The Dirty History Of Parental Advisory Label (Pal)

The Dirty History of Parental Advisory label (PAL)

This article is about the warning label used by the music industry.

What is the Parental Advisory label (PAL)?

The Parental Advisory Label, or PAL for short, is a warning label made by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It refers to a warning label, typically applied to music products, especially the album cover art, that signifies there is explicit content that may be inappropriate for children.

It was introduced by RIAA in 1985 after “Tipper Gore” listened to Prince’s “Darling Nikki”. Tipper Gore created the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and launched a campaign to use “Parental Advisory” labels to warn parents against music with explicit or “obscene” content unsuitable for children under the age of 16. In 2011 BPI (British Phonographic Industry) also adopted the PAL.

Parental Advisory Label (Pal)
The Former Design For The Parental Advisory Logo Was Used During The 1990S, This Logo Also Co-Existed With The Current Label From 1996 To 2001. (Explicit Lyrics Logo)

The Background of Parental Advisory label (PAL)?

Explicit content / Explicit lyrics

Soon after the formation of PMRC in 1985, they made a list of fifteen songs dubbed the “Filthy Fifteen” that they considered objectionable and offensive, with the Prince song “Darling Nikki” at the top of the list.

Gore’s main problem with the music was its explicit mention of masturbation. The story is that Tipper, who at the time was the wife of then-Senator Al Gore and eventually would become the United States “Second Lady” when her husband served as vice-president under Bill Clinton, bought “Purple Rain” album for her 11-year-old daughter, Karenna. The latter sang the lyrics, including the naughty bits attracting her mother’s attention.

Afterward, a group of wives of 10 Senators, 6 Representatives, and a Cabinet Secretary formed PMRC. RIAA responded to the group by making an early version of their content warning label. Still, PMRC was displeased and wanted something more structured like the “Motion Picture Association of America film rating system”.

The RIAA suggested another version of the warning label reading, “Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics”. After a long back and forth between the two groups, the matter was discussed on September 19 during a hearing with the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Some well-known musicians at the time, such as “Frank Zappa” and “Dee Snider,” showed strong opposition to censorship and PMRC’s warning label. About two months later, the two groups agreed on a settlement in which audio recordings were either released with a warning label reading “Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” or have their lyrics on the backside of their packaging.

In 1990 the current black and white warning label design was introduced and was meant to be placed at the bottom right corner of a given product album cover art. The first album with the black and white PAL was the 1990 release of “Banned in the USA” by “2 Live Crew” by 1992; more than 200 records had been marked by PAL on their music album cover art.

The system went without any change until 2002, when record labels began including specific areas of concern, including “strong language”, “violent content”, or “sexual content” on compact discs alongside the generic Parental Advisory label with Parental Advisory explicit content label. The PAL was also first used by streaming services and online music stores in 2011.

Parental Advisory Label (Pal)
The Current Parental Advisory Warning Label Was Introduced In 1996. (Explicit Content Logo)

The Impact of Parental Advisory Sticker?

At first, musicians were scared that PAL might bring down their sales, and at first, it looked like it might have affected the sales when US megastore “Walmart” decided they would not carry any album with PALs. Still, it worked differently, suddenly becoming more appealing to the fans.

Fans of rap music were already drawn to what the PMRC classified as “porn rock” and the genres because of their anti-establishment messages. In 1997 the New York Times reported that some record companies use the Parental Advisory sticker as a marketing tool to advertise their artist. Their explicit lyrics and rap records get labeled more often than rock albums that are every bit as explicit. An artist named “NWA” released a song called “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”, which celebrated the explicit nature of their music.

From the start, different people and artists constantly questioned the effectiveness of PAL. Jon Wiederhorn from MTV News said that artists benefited from PAL. Younger audiences were attracted to more violent and explicit content because they could find it way more manageable now due to PAL.

Andy Thomas, a representative of “Westword” a free digital and print media publication, said the label is useless and purposeless because a young customer would eventually get a copy: “would get a copy of the album sooner or later from a friend or another lethargic record store clerk” he also added that the reaction was varied from family to family, a lax mother would act indifferent to the label and will let her child listen to the songs. In contrast, the stricter mother of his companion did not allow her child to listen to the record.

Nowadays, the label has become largely obsolete and useless, so it’s hard to imagine that this was once a big deal and was covered by media worldwide. Lots of musicians made songs protesting the PMRC and criticized the label. Still, it’s just some sticker in the bottom right corner of album arts showing the endless struggle and fight between generations to push the boundaries and change what’s normal and what’s considered harmful.

The Edited counterparts of the Parental Advisory Logo?

It is pretty standard for an album that received the Parental Advisory sticker to be sold alongside an “edited” version which removes objectionable content, usually to the same level as a radio edit. However, the RIAA Uniform Guidelines say, “An Edited Version need not remove all potentially objectionable content from the sound recording.”

These albums are packaged nearly identically to their explicit counterparts, usually the only indicator being the lack of a Parental Advisory seal. However, if the artwork is explicit too, it will usually be censored (an example is Rainbow by Kesha where on the edited version, the body is moved lower, so the buttocks are not visible). In the case of some albums, such as Box Car Racer, a black box reading “EDITED VERSION” is placed where the Parental Advisory seal would be.

This was part of new guidelines introduced on April 1, 2002, including a label that featured “Edited Version Also Available” next to the Parental Advisory seal. Sometimes, an artist will deliberately change the title or artwork of an edited version to reflect censorship.

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