During the summer of 2022, two of the biggest pop artists, Lizzo and Beyoncé, were lambasted on Twitter by Australian activists for using the word "spaz" in their songs. "Spaz" is shorthand for "spastic" and it has a very different connotation overseas than it does in the United States.
"The 'spaz' that I grew up with as a teenager in the '90s meant that you were like maybe a little bit random. It could even be a term of endearment. It is not the same as the 'spaz' that's used in African American vernacular English, where it basically means that you're about to fight somebody," says novelist and cultural critic Kat Rosenfield.
Both Lizzo and Beyoncé decided to give in to activists' demands and alter the lyrics post-release.
Rosenfield calls this the "rapidly advancing new frontier for the suppression of free speech and artistic expression," in her recent article in Reason, "Stop Spazzing Out About 'Spaz'" (which appeared in the magazine's January 2023 issue).
"It's something beyond burning books, something beyond destruction," Rosenfield writes. "[I]t's stories and songs and films cut apart and written over, leaving no trace and no remnant of whatever used to be."
In November of 2022, the social media mob came for Taylor Swift calling her "fat phobic" for a scene in her new music video, "Anti-Hero," where she is standing on a scale that reads "fat" while her evil doppelgänger looks at her disapprovingly. Swift promptly updated this scene to no longer show the word "fat."
"This is a woman talking about her own personal history revealing something that is painful about herself and exploring that through her art," says Rosenfield. "The idea that she is gonna be scolded and made to change her work because other people didn't like the way that she was negotiating her own pain in her artwork just strikes me as wildly inappropriate."
Produced by Natalie Dowzicky; edited by Regan Taylor; additional graphics by Nathalie Walker.
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Music Credits: "Where I Belong (feat. MMKAY) – Instrumental Version," by Leroy Wild; "Bones – Instrumental Version," by Michael McQuaid; "Corals Under the Sun – Instrumental Version," by Yehezkel Raz.