Parental Advisory  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Parental Advisory is a message affixed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to audio and recordings in the United States containing excessive use of profane language and/or sexual references. Albums began to be labeled for "explicit lyrics" in 1985, after pressure from the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). In 2000, the PMRC worked with the RIAA to standardize the label, creating the now-familiar black and white design. The first albums to receive the label in its new form included Danzig's self-titled album, Soundgarden's Louder Than Love, Guns N Roses's Appetite for Destruction, and 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be and had the label in the form of a sticker on the cellophane wrap. The first hip hop album that received the label is Ice-T's debut album Rhyme Pays, released in 1987, whose lyrics were associated with gangsta rap, and popularized the genre. Later pressings of Danzig's self-titled, as well as many new albums with the label after 1992, had the label printed onto the artwork. To some, it has become known as the "Tipper sticker" because of Tipper Gore's visible role in the PMRC.

Some retailers (such as Wal-Mart) refuse to sell albums containing the label, and many others limit the sale of such albums to adults only, although most stores have settled on an age limit of 17 in order to buy an album containing the label. In some countries, however, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, albums displaying the sticker are available for purchase by persons of any age. While the label is mostly prevalent on rap and rock albums, it can appear on any genre of CD which the RIAA believes warrants the need for one.

Sometimes the sticker reads "Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics". Sometimes it mentions "Parental Guidance".



Originally, the sticker was a square with a dotted white line near the center of the sticker. The phrase "EXPLICIT LYRICS" was marked on the top, and "PARENTAL ADVISORY" on the bottom. The first incarnation of the logo, introduced in 1990, used a generic font and was used until late 1993, when it was redesigned with a white box in a black rectangle instead of a white bar between black bars. This continued until 1994, when the white bar between black bars design was mixed with the second iteration and "ADVISORY" started using a modified font. In 2001, the fonts for "PARENTAL", "ADVISORY" and "EXPLICIT CONTENT" were simplified, and "EXPLICIT LYRICS" was dropped entirely after being used concurrently with "EXPLICIT CONTENT" for a few years.

A variation of the sticker says Parental Guidance instead of Parental Advisory but has only been seen on a few albums, such as Fatboy Slim's Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, Miyavi's Galyuu, U.K. copies of Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill and Britney Spears' Blackout, and some copies of Metallica's Garage Inc.


Many albums with few to no instances of strong profanity, instances of violence, and/or sexual situations in lyrics have a Parental Advisory sticker; examples include Prince's "Graffiti Bridge", Bloc Party's Silent Alarm and its remix album Silent Alarm Remixed, Blue October's History for Sale, Angels and Airwaves's We Don't Need To Whisper, The Offspring's Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, Nonpoint's Recoil, Sick Puppies's Tri-Polar, Mark Ronson's Version and others. Inversely, albums with multiple uses of explicit language may not have a Parental Advisory, such as the records Antics and Our Love to Admire by Interpol, Rockin' The Suburbs by Ben Folds, Iowa by Slipknot, Beats, Rhymes & Life by A Tribe Called Quest and some albums/collections released by The Smashing Pumpkins. It is not a rating; there are no agreed-upon standards for a parental advisory label. It is the record company's decision whether an album needs one or not. Some albums, however, have been considered so extreme in their violent content that even the distributor of the album has put on a secondary warning next to the Parental Advisory sticker, most notably Geto Boys' self-titled album released in 1990.

The presence of a Parental Advisory label does not seem to mean that an album is any more profane than one without. One such example is the death metal band Morbid Angel's 1993 album Covenant. While the band was signed on with the major record label Giant Records, pressings of Covenant had the parental advisory sticker in the corner. However, when Giant Records went bankrupt, Morbid Angel returned to their old independent label Earache Records. Future pressings of the album no longer contain the sticker.

