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Who Broke the ‘F-Word Barrier’ in Pop Music?


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In 2008, Britney Spears sang the lyrics, "All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to 'if you seek Amy' " and the earth nearly collapsed. Why? Because there was a secret message embedded in "If U Seek Amy," her seemingly innocuous tale of a girl searching for a lady named Amy in a crowded club -- saying the title quickly revealed what angry parents across America called "the F word." No profanity appeared in the song outright, though, or in its title. Still, there were protests, outrage, and histrionics.

Cut to 2010: Cee Lo drops a groovy kiss-off anthem called "F--- You" and nobody blinks. In fact, everyone thinks it's darling! William Shatner covers it on late-night TV. Gwyneth Paltrow will perform it on "Glee" (she'll be singing the censored version, "Forget You," but everyone knows how the original goes). Cee Lo even advocated letting kids hear the tune, arguing, "The song is about smiling in the face of adversity, and accepting and moving on." And yet, no response from the Parents Television Council that warned about the threat of "Amy."

Enter Pink, whose latest single is called "F-----' Perfect." Its message: the same one Mr. Rogers delivered in a much more SFW way for years on his beloved kids' show -- I like you just the way you are.

There's a lengthy list of songs with profane titles, a handful of which made a huge impact on pop culture (N.W.A's 1988 protest song "F--- da Police"), but due to FCC standards and other political considerations like the dreaded parental advisory sticker, controversially named tracks usually bubble below the radar. However we seem to have reached a new moment when popping the F-word into your song title doesn't equate with instant failure, or a stampede of angry villagers wielding torches.

So who's responsible for breaking the F-word barrier? If Britney brushed up against it two years ago, Lily Allen gave it a good smack with her own "F--- You," widely considered to be a jab at George W. Bush, on her 2009 disc "It's Not Me, It's You" (which, incidentally, Spears was seen picking up at a Barnes & Noble earlier this week). And Cee Lo did the most damage by simply writing the sweetest tune -- everyone, even the most easily outraged, seems to have been seduced by his gotcha-with-a-grin summer smash.

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