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Should Blurred Lines have been banned on British radio? The Great Escape debates

By | Published on Friday 16 May 2014

Jen Long

For the final part of the ‘Blurred Lines: Does Pop Have A Misogyny Problem?’ strand at The Great Escape last weekend, talk turned to the airplay Robin Thicke’s controversial hit has enjoyed on British radio.

Taking the title ‘This house believes that ‘Blurred Lines’ should have been banned on British radio’, the final session of the day took the format of a good old fashioned debate, with two sides stating their case and then arguing it out, under the watchful eye of Radio 1’s Jen Long.

Speaking for the motion were Caitlin Hayward-Tapp from the University Of Sussex Students’ Union, which did ban the song last year, and CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke, who noted that in his role as programmer of the Great Escape Convention, it had been very difficult to find anyone in the music industry or music radio willing to talk publicly in favour of banning the track from the airwaves. Meanwhile speaking against banning ‘Blurred Lines’ were two representatives of UK radio, Amazing Radio’s Ruth Barnes, and Edward Adoo from Mi-Soul.

Taking the stage first, Hayward-Tapp explained the thinking behind the USSU’s decision to ban the song from its radio station and events last autumn. “We have a duty of care towards students”, she began, “and a lot of the decisions made by the union are based on a safe space policy, in which it’s a priority to make sure that oppressed groups are respected and treated equally”.

She added that many student unions in the UK base their policies on how to respond to sexual violence, and how to prevent it from happening at all, on a piece of research from 2010 called ‘NUS Hidden Marks’.

“From that research, one in seven female students experience serious physical and possibly sexual violence as students”, she said. “Over two thirds of 2058 respondents had experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment in or around their institutions. Students were the majority of the perpetrators. Coming at this from a world where sexual violence and those attitudes towards women permeate society and university culture, it’s really important to take a stand against that”.

The language used in the lyrics of ‘Blurred Lines’ correlates with what victims of sexual violence are often told by their attackers, which was one of the concerns raised when banning it.

Opposing the motion, Barnes began by noting that “the devil has the best tunes”, but conceded that while “‘Blurred Lines’ is a great pop tune … the lyrics are horrendous”. However, despite this, she said that she was inherently against banning things, and rather felt that a song which features lyrics so clearly objectionable should be used as a starting point for further discussion.

“I’m for feminists being active on student campuses – but I would have said use ‘Blurred Lines’ as your anthem”, she argued. “Take it to government and say, this is what our kids are listening to. These are the attitudes people have and you’re not doing anything about it. We need to go on a huge sex education mission in schools and really push the difference between fantasy and reality”.

Countering, Cooke conceded that back in the 1990s when he was a student at Edinburgh University – the first union to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ last year – he would have been totally against the song ban, opposing censorship on any grounds. However, in some cases, his view had now softened, noting that “free speech comes with responsibilities” and that meant considering the message you are sending out to people, and especially young people.

“Media censors things all the time”, he added. “It’s odd, isn’t it, that you’re not allowed to say the word ‘fuck’ on the radio, you’re not allowed to talk about consensual fucking on the radio, yet we’re allowed to play a song which makes light of sexual assault, of violence against women, which is sending out a really bad message to young people”.

Finally, Edward Adoo stood up for allowing ‘Blurred Lines’ to be played on British radio. He noted that Pharrell Williams, co-writer of the track, has come out of this without criticism. Adoo posited: “I think the gripe is not about the record or the content, it’s about Robin Thicke. No one likes him, they think he’s a middle class sleazeball and they want to get rid of him. No one talks about Pharrell, who’s standing their looking slick, but he’s part of it, he’s part of the package”.

“I agree it’s about education”, he continued. “It’s about educating the next generation, and no one wants to do it. I think it’s down to government, it’s down to parents, it’s down to teachers to actually do something, but they don’t want to, they don’t feel it’s their responsibility. So if a pop record can actually start the conversation, then that’s a great thing”.

He also wondered where record banning would stop once it started, suggesting that Radio 1’s playlists could end up with very few records on them that you might actually want to listen to. “If we start banning records, then it’s just gonna get boring and we’re gonna have shit records, and I don’t wanna hear shit records on the radio. I wanna hear good records that are provocative and controversial”.

Listen to all four opening statements and the subsequent debate in full here:

And read all of our articles on the ‘Blurred Lines’ strand at this year’s Great Escape, and listen to all four sessions in full here.

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