- 02 Aug 22
One month after Lizzo removed the same term from 'Grrrls', Beyoncé confirms the removal of harmful language from new album track 'Heated'. TW: Discussion of ableist language/slurs.
Beyoncé has confirmed the removal of a derogatory term, originally used to discuss spastic paralysis, in the lyrics of her song 'Heated' (co-written by Drake).
Renaissance, while widely celebrated, has not been without controversy. While the etymology of the work originates from the Greek word 'spastikos' meaning spasms and was historically used in a medical context, the word has evolved harmfully from there.
Up until the mid-1900s, the term was primarily confined to the medical sphere and used as short hand to refer to patients with spastic paralysis - including cerebral palsy. When it moved into the public sphere, both in the UK and the US, the term took on a derogatory meaning for people to belittle, mock, and degrade people.
In the UK and Ireland, the term remains taboo in relation to perceived disability. The slur, recently used and subsequently taken out of a song by Lizzo, has been deemed unacceptable by fans (good-intentions non-withstanding).
A rep for Beyoncé commented saying “the word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced," though there's been no official timeline set. Sense, a UK Disability Charity, called out the singer saying it was "disappointing that another artist is using an offensive term in their song so soon after it was pointed out how hurtful the word is."
Pleased to hear that @Beyonce is re-recording Heated to remove the ableist term.
Words are important because they can reinforce negative attitudes that disabled people face every day.
— Sense (@sensecharity) August 1, 2022
When Lizzo faced a similar response to her use of the word earlier this year, she immediately removed the term and released and updated version of her song 'Grrrls'. She took to her social media platforms to address the change saying “it’s been brought to my attention that there is a harmful word in my new song, ‘GRRRLs'.
"Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language. As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I [understand] the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally). As an influential artist I’m dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world."
— FOLLOW @YITTY (@lizzo) June 13, 2022
Words have immeasurable power, especially when used by people with considerable influence. The words permeating the media we consume (whether it's music, literature, television, etc.) set an example for what's acceptable. Artists taking responsibility for the harmful language they promote, whether intentionally or not, is paramount.
Cases like this one are important for setting a precedent, but it doesn't explain uses of the word that have gone unremarked upon in the past. Why has criticism been focused on Beyoncé and Lizzo when (usually male) artists have been including this term for years before now? Is it because of their current visibility on the music scene? Because their fans are more conscientious? Or because they're Black women, proven to be a group facing higher levels of social media furore?
Whatever it is, the conversation that this term has started has the potential to prompt other artists, both past and future, to consider their own use of language.
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- 03 Feb 23