From Chuck Berry To Britney – A History Of Pop Filth

Seen written down, the lyrics to Britney Spears’ new single make no sense at all: “All the boys and all the girls are begging to if you seek Amy.” Eh?

It’s only when you hear them sung (begging to “F.U.C.K me”) that Britney’s linguistic sleight-of-hand becomes obvious.


The American Parents Television Council have called for the track to be banned. I think that would be a shame, for two reasons. First, because acronymic swearing is really quite a neat trick, and one which as far as I know has only been attempted in one other pop song, Robyn’s ‘Konichiwa Bitches’ (“See you next Tuesday”…C.U.N.T, see?).

And second, smuggling utter filth into the pop charts has a long and illustrious history.

I’m not thinking here of potty-mouthed songs in general. If I was, I’d direct you to Slick Rick’s jaw-droppingly explicit VD ditty ‘Indian Girl (An Adult Story)’. Or So What’ by Anti-Nowhere League, a band so heroically lairy they were once ejected from the ‘Top Of The Pops’ studio because guitarist Animal turned up with a 3ft axe.

I might even have singled out Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’, which was famously played out in full on daytime Radio 1, complete with 16 fucks and a larynx-ripping “motherfuckaaaa!”, thanks to a slip-up by DJ Bruno Brookes that in hindsight makes ‘Sachsgate’ look pathetically small-scale.

But no: metal and hip-hop have always relied on swearing to maintain a veneer of parent-baiting edginess. It’s far more of a challenge to conceal smut within the Trojan horse of a pop song, under the very noses of moral guardians.

ASBO-rappers Blazin’ Squad managed this in 2003 with ‘Flip Reverse’, the highest-charting song ever to take as its subject matter the act of bullying a girl into performing anal sex (“So baby girl now take a ride in the back of the truck”). One assumes Ant and Dec were unaware of this when they introduced the song on ‘CD:UK’.

More artfully, Divinyls brought the subject of masturbation to the summit of the UK charts in 1990 with ‘I Touch Myself’. Incidentally, this song was written by the songwriting team Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who six years earlier had written ‘Like A Virgin’ for Madonna. One wonders about the psychosexual wellbeing of a pair of male lyricists who would spend quite so much time exploring the emotions of highly-sexed young women. Then again, it never did Prince any harm.

The overlord of pop rudeness, however, has to be R&B one-hit-wonder Eamon, whose single ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back’) remained at Number 1 for weeks, despite containing no less than 33 F-bombs. It was a wretched song though, and one that depressingly set the template for a generation of graceless, shark-eyed pop acts, from Pussycat Dolls to Akon.

Of course, none of this is anything new. Chuck Berry was exhorting us to play with his ding-a-ling back in 1972. Before that, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s ‘Je t’Aime…Moi Non Plus’ contained the anatomically alarming line, “Je vais et je viens, entre tes reins” (“I come and go between your kidneys”).

The difference is, back then, at least artists went to the trouble of cloaking their bawdiness in euphemisms and whispered French. Today’s pop stars (literally, in Britney’s case) simply spell it out.