Beyonce and Lizzo’s lyrical changes show the changing relationship between fan and artist

Warning: This story contains an offensive term used to describe people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Several pop stars have removed offensive slurs from new songs in recent weeks after calls from fans – a sign that the relationship between musical artists and their listeners is changing.

Lizzo made headlines in June for removing the word “s–z” from her song, Grrrls. The term, according to disability advocates, is an offensive slur against people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Just weeks after Lizzo’s switch, Beyonce released a new song, Heatedusing the same word, which she later deleted as well.

The two performers aren’t the only ones to retroactively remove lyrics from released songs. Lana Del Ray did it with her song of 2020 ultraviolenceremoving a lyric about domestic violence popularized by 1960s girl band The Crystals.

Famously, the Black Eyed Peas quietly changed the chorus of their hit song let’s start a year after its release in 2003, removing the R-word.

“It feels good to know that your artist pays attention to what you think of the art they produce,” said pop culture writer Veracia Ankrah.

As the relationship between fans and artists changes – and, in the digital age of music, songs can easily be re-recorded and released – artists must retain ownership of their music while considering the impact of their words, say the experts.

Lizzo and Beyonce address offensive words

In her statement on Twitter announcing the lyric change, Lizzo told fans that her decision was informed by her experiences as the target of hurtful speech.

“I never want to promote derogatory language,” the artist wrote. “As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had a lot of hurtful words used against me, so I understand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally).”

“I’m proud to say there’s a new version of GRRRLS with a lyric change,” she said.

Disability advocate Hannah Diviney, whose online campaign for Lizzo to change the lyrics played a part in the artist’s decision, wrote an op-ed in the Guardian expressing her disappointment at the later use of the word by Beyoncé.

“I thought we changed the music industry and started a global conversation about why ableist language – intentional or not – has no place in music,” Diviney wrote. “But I guess I was wrong, because now Beyoncé has gone and done the exact same thing.”

Within days, a spokesperson for Beyoncé wrote a statement to The Associated Press announcing the change. “The word, not intentionally used in a harmful way, will be replaced,” he said.

Diviney is now asking Eminem to remove the same word from a recent song – but there’s been some unease about what those interactions mean for the music industry.

A piece published in rolling stone said that while retroactive patches were well-intentioned, they also felt dystopian because of how easily artists — or record labels or production companies — can modify a product in the digital age.

Paul Banwatt, partner in a Toronto law firm who writes a music law blog, said the power dynamic between record labels and their artists can add an extra layer of complexity to these scenarios.

There might be situations where a music publisher wants an artist to change their lyrics “to make them less offensive or less problematic and therefore make a song more marketable,” Banwatt said.

“And that could be a good thing. But at the same time, you would want to make sure the artist has a say in how their art is changed to make it less problematic.”

Empower artists

Rose Jones, a Toronto-based singer-songwriter, said she applauds Beyonce and Lizzo for listening to their fans and then taking the initiative to re-record and release their songs without the slurs.

“I think when you have that much influence and you’re powerful and you have an impact, you have to use it responsibly,” she said.

Lizzo performs onstage during the 2022 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2022 in Los Angeles, California (“I never want to promote derogatory language,” Lizzo wrote in a Twitter announcement after being called out for using a insult in his song Grrrls. (Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET)

Although the era of digitized music has made it easier to upload tweaked music, Jones added that it can put independent artists at a disadvantage who rely on apps like Spotify to share their music and boost their profile.

Having to delete and re-upload a song means losing all streams associated with that song, which means starting over from the bottom of the app’s popularity-based algorithm.

“I think that would be something that I would worry about is if you put a song out and get all these streams, and you also have to delete it and upload it again and all the streams go away, isn’t it? not it?”

Sometimes a track simply ages badly. Such was the case with Paramore’s 2007 song misery businesswhich led singer Hayley Williams to remove the song from live broadcasts because she felt it was spreading misogynistic ideas about women.

In 2019, Lady Gaga dropped a collaboration with R. Kelly from her album art-pop – the song Do what you want – in light of allegations at the time that Kelly, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in June on racketeering and sex trafficking charges, was sexually abusing young women and minors.

Ankrah, the culture writer, said that in an age of instant, social media-driven feedback, artists need to make thoughtful choices about their music, no matter how easily they can re-record and upload tracks.

“I think maybe the artists need to do a little more work before the music comes out, before things go to print,” she said.

“Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times, and so it just so happens that these are the times we’re in when you have to be held accountable for the things you say in your music.