Skip To Content

    10 Groundbreaking Songs Vs. 10 Problematic Songs That Prove Some Music Is Timeless And Some Is...Well, Beyond Horrible

    "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell is just as relevant today as it was in 1970.

    We asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about some popular, older songs that have always been problematic *and*, alternatively, about a few songs they believe were ahead of their time (to illustrate both sides of how music has aged over the years). Here's what they had to say:

    Warning: Some submissions include topics of domestic abuse, sexual harassment, pedophilia, anti-gay abuse, and anti-Asian hate. Please proceed with caution.

    Note: Not all submissions are from Community users — some are from this Reddit thread by user u/82h8z4.

    1. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Bad Guy" by Eminem (2013).

    Eminem wearing a cap at 50 Cent's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in 2020

    "I still don't understand what's so interesting about Eminem outside of a couple of songs, especially when people say he's 'just joking.' If he's serious about what he raps, then he's a piece of shit; if he's joking, then it's a very unfunny joke and he has an awful sense of humor."

    u/[deleted]

    You can listen to "Bad Guy" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Aftermath / Shady / Interscope / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "Sneak all the way 'round to the back porch

    Door handles unlocked, shouldn't be that easy to do this.

    You don't plan for intruders beforehand?

    Gag, chloroform rag, dag, almost hack up a lung

    Like you picked up an ax and swung.

    Stick to the core plan, dragged to the back of a trunk by one of your fans,

    Irony's spectacular, huh?

    Now who's a f*ggot, you punk?"

    2. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton (1980).

    Parton in the movie "9 to 5"

    "Dolly Parton's '9 to 5' called out the sexism ingrained in workplace culture before it was common to do so. This song came out in the '80s, but it has just as much relevance to working environments today."

    hiitsnicetomeetyou

    You can listen to "9 to 5" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    RCA Nashville / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "9 to 5, for service and devotion

    You would think that I would deserve a fair promotion.

    Want to move ahead, but the boss won’t seem to let me

    I swear sometimes that man is out to get me."

    3. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number," written by R. Kelly for Aaliyah (1994).

    Image from video of R Kelly embracing Aaliyah

    "'Age Ain't Nothing but a Number' is wrong on so many levels because it was written by R. Kelly for Aaliyah when she was only 14 or 15 years old — it’s like a pedophile's anthem. The fact that R. Kelly married her when she was underage makes this song (and entire album) more than problematic."

    annelister

    You can listen to "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Blackground / Jive / BMG Records / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "Age ain't nothing but a number,

    Throwing down ain't nothing but a thing.

    This loving I have for you,

    It'll never change."

    4. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "Let's Talk About Sex" by Salt-N-Pepa (1991).

    Salt-N-Pepa at a New York City club in 1993

    "'Let's Talk About Sex' by Salt-N-Pepa was done in a way that was accessible for everyone and was damn catchy, at that. I was maybe 10 years old when it came out, and even I understood what was being said and how important it was, and still is today."

    sarahdianna

    You can listen to "Let's Talk About Sex" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Next Plateau / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "Let's talk about sex for now 

    To the people at home or in the crowd

    It keeps coming up anyhow.

    Don't decoy, avoid, or make void the topic,

    'Cause that ain't gonna stop it."

    5. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Run for Your Life" by the Beatles (1965).

    The Beatles posing for a portrait in 1964 in front of a US flag

    "How about 'Run for Your Life' by the Fab Four themselves? They'd never write anything problematic, surely??? 'You better run for your life if you can, little girl / Hide your head in the sand, little girl / Catch you with another man — that's the end, little girl.' Yeah, even the Beatles could write some seriously dodgy music, like a song about a guy threatening to kill a girl if he sees her loving a different man."

    Clothilde

    You can listen to "Run for Your Life" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Parlophone / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "Let this be a sermon

    I mean everything I've said.

    Baby, I'm determined

    And I'd rather see you dead.

    You better run for your life if you can, little girl

    Hide your hand in the sand, little girl."

    6. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell (1970).

    Mitchell at the 1970 Grammys holding an award

    "'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell was released in 1970 and covered all the dangers of destroying wildlife and the planet. It was way ahead of its time!"

    khrushchev

    You can listen to "Big Yellow Taxi" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Reprise / Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "They took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum 

    And they charged the people a dollar and half just to see 'em.

    Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?

    They paved paradise, put up a parking lot."

    7. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors (1980).

    The Vapors posing for a picture in 1980

    "'Turning Japanese' by the Vapors reeks of racism, with the song allegedly being about the 'squinting face' one makes while climaxing. The fact that they sing these lyrics with 'Oriental riffs' playing in the background is awful. The line 'No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women' sounds to me like the singer is trying to imitate a Japanese accent, but I could be wrong."

    buddleia

    You can listen to "Turning Japanese" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    United Artists Records / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "I've got your picture, I'd like a million of them all 'round my cell

    I want a doctor to take your picture so I can look at you from inside as well.

    You got me turning up and turning down

    I'm turning in, I'm turning 'round.

