Profanity in pop songs is old news. Hell, the chorus to [artist id="509026"]Christina Aguilera[/artist]'s recent single, "Keeps Gettin' Better," kicks off with the phrase, "Some days I'm a super bi---." That one is easy enough for radio stations to edit out in order to avoid any fines from the FCC or threats to yank their licenses.
But what will they do with a new single from a major artist that doesn't actually contain a four-letter word, but rather spells it out in a not-so-subtle way? That dilemma is beginning to dawn on top-40 radio programmers across the country as the third single from Britney Spears' Circus album, "If U Seek Amy," starts to make its way to the airwaves.
The cheeky title (try saying it fast) joins the tradition of album titles like [artist id="1153"]Van Halen[/artist]'s 1991 For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The chorus doesn't even try to make grammatical sense of the phrase: "But all of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy."
The spelled-out profanity puts the song into a legal gray area for radio stations.
"It's OK to put in on an album, have fun with it, but we're publicly owned, you know?" said Patti Marshall, program director at Cincinnati's Q102, a pop station in a decidedly conservative Midwestern market. "We have a responsibility to the public ... you put this ... out and act like we're all fuddy-duddies, like we're trying to make moral judgments. It's not about us. It's about the mom in the minivan with her 8-year-old."
Like several programmers we talked to, Marshall said she had not yet been told that "Amy" was the next single from Circus. She's still busy playing the album's title track, which was recently released as the second single. Asked if she would play "Amy" if it came to her as a single, Marshall said likely wouldn't. She likened its chorus (which she has not heard) to "a little boy in sixth grade doing arm farts."
A spokesperson for the Federal Communications Commission did not return calls for comment, and Spears' label confirmed the choice of the single but would not comment on its content or any potential issues at radio.
Sharon Dastur, program director at Z100 in New York, also had not yet heard the song and said she's not sure what the station's plans are for it. She compared its possible problems to those faced by her station in 2005 upon the release of the Black Eyed Peas single "Don't Phunk With My Heart."
"Listeners thought it was the other word, and so we had to change it to 'mess,' " she said. That example was also the first that popped to mind for KIIS FM Los Angeles program director John Ivey, who said he knew he couldn't play the Peas' song as originally recorded but felt that censoring it would make it sound more nefarious, so he asked the group's label for a new version.
"It's a potential issue for every station," Ivey said of the Spears single. "I'm certain that I would run it by my legal department first. My first job is to protect [the station's] license. ... It's better to be safe than sorry."
Asked if he would recut the song to edit out the naughty bits, Ivey said he probably wouldn't because he felt the phrase was included in the song to provoke, so an alteration would change its intention. "[Spears' label, Jive,] might also be just floating it out there to see if they can stir things up a bit."