But many major-label artists' records evade Parental Advisory, such as most albums from Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Incubus, Ministry, The Prodigy, Green Day, and The Rolling Stones. Also, Bloc Party's Intimacy and its remix album Intimacy Remixed, The Hives' Barely Legal, Pearl Jam's Ten, Coheed and Cambria's The Second Stage Turbine Blade, Breaking Benjamin's Saturate and Slipknot's Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses do not carry the sticker. Older albums often avoid being given a label even on their CD re-release, such as The Sex Pistols' 1977 LP Never Mind The Bollocks despite its title and repeated strong language in the lyrics. Sometimes when an artist releases their albums on a smaller, more obscure label, the releases can go without the sticker: Blink-182's first two albums, Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch, initially released on smaller, independent label Cargo Music, evade the sticker today, despite the band's multi-platinum success.

Moreover, some albums may receive Parental Advisory labels even though these albums contain no use of strong language, sexual references, or violent lyrics at all. Examples include Danzig's first four albums and EP, and Saving Abel's Saving Abel but these albums only contain mild-to-moderate profanity on one or two songs at least, but also Gorillaz' G-Sides, Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss, and From First to Last's self-titled album don't have any profanity and still have a label. One particularly strange occurrence of the Parental Advisory label is Jay-Z: Unplugged. While the studio recordings of most of the songs on Unplugged feature profanity, Jay-Z used different wording during the performance to make it appropriate for the MTV Unplugged TV broadcast. Despite the self-censorship, a Parental Advisory label was still printed on the cover.

Some albums, such as Janet Jackson's All for You, Jennifer Lopez's J.Lo, Blink 182's Enema of the State, Lily Allen's It's Not Me, It's You, Red Hot Chili Peppers' The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, Godsmack's self-titled debut album and Asking Alexandria's Stand Up and Scream were initially released without a label, despite extremely explicit lyrical content, then re-released with one. The former already had an edited version released in Wal-Mart stores removing one of the heavily sexual tracks, and was then released in 'explicit' (with the label) and 'clean' versions in all stores. The re-releases of All for You and J.Lo added a new remix of the single from the album that was currently being promoted at the time. Both of the remixes were of explicit songs, so the remixes made the albums even more explicit, explaining why the label was added. The latter album, was released normally, with no label or edited version. About a month after its initial release, it was released with a label, alongside an edited version.

Most albums that are of the extreme metal genre that contain explicit lyrics do not warrant an Advisory label, mostly because the unclean vocals used in the music are not understandable by most, regardless even if the lyrics are included with the album's packaging.

Some albums do not have the label when released in the United States, but bear them when sold in other countries despite being lyrically identical. An example is Avril Lavigne's Under My Skin, which did not bear the label in the United States but did in Canada because of the use of the word "shit" (which alone usually does not warrant the label's use in America).

Most albums released on Sony Music's record labels (Arista Records, Columbia Records, Jive Records, LaFace Records, J Records, Epic Records, Daylight Records, Work Records, among others) that contain the PA sticker provide additional explanations of why the disc warrants the sticker and sometimes note that there is a clean version of said album available. On System of a Down's Hypnotize, for instance, under the label it reads "STRONG LANGUAGE, SEXUAL + VIOLENT CONTENT", and on the North American versions of Pink's albums Funhouse and I'm Not Dead and Hurricane Chris's debut album under the label it reads "STRONG LANGUAGE". Also, Radiohead's Hail to the Thief has a warning of the strong offensive language inside the CD booklet, next to the listed lyrics.

Many albums with the label have clean versions available, especially on online music stores such as iTunes or Napster. However, some of the "clean" stickers may be given to albums with no profanity, such as the case with Blur's self-titled album, which was given a clean sticker because it had three tracks within "Essex Dogs": "Dancehall", the former song, and "Interlude". Strangely, when Aaron Carter's Self-titled debut album was released to iTunes, the album had an "explicit" sticker although he was too young to use profanities. In 2006, Relient K released a "clean" sticker for their single Must Have Done Something Right although the band is known for not using any profanities. In 2007, rock group Garbage's "best of" collection was released worldwide through Warner Music Group, with all editions carrying a parental advisory label. A "clean" version of the album was, however, released through iTunes, yet the single instance of profanity found throughout the album (on the track "Why Do You Love Me") remained uncensored.