    I'm turning Japanese

    I think I'm turning Japanese."

    8. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday (1939).

    Holiday recording a song in 1946

    Holiday's song "Strange Fruit" (originally recorded in 1939 and then again in 1944) is heartbreakingly brilliant. She sang about an important issue that most people refused to even acknowledge in the '30s, which was the lynchings of innocent Black citizens in the US.

    You can listen to the 1944 version of "Strange Fruit" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Commodore / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "Southern trees bear a strange fruit

    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

    Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze

    Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees."

    9. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: Rick Ross's verse on "U.O.E.N.O." by Rocko (2013).

    Rick Ross wearing sunglasses, standing and holding a glass of champagne

    "Besides the actual verse, the most absurd thing about 'U.O.E.N.O.' has to be the shit apology Rick Ross ended up giving after receiving backlash for his verse. So because he 'only insinuated' and described the act of drugging and raping someone but didn't explicitly state what he was doing was rape, we shouldn't be so hard on him? Come on."

    u/GuitarHero308

    You can listen to Ross's verse on "U.O.E.N.O." here:

    View this video on YouTube

    A1 / Via youtube.com

    The verse's problematic lyrics:

    "Put Molly all in her champagne 

    She ain't even know it.

    I took her home and enjoyed that

    She ain't even know it."

    10. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "The Pill" by Loretta Lynn (1975).

    Lynn posing for a portrait in the early '70s

    "Loretta Lynn wrote a bunch of feminist songs — her song 'The Pill' was banned in a lot of places. It wasn’t one of her best songs, but it was gutsy to sing about a taboo subject like birth control at all when it came out in the '70s. She also wrote about how difficult it was for a divorced woman to navigate social settings in 'Rated X' (1973), and not thinking your children are perfect in 'You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly' (1978), all with a sense of humor."

    rebeccam4e04c2006

    You can listen to "The Pill" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    MCA / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "This old maternity dress I've got is goin' in the garbage

    The clothes I'm wearin' from now on won't take up so much yardage.

    Miniskirts, hot pants, and a few little fancy frills 

    Yeah, I'm makin' up for all those years since I've got the Pill."

    11. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Villuminati" by J. Cole (2013).

    J Cole at the "Off the Grid" premiere in 2015, wearing a loose, long T-shirt

    "'Villuminati' by J. Cole — the point of the 'my verbal AK slay f*ggots' verse is really confusing because of the delivery and all of the back-and-forth. So, to me, it just comes off as misguided and unnecessary. I don't think Cole is intentionally being anti-gay in this song, but he tries to make a point that gets really confusing, so he's just yelling anti-gay slurs over and over again — literally every line gets worse."

    u/ThereIsNoSantaClaus

    "It's obviously messy AF, and if someone can't clearly deliver a message about something harmful, don't even try to."

    u/amumumyspiritanimal

    You can listen to "Villuminati" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    ByStorm / Columbia / Dreamville / Roc Nation / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "My verbal AK slay f*ggots and I don't mean no disrespect

    Whenever I say 'f*ggot,' okay, f*ggot?

    Don't be so sensitive.

    If you want to get fucked in the ass, that's between you and whoever else's dick it is.

    Pause — maybe that line was too far

    Just a little joke to show how homophobic you are

    And who can blame ya?"

    12. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "Waterfalls" by TLC (1994).

    TLC posing for a portrait in 1999

    "Waterfalls" by TLC was way ahead of its time and more groundbreaking than most people realize. This famous group wrote and performed one of the first songs about HIV in the most unfiltered way, without the stigma around this important topic that most people at the time refused to acknowledge in music.

    You can listen to "Waterfalls" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    LaFace / Arista / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "One day he goes and takes a glimpse in the mirror

    But he doesn't recognize his own face.

    His health is fading and he doesn't know why

    Three letters took him to his final resting place."

    13. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners (1982).

    Dexys Midnight Runners posing for a portrait in 1982

    "I loved the song when I was young, but then I grew up and listened to the lyrics. It's basically about a guy trying to talk a young woman into sleeping with him by saying creepy things thinly veiled by nice words (maybe even an older dude trying to trick a 'newly legal' woman)."

    hallamichellem

    You can listen to "Come On Eileen" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Mercury / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "You've grown (you're grown up)

    So grown (so grown up)

    Now I must say more than ever — come on, Eileen.

    Come on, Eileen,

    Oh, I swear (what he means)

    At this moment you mean everything.

    You in that dress, my thoughts I confess,

    Verge on dirty — oh, come on, Eileen."

    14. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "Head" by Prince (1980).

    Prince performing onstage with his guitar in 1984

    Before the oral sex anthem "Watermelon Sugar" by Harry Styles, there was Prince's "Head." He was, without a doubt, a revolutionary when it came to the music world, and his third studio album, Dirty Mind, was a huge example of that. On this album, Prince covered many sexual topics that were otherwise not discussed in mainstream music, like sexual freedom and experimentation. Although "Head" wasn't a lead single, fans still recognize it as one of his most daring and unfiltered songs, and it helped shape the way musicians covered sex in decades to come.

