He wasn’t even there, but Grammy-winning rapper Eminem was the star of a congressional hearing on Friday examining the marketing practices of the entertainment industry. While Eminem may have basked in the success of “The Marshal Mathers LP” (Web/Aftermath/Interscope), most of the members of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee were ready to burn him at the stake for the outrageous lyrics that mark his music.
“When you hear the words about raping your mother or killing your mother, I think that the industry should be embarrassed that that’s award-winning entertainment,” said Rep. Barbara Cubin, (R-Wy.).
Cubin and other Republicans on the panel pushed the recording industry to expand its current labeling program. They contend that the stickers warning parents about the graphic nature of some recordings do not go far enough. The ostensible reason for the hearing, examining the marketing practices of the industry, somehow got lost under the lawmakers’ drive to get the recording industry to change the labeling program.
Using Eminem as the music industry’s whipping boy, Cubin asked Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) president/CEO Hilary Rosen to read a portion of the lyrics to Eminem’s “Kill You.” When Rosen refused, Cubin jumped all over her. Rosen’s argument that Eminem and other artists have a right to sing what they want is undermined by the graphic nature of lyrics such as those contained in “Kill You,” Cubin said.
“If what you’re supporting is so bad you won’t speak it out loud … then there’s something wrong with your thought process,” Cubin said. Rosen defended the industry’s labeling program. The stickers record companies slap on graphic recordings are enough to warn parents, she said.
Expanding the program is impractical, Rosen said, because it could place songs like “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Killing Me Softly” on the same plane as “Kill You” simply because the lyrics include words like “shot” and “kill.” “Nobody is trying to fool anybody,” Rosen said. “We put labels on it, but to go to a graduated label is difficult.”
Rosen compared the lyrics of a song to words in a book. They can both contain graphic language, but no one is suggesting that publishers slap warning stickers on books, she argued. “Words can have different meanings depending on who is hearing them,” Rosen said. “Music is much closer to books than it is to movies or video games in nature.”
But Cubin and others weren’t buying that. The lyrics in “Kill You” and other songs are so over the top that parents should get a second warning, the lawmakers argued. “There’s a distinction, and it’s a huge distinction,” Cubin said. “You can easily separate that stuff from ‘Killing Me Softly’ or ‘I Shot the Sheriff.’ “
Adding a new distinction is unlikely to happen in an industry where an artist’s creative rights are jealously guarded, Rosen said. “There are people in the industry that think we have gone too far already,” she said.
Under questioning from Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the full House Commerce Committee, Rosen refused to commit to revamping the labeling system. “I think you may want to reassess that system and come up with a system that differentiates between the most graphic lyrics and that which is less graphic,” Tauzin said.
“There are some parents who think the music is killing their children softly,” he added.