Back in 1985 Tipper Gore testified in front of a Senate committee warning that children were being exposed to all kinds of naughty stuff in modern music. Sex, heresy and violence were destroying good old-fashioned American values. Won't somebody think of the children!
Gore's testimony and the outrage of finger-wagging parent's groups led to the creation of the "Parental Advisory" stickers that would pop up on tapes and CDs deemed vulgar. But if you were a kid in the 1990s, those stickers were kind of like a seal of approval. Does it have the sticker? No? Well it can't be very good now, can it?
Adults were telling us that modern music was a cancer on society. But even while politicians, activists and columnists decried the coarsening of the culture, many of them understood that "back in my day" arguments really couldn't fly. "They said the same thing about Elvis," was a common point of reflection, even amongst cultural conservatives.
In 1990 columnist Lewis Grizzard speculated that the likes of 2 Live Crew would one day be seen as quaint. Grizzard clearly despised the band; those "rap rascals with dirty mouths" whose music — "if you can call it that" — made him want to "puke." But he offered some much needed context for music culture of the future.
From the June 22, 1990 Times-News in North Carolina:
We've gone from Elvis to The 2 Live Crew in my lifetime. Twenty years from now The 2 Live Crew will, like Elvis, seem absolutely harmless.
God knows what they'll be doing 20 years from now. Singing on stage in the nude, probably. Madonna sings in her underwear now.
They'll be singing naked and probably having sex on stage, and the kids who liked 2 Live Crew will have their drawers in a serious bundle because their kids will be determined to hear and see "Stark Nakkid and the Car Thieves" singing their controversial hit, "I Want to Kiss You on Your Woo-Woo in the Nude."
The point is, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Elvis seems like an angel now and, a generation from now, 2 Live Crew probably won't be able to get a gig playing a Tupperware party. So, nobody have a cow over 2 Live Crew. This, too, will pass for something even more shocking.
It always does.
Of course, he was right. Boundaries for what's acceptable to do on stage and TV continue to be pushed. And yes, the great American outrage machine still grinds away.
But are the antics of our pop stars really that much more shocking than they were twenty years ago? Will the Miley Cyrus wrecking ball swingers of twenty years hence offend late-Millennial sensibilities? Perhaps the more interesting question is whether a 75-year-old Madonna and a 41-year-old Miley Cyrus be there to do it with them.
Photo: Madonna and Miley Cyrus performing for MTV on January 28, 2014 via Associated Press