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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Britney

At the risk of playing into Spears' obvious marketing ploy, I thought I'd post a little question about her most recent single, which repeats over and over again the phrase "If you seek Amy" in various contexts where it makes no sense except as spelling out "F-U-C-K me."  For example, in one verse, she says:  "If you seek Amy tonight.  We can do anything you like."  In the chorus, she says:  "All the boys and all the girls are begging to if you seek Amy."  You get the idea.

It seems pretty obvious to me that if you simply spelled out a profanity on the radio, you'd run afoul of FCC regulations prohibiting profanity in broadcast media.  But here, the argument would be that she is not spelling out the word in question.  She's saying completely different words that only convey the appearance of spelling it out.  It seems like an obvious violation, but it does introduce some serious line-drawing problems.  After all, a lot of the effect depends on exactly the way she says the words.  Of course, there's no ambiguity as to her intent.  The lyrics make no sense without the pun, but a more talented lyricist could run circles around this loophole, no?  (Note, I'm not taking the normative position that this matters; my interest is purely in the positive legal issue.)

I haven't run into much informed legal discussion of this, though it may be out there.  Part of the problem is that any attempt to Google this runs into pages and pages of Britney fan sites clogging the results.  MTV News did a little item on it a while back. 

Back in March, Slate had a nice piece on (just in case you were wondering) the etymology of the pun.  The bottom line was that Britney, as usual, is doing nothing too original here.  Apparently, a very similar pun ("If you see Kay.") was used in a 1963 blues song by Memphis Slim.  A number of other lesser known artists have used it as well.  Britney is not totally unoriginal, though.  She is apparently the first to use "If you seek Amy" -- getting the "me" in there at the end.  Joyce managed to outdo everyone and pun a couple of profanities in these lyrics in Ulysses:

If you see kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me.

Another article found an example of this genre from Shakespeare:

Shakespeare was also a dirty bird, penning the following in Twelfth Night, “By my life this is my lady’s hand. These be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.” If that “and” in between the CU and the T is pronounced as an N...well, you get the point. I always knew my favorite word was shared by literary geniuses like Bill Shakespeare!

As far as radio play, the issue does not seem to be hampering the song in any way.  Although I've heard it less frequently over the past couple of weeks, there was a period where it was playing pretty regularly on one of our local stations.  Interestingly, a different station in town had a version of the song in which "seek" was replaced with "see," which is very effective at destroying the pun and also makes the song make even less sense than it did in the original version. 

Posted by Eduardo Penalver on June 11, 2009 at 11:32 AM | Permalink

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Comments

It seems pretty obvious to me that if you simply spelled out a profanity on the radio, you'd run afoul of FCC regulations prohibiting profanity in broadcast media. But here, the argument would be that she is not spelling out the word in question. She's saying completely different words that only convey the appearance of spelling it out. It seems like an obvious violation, but it does introduce some serious line-drawing problems.

I am embarrassed to know this: the radio edit has the lyric "If you see Amy," which makes equally little sense, but avoids any FCC problems.

Posted by: alkali | Jun 12, 2009 3:02:35 PM

did you read the articles pointing out that Joyce, Shakespeare and others pulled similar stunts?

http://www.slate.com/id/2214106/

Posted by: law type | Jun 11, 2009 5:59:52 PM

It's amazing what some "artists" will do to get around the FCC. The Jackson-Timberlake wardrobe incident almost pales in comparison. I am not a Spears fan, and I did not know she had a new release, but this seems to rest comfortably alongside her other masterpieces, such as "Hit me baby, one more time."

Posted by: Kelly Anders | Jun 11, 2009 2:17:19 PM

If people were as focused on thse lyrics as they were in the days of The Kingsmen, can you imagine that letters the FCC would get?

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/louie/louie.html

Posted by: Gil T. Azell | Jun 11, 2009 2:10:03 PM

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