    You can listen to "Head" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "Now morning, noon, and night

    I give you head till you're burning up.

    Head, till you get enough

    Head, till your love is red

    Head, love you till you're dead."

    15. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Daughters" by John Mayer (2003).

    Mayer posing for a portrait in 2008 and hugging his guitar

    "'Daughters' by John Mayer is disturbing, tbh. Him singing, 'Fathers, be good to your daughters' and 'Girls become lovers who turn into mothers' just gives off a really creepy vibe. He sees women as objects and how they're only good for loving men and making babies. The song plays at my work all the time, and it disgusts me."

    lexluthors

    You can listen to "Daughters" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Columbia / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "On behalf of every man

    Looking out for every girl

    You are the god and the weight of her world.

    So, fathers, be good to your daughters

    Daughters will love like you do.

    Girls become lovers who turn into mothers,

    So, mothers, be good to your daughters, too."

    16. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" by Carly Simon (1971).

    Simon posing for a portrait in the early '70s

    In her first lead single as an artist, Simon tackled a big issue most women in the early '70s were experiencing: the idea of getting married to fulfill societal expectations versus protesting the "norm." Simon expresses her friends' unhappiness in "That's the Way" after they've settled down with a partner, a notion that certainly rings true 51 years later. It's become an anthem for women who choose not to get married because they're perfectly content as they are, and refuse to change to satisfy anyone else's needs but their own.

    You can listen to "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Elektra / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "You say that we can keep our love alive

    Babe, all I know is what I see.

    The couples cling and claw 

    And drown in love's debris.

    You say we'll soar like two birds through the clouds

    But soon you'll cage me on your shelf.

    I'll never learn to be just me first by myself."

    17. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Island Girl" by Elton John (1975).

    John at his Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in 1975

    "I love Sir Elton John, but his song 'Island Girl' from the '70s is both racist and sexist (we can thank Bernie Taupin for the lyrics). It’s about a Jamaican sex worker who services white men — the song describes her as being 'Black as coal, but she burn like a fire' and asks the 'island girl' what she wants from the white man’s world since 'Black boy' wants her in his island world. It was a huge hit back then, but Elton doesn't perform it in concert anymore (for good reason)."

    —[deleted]

    You can listen to "Island Girl" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    MCA / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "Black boy want you in his island world,

    He want to take you from the racket boss.

    He want to save you, but your cause is lost.

    Island girl, island girl, island girl,

    Tell me what you wanting with the white man's world."

    18. A groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "What Would You Do?" by City High (2001).

    City High posing for a portrait in London in 2002

    "Sex work is considered way more valid now than back in the early 2000s. 'What Would You Do?' highlighted very real issues that still plague us, like the ongoing cycle of sexual abuse and how it can affect people for the rest of their lives (the lyrics about waking up 'hoping to die'). City High sang about the need for all of us to be more compassionate to each other."

    childrenofthecornbread

    You can listen to "What Would You Do?" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Interscope / Rockland / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "She said, 'What would you do if your son was at home,

    Crying all alone on the bedroom floor 'cause he's hungry?

    And the only way to feed him is to sleep with a man for a little bit of money.

    And his daddy's gone,

    Somewhere smokin' rock now, in and out of lockdown, 

    I ain't got a job now.

    So for you this is just a good time,

    But for me, this is what I call life.'"

    19. A problematic song that hasn't stood the test of time: "Good Morning, Little School Girl" by the Grateful Dead (1967).

    The Grateful Dead posing for a portrait in the late '60s

    "Good Morning, Little School Girl," written by Sonny Boy Williamson and recorded by the Grateful Dead in 1967, is about an older man who's sexually attracted to a teenage girl he notices walking home every day after school. It's unfortunately one of many classic rock songs about an older man preying on a much younger woman, and yet it's a favorite among Dead fans."

    "The song title speaks for itself."

    promising.young.woman

    You can listen to "Good Morning, Little School Girl" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

    The song's problematic lyrics:

    "Good morning, little schoolgirl,

    Can I come home with you?

    Tell your mama and your papa I'm a little schoolboy, too.

    Come on now, pretty baby,

    I just can't help myself.

    You're so young and pretty,

    I don't need nobody else."

    20. And a groundbreaking song that has stood the test of time: "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye (1971).

    Gaye posing for a portrait in 1973

    Motown founder Berry Gordy originally didn't want Gaye to release "What's Going On" because he thought it was too political (Gordy was used to producing popular hits about lighter subjects, while Gaye wanted to record a song about the injustice of the Vietnam War). Gaye went on a recording strike until Gordy approved the song, and once he did, it became Motown's fastest-selling song at the time.

    You can listen to "What's Going On" here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Tamla / Motown / Via youtube.com

    The song's trailblazing lyrics:

    "Picket lines (brother)

    And picket signs (brother)

    Don't punish me (brother)

    With brutality (brother).

    Come on, talk to me (brother)

    So you can see (brother)

    Oh, what's going on (what's going on)."

    Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.