A few albums have a note saying that the lyrics are of an adult nature, but without the sticker: Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust, James Blunt's Back to Bedlam, Vanessa Amorosi's Somewhere In The Real World, Motion City Soundtrack's Even If It Kills Me, and Guns N' Roses' "The Spaghetti Incident?" (though some pressings of the latter did use the Parental Advisory sticker).

There have been some cases of unusual use of the label. After Frank Zappa campaigned against music censorship in 1985, the sticker was attached to his next album, Jazz from Hell, because of the title of one track, "G-Spot Tornado", although the album is entirely instrumental and contains no lyrics that could be "explicit lyrics". The designation of instrumentals as taboo, however, is nothing new; in the 1950s, the "Rumble" instrumental by Link Wray was banned from some radio stations because it could supposedly incite "juvenile violence".Template:Citation needed

In some cases, the stickers appear to have had the reverse effect to what was intended—the sticker can make an album more desirable, and the sticker has been called the musical equivalent of an "alcohol content" label. Indeed, the PAL notice itself has achieved a degree of cult status, with comedian George Carlin entitling an album Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics and numerous t-shirts, metal signs, and other paraphernalia bearing the logo.

The RIAA, however, officially states that "it's not a PAL Notice that kids look for, it's the music. Independent research shows kids put limited weight on lyrics in deciding which music they like, caring more about rhythm and melody. The PAL Notice alone isn’t enough incentive."

The label is also seen in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, Greece, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Brazil, Denmark, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Philippines, New Zealand, and Canada on albums of American origin. An album with the label is automatically banned in some conservative countries (such as China and Saudi Arabia). At Wal-Mart (and until recently K-Mart) stores, only a "clean" version of an album is allowed, and if no "clean" version of the album is available, Wal-Mart will ask the artist/band to make a "clean" version. If the artist/band refuses to make a "clean" version, the album will not be available. However, Wal-Mart's policy on carrying "explicit" versions of music albums in their stores seems to vary by country, as albums with the parental advisory label are found in Canadian Wal-Mart stores, for example. Most albums are available at Wal-Mart in edited formats. However, some albums are available in edited formats at the Wal-Mart website, but are not available in the stores due to controversy. In sharp contrast, retailer Best Buy only carries uncensored albums in their physical stores, but customers can purchase the "clean versions" at their website for an additional fee whereas in the retail store F.Y.E. a customer can purchase either clean or explicit version of an album. A notable exception: while the Guns N Roses album Chinese Democracy carries a Parental Advisory on some online copies, physical Best Buy stores tend to carry only the clean version of the record.

Wal-Mart requested the band Green Day to censor their albums American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown in 2004 and 2009 respectively, or they would refuse to sell them. In both cases, Green Day refused.

Notable albums with the Parental Advisory label

Other recordings

The following recordings don't necessarily contain the label in the US but may elsewhere.

  • For Your Entertainment by Adam Lambert - Given a sticker in some countries mostly due to the track "Fever", which contains homosexuality as well as taboo content found on the title track.
  • Master of Puppets by Metallica - Early pressings parody the "explicit lyrics" warnings of the time by warning that only one song (Damage, Inc.) would use profanity. Current copies do not carry any warning at all.
  • "The Spaghetti Incident?" by Guns N Roses - Some copies contain a warning sticker warning of the content before concluding with "so don't say we didn't warn you!" with the signature "GN'FN'R". This sticker has since been dropped from CD issues.
  • Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II by Guns N Roses - The CD case carried a sticker displaying "This album contains language which some listeners may find objectionable. They can F?!* off and buy something from the New Age section." These have since been dropped from CD issues, and they never appeared on any other format (cassette versions feature the original Parental Advisory logo).
  • Ain't It Fun by Guns N' Roses featured a text non-sticker version on the cassette version reading "Contains Explicit Language".
  • Familiar to Millions by Oasis also features a text non-sticker version on the back cover (of all versions), but is longer and different than the one mentioned for Ain't It Fun.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Parental Advisory" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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