Discussion: Country Cussing

I was a little taken aback by the language used by Toby Keith onstage this past Thursday, which was the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.   I’m not going to quote his blue language, but you can read it for yourself here.  What i found most interesting was the description of his audience:

Keith has never been shy in front of a microphone, but he was in rare form throughout the outdoor show, dropping numerous expletives in his lyrics and within his off-the-cuff remarks. A surprising number of kids in the audience were hanging onto every word.

My question is – How do you feel about the increasing use of profanity by country artists, both on record and on stage?   Since we’re a genre that is supposed to cater to adults, does that make the issue moot? Or is it unprofessional and/or inappropriate to have country artists using vulgarity in public?


  1. Wow! That was a pretty surprising review from Shelburn. I appreciated the honesty of it. It’s too bad that kids had to see it. Shock! Toby Keith doesn’t have respect for women! His swearing doesn’t bother me as much as his swagger and his redneck references to women’s body parts.

    I always appreciate a well placed explative, to be honest. I, however, want them to be for a purpose, not just for the sake of swearing just to swear. For instance, I’m always amused by the explative in Lambert’s “Crazy Ex Girlfriend”, because it has the right bite. Toby’s explatives, however, just seemed out of control and maybe even angry.

  2. I think anyone denouncing the use of language or supporting censorship (“for the kids”) needs to reread the bill of rights and the constitution.

    You don’t have to like what he says (I don’t), but you should agree that he has the right to say it.

    If you don’t like it, vote with your dollar. But you can’t justify not allowing someone.

  3. I’m not saying that he doesn’t have a right to do it. I just don’t have a lot of respect for someone who can’t find a better way to express himself.

  4. I feel that the artists that know they have some kids in their fan-base should refuse to use profanity (I would do that no matter what)- So far Carrie has done good within that subject matter, and Taylor Swift’s first album had some risque language but I feel Swift has toned that down now. Anyways- I believe that all country artists should not use profanity, but we may make an arguement that rap singers also have kids who look up to them and they use foul language, so if the kids have already have exposure to that kind of language does that mean its okay for country artists to use foul language? 0.o

  5. I think there’s a fine line I’d tread were I a commercial artist. The “f” word would always be off limits and probably the “s” word as well (hypocrisy alert: though I sometimes cross that line on my blog) but an occasional “arse” or “damn” or “hell” just goes with the territory. I’m not sure what TK was thinking. He bears at least some burden of responsibility to his younger fans. I wouldn’t go to a Toby show anyway, but I certainly wouldn’t take my kids until they’re 14+ for sure after reading that.

  6. As usual, I agree with Leeann …

    “I always appreciate a well placed explative, to be honest. I, however, want them to be for a purpose, not just for the sake of swearing just to swear.”

    My sentiments exactly. Swearing in country music dates back a long way – though it has definitely gotten stepped up in the last decade or so. But when the words are relevant to the song and serve a purpose, then by all means, the artist should be free to express himself (or herself) in any way they deem necessary.

    Also, while I rarely agree with what Mr. Keith has to say, I will stand up and defend his right to say it. Always.

  7. One more thing … Toby’s music (and that of 99% of country music artists) caters to the adult demographic. Sure, there are going to be some kids in the audience at any concert. But to me, it’s the parents’ responsibity to censor what their children are hearing at any rate. And going to a country concert is one of those instances where you know there could be some things said you don’t want a 12 year old hearing. Whether it’s drinking, cheating, ‘smoking weed with Willie’, and/or the occasional cuss word.

    I could be alone here, but I just feel there are too many bellyachers out there who try to make the entire world a G-rated place to be (And that’s no fun for anybody). And it’s because they rely on TV, music, and the internet as a babysitter and educator for their children.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with J.R. Journey, that it is the parents’ responsibility, and theirs alone, to police what their kids hear, see, and read. If they can’t do that, maybe they shouldn’t even be having kids to begin with. And while we may sometimes disagree with what the artists sometimes say in their songs, and the language that gets used, in no way would I ever support censorship of any kind against anyone for any reason.

    Incidentally, this thing about swear words being used in country music isn’t really new. Remember Johnny Cash’s 1969 smash “A Boy Named Sue”?:

    “But you oughta thank me before I die
    For the gravel in your guts, and the spit in your eye
    ‘Cause I’m the ************ that named you Sue.”

