The Prodigy change the lyrics to 'Smack My B**** Up.' It was the right thing to do

25 years on from its release, the unlikely hit seems to be getting an essential retcon.
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At a recent show at London's Alexandria Palace, the Prodigy appeared to drop the offending line, despite it being literally the title of the song, instead repeating the previous line "change my pitch up."

We now have enough distance from the nineties to see what a strange and interesting time it was. Growing up in that decade, I can tell you that it felt like the end of history and that humanity was as enlightened as it would ever be. As tumultuous as the present is, it's reassuring that we're no longer in denial about the ways in which we have to improve like we were back then.

In the nineties, if you'd said that the lyrics to "Smack My B**** Up" were offensive and sexist, you'd have been met with a glib retort about how great art is meant to offend, or how song lyrics don't make people sexist. But now, we're mature enough to face the mistakes of the past head-on and have those conversations.

In case it needs saying, great art that's offensive afflicts the sensibilities of society's elites, it doesn't just pepper in gendered slurs for flavouring. And while violent song lyrics do not make people violent in a literal one-to-one cause-and-effect sense, a society that tolerates a breakbeat banger about violence towards women is a society that regards violence towards women as an inevitable vice.

Despite everything, "Smack My B**** Up" deserves to live on

But "Smack My B**** Up" is great despite being offensive. It was the third single of their blockbuster 1997 album Fat Of The Land, though it didn't chart as high as the first two, probably due to the controversy. It was banned by the BBC, who would not even say the song's name on air. But the riff is one of the most iconic sounds of the nineties, and it absolutely kills live. I don't think I've ever seen an audience so amped up when I saw them in 2009. It's nice that something could be salvaged to keep the song alive.

There's been no statement from the band regarding the change, but it's telling that the video is nowhere to be found online. The Jonas Åkerlund-directed video notoriously depicts sexual assault, playing it off as the edgy antics of an out-of-control 24-hour party person on par with drug-taking (an inevitable vice, if you will.) The fact that it's been scrubbed suggests that they've been aware for quite some time now that the song is problematic.

The excuses the band used back in the nineties were all over the place, and seem a little desperate twenty-five years later. The band's late frontman Keith Flint told Rolling Stone that "If some girl in an A-line flowery dress decides there’s some band somewhere singing about smashing bitches up, let’s get a bit militant. They don’t know us. They never know us. They never will," and bandleader Liam Howlett followed that up tautologically by saying "It's so offensive that it can't actually mean that."

We live in more honest times now, when we can admit that some things are offensive, and that offense isn't arbitrary pearl-clutching, but a rational reaction to something that causes genuine real-world pain. Even the most difficult, abrasive, or prickly art should spread joy, not cause pain.

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