From J Cole to Kanye West: Apologies – and the unapologetic - music industry

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Today's popstars are more likely to be found saying sorry than singing. But do they mean it?

Sorry doesn't seem to be the hardest word, whatever Elton John might once have said. Not for modern musicians at any rate, as the biggest pop stars from Justin Bieber to Rihanna (never mind her Unapologetic album) issue one “heartfelt” apology after another for minor misdemeanours.

Apologies for delayed gigs (Bieber), cancelled tours (Morrissey), wearing the wrong T-shirt (Plan B) and even – in James Blunt's case this week –accidentally spam emailing the whole of the UK, are now so commonplace that musicians seem as accountable for their mistakes and perceived failures as our elected politicians.

Lately the trend has racked up a notch, with musicians put under increasing pressure from fans, record labels, sponsors and the media to apologise for the content of their music – and not just for their behaviour. A slew of artists including Drake, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross have issued “sorrys” in the last few weeks for sentiments expressed in songs deemed offensive.

Click here or on "View Images" for a gallery of music industry apologies

However justifiable it may be, should we encourage the music industry to sanitise itself in line with political correctness? After all, music genres from punk to pop and protest have all broken established rules for excellent (as well as utterly mindless) reasons in the past.

There are a few remaining apology refuseniks: Robin Thicke, for example, came under fire from a rape charity for allegedly objectifying women and trivialising sexual violence on “Blurred Lines” last month – something he branded “ridiculous”. Meanwhile Kanye West remains tight-lipped after Parkinson's disease advocacy groups slammed as “inexcusably stupid” a lyric on his new album Yeezus.

“Most of the headlines seem to be generated within the urban scene, which is hardly surprising as hip-hop has always been at its most powerful making social commentary,” says Mark Doyle, the DJ behind record label Fierce Angel.

Hip-hop is, after all, notorious for presenting women as sex objects and for being derogatory about gay people – something its proponents very rarely apologise for, despite repeated calls from feminists and commentators. Recent events, however, suggest that some of the music industry's biggest stars are starting to listen and respond to criticism, particularly when it is fan- rather than media-led.

It was something of a watershed moment when both Drake and J Cole apologised last week for a reference to autism in “Jodeci Freestyle”. In Drake's song Cole raps that he's “artistic” while his rivals are “autistic, retarded”. The storm of complaints that greeted the song's release included an online petition backed by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. The petition's founder, Bella Solimar, said: “We are tired of the media, artists and comedians making fun of people with autism or using it as some clever joke. It's not funny and just makes you look extremely ignorant.”

The offensive lyrics were duly removed and the outcry elicited a refreshingly honest admission of ignorance and shame from both. Cole wrote in a blog post: “Last week when I first saw a comment from someone outraged about the lyric, I realised right away that what I said was wrong. I was instantly embarrassed that I would be ignorant enough to say something so hurtful… I feel real shame. You [the autism community] have every right to be angry.” A day later Cole said he wanted to educate himself about the condition and wrote on his blog that there's “nothing cool about mean-spirited comments about someone with autism”.

That both artists put their hands up and said sorry so readily, and apparently so honestly, is laudable. However, that there was a commercial incentive for them to do so is clear, as Cole notes in the same blog post: “I view rap similar to how I view comedy. It's going to ruffle feathers at times. It's going to go 'too far'. I do not believe that an apology is needed every time someone is offended, especially when that apology is really only for the sake of saving an endorsement or cleaning up bad press.”

He might have been talking about Rick Ross, who lost a lucrative sponsorship deal with Reebok after courting controversy with a lyric on “UOENO” suggesting he supported date-rape.

Ross's subsequent apology (“To the young men who listen to my music, please know that using a substance to rob a woman of her right to make a choice is not only a crime, it's wrong and I do not encourage it”) was dismissed by many as pandering to the demands of the publicity machine. Reebok, meanwhile, was criticised by rapper Slim Thug, who commented that the “haters won”, while MMG rapper Rozay called the sports brand “corny”.

Similarly, Lil Wayne lost a multi-million-dollar endorsement with Pepsi, which owns drink Mountain Dew, for misguidedly (and bafflingly) referring to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy murdered in 1955 who became a symbol of the American Civil Rights movement, as part of a sexually explicit lyric on Future's “Karate Chop”. Pepsi said in a statement at the time that it was not planning any future work with Wayne, despite a letter of apology that he wrote to the Till family foundation.

“The bottom line,” Doyle continues,“ is that artists are listened to, respected and given a global platform so they have a responsibility to be at least respectful and educated on issues… Companies pour a lot of money into these artists and rely on their fanbase to help sell their products and tie their brand to that overall image. So as a brand owner myself I know that I'd drop an artist like a hot potato if they started down this path.”

There does appear to have been a cultural shift that where once we would have expected our artists to push the boundaries of nicety, we now expect them to eat humble pie if they step out of line. Like comedians, some of the most effective lyrics state the unsayable and make it acceptable via form.

“Obviously we don't want sanitised, politically correct music – how boring would that be?” says Doyle. But he goes on to remark on the “world of difference” he sees between songs that are entertaining but which might be interpreted as offensive and the likes of reggae artist Beenie Man who is famous for disturbing lyrics such as “I'm a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays”.

While Robin Thicke's UK chart success might not have suffered from the controversy surrounding “Blurred Lines”, the fact that his record was this week knocked off the top spot in the album charts by X Factor graduate Jahmene Douglas, a man so squeaky clean he once refused to sing a Katy Perry song because it referred to threesomes, speaks volumes.

This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine  

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015