    The censored term he uses here is “son of a b**ch”–though I think most know it already.

  9. JR, I agree. The responsibility ultimately lies with the parents. Like Trailer, if I were a parent, I wouldn’t take my kid to a Toby concert until he/she was in high school due to the content shown in Shelburn’s article. I would never suggest that Toby doesn’t have a right to say his crap though. I just don’t have to partake of it, which is happily my right.

    I never use the F-word, but my language certainly isn’t clean enough for the grandparents. I do enjoy “Weed With Willie”, for the record–the song, not the activity.:)

  10. That’s a really intersting question, Leeann. I never really thought about it actually. I would assume that Shel wrote it the way Cash recorded it. But the B word could have easily been subsituted for ‘gun’ or any number of words.

    When Cash had his network TV show, his performance of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ was supposed to be edited to omit the word ‘stoned’ by ABC execs. ABC wanted Cash to sing ‘Wishing Lord that I was home. But Cash – free spirit that he is – went ahead and performed the song as Kris Kristofferson wrote it – forever embedding the classic lyrics into American heritage.

  11. I think that was irresponsible of him. My main problem with cussing in music is that I just think it is unnecesarry and there are better, more mature ways of expressing yourself.

  12. I think it may have been a little tasteless to use profanities in commemorating the anniversary of 9/11, since I think the shock value of curse words often steals the spotlight from the sentiment behind their use, if that makes sense. But I wasn’t in the audience to hear the context, delivery, etc., so that’s just speculation.

    I don’t think an artist like Toby Keith really has an obligation to be clean in concert, though. A good deal of his material – singles, videos, albums – probably isn’t suitable for children, and it wouldn’t take a conscientious parent long to figure that out, as others have noted here.

  13. What a parent should “expect” when taking a child to a country concert depends on the venue. If a show is advertised as “family friendly”, then you shouldn’t expect hard core profanity. I remember going to Tim McGraw’s Swampstock a few years ago — very family friendly, softball game, benefit concert for athletic equipment for kids, etc. Bill Engvall came out and his first words were, ” Goddamn, it’s hot!” A collective hush swept over the crowd and he got the message — he kept it clean after that.

  14. I think we can look at country princess (or maybe more so all-around princess), Taylor Swift. If you listen to the original versions of the singles from her album, there were a few changes made before they were sent to radio.

    The original/album version of Teardrops on my Guitar has the line “Drew looks at me, I laugh cause it’s so d*** funny,” which was changed to “Drew looks at me, I laugh cause it’s just so funny.” And, this isn’t a swear word, but with Picture to Burn, the line originally was “that’s fine, I’ll tell mine you’re gay” and was changed to “that’s fine, you won’t mind if I say.”

    I recall hearing that many stations wouldn’t play Garth’s Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) back in the day due to the use of the D-word. And on Kid Rock’s Picture, which they still play quite frequently around here for some reason, they bleep-out/pause-out the word “cocaine.” Again, not profanity, but I think there is a conscience thought at radio about these things.

    Now, at a live concert…especially a Toby Keith concert, the guy who wrote a song nicknamed “The Angry American” song…and on the anniversary of September 11th? Yeah, I would expect some angry swearing. And I think that anyone who goes to a TK concert not expecting swearing doesn’t really know Toby and probably shouldn’t be there.

  15. In my opinion, whether it’s appropriate definitely depends on the artist and the venue. Certain artists you just expect it from. Other artists, not so much. Taylor Swift, for example, knows that she’s going to have a lot of young girls at her shows. I’d be disappointed as a parent if I took my daughter to one of her shows and she started swearing up a storm. At a Toby Keith concert (with that massive chip on his shoulder)? I’d probably figure I’m taking a risk as a parent.

    All that said, I agree that a well-placed expletive in a song or in a show is okay with me. Sometimes a swear word expresses emotion in a way that another word can’t. “Gosh darnit” doesn’t always cut it. :)

  16. Like everyone has said here, the freedom of speech includes the right to say F-bomb. But I have no problem with radio stations editing them out for airplay. I use the word from time to time when I’m mad but it’s not a regular word in my vocab. Words like “ass” or even the “S” word I have no problem with, if they’re given proper context. The biggest thing about the “S” word is that there are so many words that mean the same thing so there’s is no real reason to use it in a song. “ass” on the other hand, I think should be used in a song for a lyric like “Here’s to the past, you can kiss my ass” works better than the substituted “glass” that was played on the radio on Joe Nichols’ hit “Brokenheartsville.”

