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10 Popular Songs With Terribly Inappropriate Lyrics

Cobain, Madden, Reznor
Frank Micelotta, Hulton Archive / Mark Kolbe, Michael Buckner / Getty Images
Of all the things that make a song popular, lyrics might be the least important. “If the beat is right,” Chris Rock once said, explaining the widespread appeal of vulgar rap songs, even among females, “she'll dance all night.” Hip-hop has long been lambasted for its violent, misogynistic and homophobic lyrics, but rappers aren't the only ones who get on the mic and say messed-up stuff. As the following 10 songs illustrate, alt-rock and indie artists are also prone to writing wildly inappropriate lyrics, and sometimes, their poor taste lands them at the top of the charts.


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10

'Date Rape'

Sublime
 
 

When you make light of a heavy topic, you risk trivializing your subject, and that's exactly what Sublime does with this 1992 ska-punk cautionary tale. Frontman Brad Nowell's heart was probably in the right place -- the song's villainous rapist winds up in prison, where he learns what it's like to be violated -- but the silly lyrics ("he was butt-raped by a large inmate") and fratty execution undercut the message. A lot of dudes who blasted this at college parties totally missed the point.

 
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9

'Rape Me'

Nirvana
 
 

Whether Kurt Cobain was decrying violence against women or blasting his record label for shady business practices -- both of which are plausible readings -- his inflammatory title and chorus were bound to distract and offend listeners. Some words are hand grenades, and "rape" is more explosive than most. To the extent Cobain was trying to make a point, not just get a rise out of people, this one blew up in his face.

 
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8

'The HIV Song'

Ween
 
 

If the gang from 'Sesame Street' were to write a song about AIDS, it wouldn't be half as cheery as this circusy tune. There's something to be said for laughing at things that scare or sadden us -- and that's almost certainly what Ween are doing here -- but it's hard to imagine anyone personally affected by the disease finding this funny or empowering.

 
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7

'Closer'

Nine Inch Nails
 
 

"You let me violate you / You let me desecrate you," go the opening lines of the darkest, freakiest sex jam to ever come within spitting distance of the Top 40. (It peaked at no. 41.) Thanks to the grotesque yet oddly arousing video, the phrase "I want to f--- you like an animal" entered the popular vernacular, and a generation of MTV viewers entered adulthood with some serious sexual hangups. Trent Reznor might not have brought us "closer to god," but thanks to that disembodied heart and spinning pig head, we're closer to our therapists.

 
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6

'Smack My B---- Up'

The Prodigy
 
 

In the late '90s, the Prodigy were the kings of "big beat," but did they advocate beating women? That was the charge after the U.K. group released 'Smack My B---- Up,' a 1997 single whose sole line, "Change my pitch up / Smack my bitch up," didn't exactly sit well with conservative listeners. According to the band, the lyrics refer to "doing anything intensely," but by the time they'd released the video -- a highly sexual, ultra-violent clip whose gender-flip surprise ending hardly fanned the flames -- it was a moot point.

 

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