Regrets, they’ve had a few.
This week, Hayley Williams ‘fessed up in a Track 7 interview that 2017 Hayley might not have written a controversial lyric in “Misery Business,” the lead single from Paramore‘s second studio album, Riot! Given a decade to think about it, the seemingly anti-feminist line “Once a whore, you’re nothing more/ I’m sorry, that will never change” from Williams’ teenage diary was “feeding into a lie” that she said she’d bought into about the “cool girl religion.” To show her growth, Williams didn’t sing the line at a recent Royal Albert Hall show in London.
She’s not alone in walking back some of the lyrical indiscretions of youth. It’s also been a decade since Katy Perry broke through with her first major-label release, “Ur So Gay.” Released when Perry was 22, the song is a minefield of cringe-worthy couplets, including the refrain “You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys” and the odd opening line “I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf/ While jacking off to Mozart.”
Perry, who has become a major advocate for the LGBTQ community in the years since, explained in a 2008 interview that the song was not intended to reinforce a negative stereotype or be homophobic, as some have suggested. “Every time I play that song, everybody has come back laughing,” she said at the time. “I’m not the type of person who walks around calling everything gay. That song is about a specific guy that I used to date and specific issues that he had. The song is about my ex wearing guyliner and taking emo pictures of himself in the bathroom mirror. The listeners have to read the context of the song and decide for themselves.”
According to SetList.com (which is a free concert set list sharing site but not an official source), “Ur So Gay” is the 10th-most performed song in Perry’s repertoire with 173 plays, the most recent of which was on Sept. 23, 2012.
Taylor Swift, meanwhile, has a word skeleton that she’s relegated to the closet for good. She too released a song in 2008, “Picture to Burn,” which, curiously, also has lyrics that have been tagged as possibly homophobic. The acerbic song about a high school ex includes the takedown “I realize you love yourself more than you could ever love me/ So go and tell all your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/ That’s fine, I’ll tell mine/ You’re gay, by the way.”
In a 2011 interview with MTV, Swift chalked the lyrics up to her teen state of mind, saying, “Now, the way that I would say that and the way that I would feel that kind of pain is a lot different.” She didn’t regret the sentiment on her eponymous 2006 debut, though, adding, “I look back on the record I made when I was 16, and I’m so happy I made it. I got to immortalize those emotions that when you’re so angry, you hate everything. It’s like recording your diary over the years, and that’s a gift.”
She no longer performs the song live (with the last noted live play coming in August 2010), and the offending lyric has been wiped from streaming versions of the song and the official video. Though she still hates that stupid ol’ pickup truck.
Even though Lana Del Rey nipped a 1963 Crystals song lyric — “He hit me and it felt like a kiss” — for the track “Ultraviolence” from her 2013 album, the singer now regrets the lyrical interpolation and has stopped singing the borrowed line. “I don’t like it. I don’t. I don’t sing it. I sing ‘Ultraviolence,’ but I don’t sing that line anymore,” she told Pitchfork recently. “Having someone be aggressive in a relationship was the only relationship I knew. I’m not going to say that that [lyric] was 100 percent true, but I do feel comfortable saying what I was used to was a difficult, tumultuous relationship, and it wasn’t because of me. It didn’t come from my end.”
Common is known as one of the most conscious, woke rappers in the game, one who’s been showered with Grammys, not to mention a Golden Globe and Oscar for his stirring song “Glory” from the civil rights drama Selma. In 2007, Common said he vowed to ditch homophobic lyrics in his songs after being approached by two gay fans after a show. “They was like, ‘Why you keep disrespecting homosexuality?’ I thought about it. I ain’t here to judge ’em, so I just decided not to approach it like that,” he said.
In addition, Common said he decided to avoid using the N-word in songs after apologizing to Oprah Winfrey for using it in his earlier work. On his 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate, Common rapped the lines, “Posing like a bitch for exposure/ It’s rumors of gay emcees, just don’t come around me with it/ You still rockin’ hickies, don’t let me find out he did it” on the song “Nag Champa (Afrodisiac for the World).”
Lil Wayne probably has more than a few lyrics he’d like to take back, but the only one he’s officially rescinded is the “inappropriate” reference he made to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who was lynched and tortured in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The lyric in question, on Future‘s “Karate Chop” remix from 2013, was “beat that p—y up like Emmett Till,” and after Till’s family expressed displeasure, Wayne said in an open letter “as a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain that your family has had to endure.”
Epic Records later pulled the reference from the song and Wayne has promised not to perform the lyrics live.
Another MC who has had second thoughts about some of the things he’s said in the past is JAY-Z, who in 2010 offered up a humble apology for the misogynistic lyrics in one of his biggest hits, 1999’s “Big Pimpin’.” That ode to thug life brought us such memorable couplets as: “You know I thug ’em, f–k ’em, love ’em, leave ’em/ ‘Cause I don’t f–kin’ need ’em/ Take ’em out the ‘hood, keep ’em lookin’ good/ But I don’t f–kin’ feed ’em/ First time they fuss I’m breezin’.”
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Jay admitted, “Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not ‘Big Pimpin’.’ That’s the exception. It was like, ‘I can’t believe I said that.’ And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.”