  17. I am also not against using bad words.. I would never use the f-word or s-word, etc. But I’d be okay with damn and hell because those are fine with me. I am not promoting either, I’m just saying that we have to be careful with what we say and put in songs. Of course, I agree with a point made earlier- that damn and hell just come with the territory. So, I am okay with either, I would like there to be no “f”, “s”, “b”, etc words but I am fine with damn and hell, and don’t want to obliterate those words from country music.
    I forgot to add this point earlier. >.>

  18. Toby Keith using bad words? I’m shocked, shocked! His songwriting of late could use a cuss word or two. If I live to be a hundred I will never understand why people, like young male boys,and mature women, fall for his crude, selfish, immature and otherwise, poorly written songs about being a redneck. He doesn’t present them as noble beings or smart people, or even people concerned about themselves or country. His songs tell you he is rude, undereducated, and a snake oil salesman. He reminds me of that guy in the film ” A Face in the Crowd”- he is playing a hick so he can get their money and attention. In the words of an old blues song- I pity the fool who falls for him.

  19. There are places that I would not take a child for entertainment, and a Toby Keith concert is one of those places. However, I find his shows absolute first-rate. Toby don’t ever change! There is drinking and bad language at almost any entertainment event. And I think we also realize there is a difference in Toby the entertainer and Toby the person.

  20. “He reminds me of that guy in the film ” A Face in the Crowd”- he is playing a hick so he can get their money and attention”

    You mean like Larry “The Cable Guy”?

    (and the rest of that unfunny crew)

  21. I have attended several Toby Keith concerts and I think he has the best show out there right now. The language doesn’t bother me at all and it is placed very appropriately. I have been to concerts where there are many children and Toby does tone those concerts down. Most of his state fair concerts this year were quite tame than say the drinking venues. I think Toby is very aware of his audiances. That what makes his a great entertainer.

  22. The one show I was unfortunate enough to see Toby Keith at was at a State Fair. I completely agree that he kept it very clean.

    Of course, at 35 minutes.. he wasn’t even on long enough to swear. And he was the only act.

    Worst. Concert. Ever.

    (but that’s a whole ‘nuther topic!)

  23. Wait…Do the parent’s who are taking their kids to Toby’s shows KNOW any of Toby’s music? If they have ever heard Toby’s songs, they know it isn’t children’s music.

    Is it ok for children to listen to the songs Toby sings about drinking, carousing, smoking dope and such but it’s not ok to have them hear cuss words from him while he’s on stage?

    Even if Toby didn’t cuss on stage, how do you protect them from all they see and hear in the parking lots on their way in to the venue?

    Toby’s shows are adult entertainment…not children’s fare. I do not want my 8 yr old daughter walking around singing “Who’s Your Daddy?” nor my 7 yr old son singing “Weed With Willie”. But I DO enjoy Toby’s music…but NOT around my kids…and they do not go his shows with me…that’s my ADULT time.

  24. I wouldn’t mind if my kids heard Toby Keith swear or anyone else swear. I would hope they would be smart enough not to use those words in school or somewhere else inappropriate. If I were a parent I would find the concepts of most of Toby’s songs more objectionable than the words he was using when he interacted with the audience. It’s not the words themselves, it’s how you put them together that makes them offensive. See George Carlin for more on that one.

  25. George Carlin is the undisputed king of the English language in my opinion. See him for all you need to know about its usage, intricate phrasings, double-entendres and so on …

  26. I personally hate cussing, for religious reasons. I just think most of the time it’s not necessary and the same point and emotion can be brought using words that won’t offend anyone. Most of the time I won’t buy an album or listen to a song if it has too many cusswords in it.

  27. I do not like the cussing nor do I like the spitting on the stage that Toby is doing more of. I’ve been a fan and gone to concerts for over four years and he is only recently doing this. It’s not necessary and detracts from his music.

