say Anything songsmith Max Bemis has a way with words that felt unlike anything his contemporaries in the early 2000s emo scene were putting to song. Tapped into the ether between Broadway musical and Fellini flick, Bemis’ use of surrealism, blunt sarcasm and sharp examination of humanity through fictional narrative was in full force on the wildly ambitious double album In Defense of The Genre. Full of ballads about shiksas and church channels, Bemis recruited a who’s who of guest vocalists to deliver two full albums’ worth of some of the most well-crafted and thoughtfully arranged material in his career to date. However, the first disc deep cut “Retarded In Love” liberally uses the word “retarded” all over one of the prettiest and most dynamic tracks on the record. Bemis’ use of the word, in context, is not directed to individuals and is instead subscribed to a feeling, but simply hearing a word otherwise shunned in general conversation crooned over such a twinkly perfect pedal steel part feels like a blemish on a masterpiece.
7. “DONTTRUSTME” — 3OH!3
Controversial lyrics: “Shush girl, shut your lips/Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips”
3OH!3 released the single most controversial, radio-played track of 2009. “DONTTRUSTME” may not have the reach it had 10 years ago, but it does remain a regular of Emo Nights. If the chorus wasn’t enough to raise a few eyebrows (“Don’t trust a hoe/Never trust a hoe”), the Colorado duo revealed to Paper Magazine that they don’t regret their tongue-in-cheek lyrics. “If we’d known that many people were going to listen to it, maybe we would’ve thought more about it.”
8. “When I Get Home, You’re So Dead” — Mayday Parade
Controversial lyrics: “And he’s making you scream with his hands on your hips/I hope he’s leaving you empty baby, this is just a fix/For such a simple little whore”
There certainly seems to be a pattern with mid-2000s alternative music. Mayday Parade were among a handful of artists who used the word “whore” while writing. While Mayday Parade typically evoke sadness, “When I Get Home, You’re So Dead” showcases the anger the band fostered.
9. “MakeDamnSure” — Taking Back Sunday
Controversial lyrics: “I’m gonna make damn sure that you can’t ever leave/No, you won’t ever get too far from me”
Admit it, you love this song. This Louder Now gem is one of Taking Back Sunday’s most famous, and objectively best, tracks, and nothing in this life or the next feels as liberating and fun as dividing the vocal parts and screaming “I just want to break you down so badly/ Well, I trip over everything you say” while doing 75 mph down a freeway with your best friend at 3 a.m. But if you listen close, the lyrics are anything but liberating. Instead, they articulate a claustrophobic relationship and the desire to obsessively control someone else. The lyrics are a promise to break them down in the worst way.
10. “Slip It In” — Black Flag
Controversial lyrics: “You say you don’t want it/You don’t want it/Say you don’t want it/But then you slip it on in”
Black Flag may be punk-rock royalty who revolutionized the DIY ethos and gifted every angry, insecure and paranoid punk anthems such as “Black Coffee” and “Damaged I,” but the plain and simple truth is that the title track on Slip It In is just flat-out disturbing. While Greg Ginn wails through shrill feedback, then-Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins and Suzi Gardner of L7 simulate sex through grunts and moans that cut through Ginn’s guitar spasms—creating an uncomfortable soundscape that would make even the most sexually liberal squirm in their latex bodysuit and ballgag.