  28. Any kid who is old enough to go to a Toby Keith concert and hear the “F” word is, imo, one lucky kid, as he/she gets to see freedom of speech at work. I LOVE to cuss and I’ll never stop, and of course i don’t go cussing in front of kids I DON”T KNOW; the ones I know, if I have to cuss in front of or at them,(and I love kids;it’s just that I taught English for 13 yrs. and I love to “play” w/words/language..) Any kid over 3 has heard/heard of “bad words,” esp. if they have older sibs or parents who choose to use REAL curse words when necessary- and sometimes it IS necessary!! Esp. if said words PISS OFF the oh-so-proper b*tch you’re cussin’ AT! We all know the type; all they say is “Dadgum” and “Oh Fudge!” and maybe they don’t party (which is everyone’s right, at which point they have the ‘right’ to walk out my door!), but some of these women are the BIGGEST hypocrites/gossips/control freaks/passive-aggressive B’s you’ll ever know. I have 2 sons, one 20 yrs. in college, one 10 in elem. school, and they were raised knowing that language- a la’ George Carlin- can be creative, fun, funny,subversive, etc. What do you think an AP English teacher looks for in his/her students? Idiots who write “love poetry” that RHYMES? Hell no. An educated person is supposed to recognize satire, sarcasm, irony, etc. AND they read plenty of gay (Whitman, Oscar Wilde, zillions more…)writers’ works and also the works of BRILLIANT writers who also happened to be drug addicts
    and alcoholics,and on and on. TOBY KEITH knew EXACTLY what he was doing at that concert;as an artist, he made a choice. Anyone offended should not have been there; the world is not always G-rated; kids know this; why don’t their parents?? That’s when you talk to your kids and it’s FINE if you don’t condone any “bad words” w/in your family… just know that, when they get out of your sight, your “G-rated” kids will snicker and either say bad words themselves when w/their friends, play doctor, spit, hit, lie, etc. They will adapt to the “social code” of their peer groups, and I don’t care if said groups are church / Christian related. The first time I ever visited a Baptist Youth Group at 14, they had a cookout and we snuck out on the dock (we were all well trusted!) and those teens got me knee-walkin’ wasted. And some couples kissed or more. By the teen years, the ‘F’ word is going to be the least of a parent’s worries… your child won’t remember (or care) that you took them to a Toby Keith concert where they heard the ‘F’ word; hell, this is one of the reasons they love you! No, they will just remember that you took them somewhere and they had fun. WITH YOU!! Cussing is OK, just use sense (and avoid GD) … The rap/r&b group Outkast have a song called “Roses”-singing about a horrible woman, a tramp and a user- and one of the lyrics goes: “Caroline… she’s the reason for the word B*TCH.” Well said…on the radio, it’s changed to “witch,” and it just sounds stupid.

  29. gagirl62 wrote ” Esp. if said words PISS OFF the oh-so-proper b*tch you’re cussin’ AT! We all know the type; all they say is “Dadgum” and “Oh Fudge!” and maybe they don’t party (which is everyone’s right, at which point they have the ‘right’ to walk out my door!)”

    Will you marry me?

  30. PS. Just because we have the freedom to say just about whatever we want to say, it doesn’t mean that we’re required to say it.

    I’m certainly not above using many 4-letter words, but I most definitely don’t feel the need to denigrate those who do choose to keep their language clean.

  31. JR, I was referring to the comment above yours.


    I just feel that while I understand that it can feel oppressive if people police language, it’s not necessary to rebel against those people. We’re adults now. It’s not like it’s the cool thing to swear now that we’re not in high school. So what? We can do it. Awesome! There are plenty of things that I can do that I choose not to take to an extreme. Saying that you would gladly take your kid to a concert where someone swears to the extreme so that he/she can see freedom of speech in action simply seems more reactionary than rational.
    I suppose my problem isn’t your champion of cussing, it’s the extremeness that bothers me. When people are extreme with their arguments, it’s way too easy to dismiss the argument altogether, thereby negating the good points within.

  32. I didn’t mean to imply your are one of the police, Leeann. And I certainly didn’t mean to offend you if I did …

    Actually, I was more responding to gagirl’s comment again. Yes, her comment is on the extreme side, and I rarely go to the extreme on either side of any argument. But I gotta say, if I had to choose the extreme here, I’d pick gagirl’s extreme to the ‘I don’t ever use cuss words’ side. That’s all.

  33. Hey JR, I definitely was not offended by your comments. Technically, I wasn’t even offended by gagirl’s comment either. I just disagreed with some of her points.

    To be honest, I have no problem with people who swear or people who choose not to swear. I just think that people who try to make others who choose not to do it feel like losers are just as wrong as people who try to police it.

    However, beyond that, this whole issue is pretty insignificant to me.:)

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