Stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt.

I think it was George Carlin that first influenced me to think about that word in its literal sense when it’s used derogatorily towards ideas or activities that are deemed “inappropriate” by some authority (government, school, business, parent, public opinion, etc.). When people use the word “explicit” in relation to a piece of art, that is usually what they mean: inappropriate.  I can’t help but wonder how the word “explicit” came to mean what it does in this sense, and I can’t help but suspect that it’s linked in some way to its literal meaning.  It’s not the fact that a certain work deals with sex or violence or whatever other taboo subject, it’s the fact that they’re up front about it that seems to bother so many people.  It would seem that there are certain subjects that people in charge of things think should simply not be stated clearly or in detail.  If an artist playfully hints at some sexual undertones (how many English teachers have you heard bring up Shakespeare’s sexually suggestive material with an approving grin?), then they’re praised for being edgy and clever, but if someone states something about some inappropriate subject in a way that “leaves no room for confusion or doubt”, then you will often find those same people doling out harsh criticism and ridicule.

I’ve touched on a related issue before here, but in this case you might have guessed by now that I’m revisiting this area again as an attempt to support Brian McKnight in his recent explicit lyrics scandal.  I think this particular instance of a very common phenomenon is particularly poignant because Brian McKnight has been making more-than-subtle sexual music for at least 20 years now with no controversy that I’m aware of over the content of his lyrics.  But now, after making over a dozen albums playing by the rules, he releases one song where he gets literal and even many his die-hard fans are turning their backs on him publicly.  What’s everyone so afraid of?  What do we really lose when we allow ourselves to speak without ambiguity about these “sensitive” subjects?  How much healthier would we be if sex wasn’t always cloaked in this shroud of mystery and taboo all the time?

I’m very disappointed in everyone who is leveling criticism at Brian McKnight over this, and I hope that Brian is hearing the people that are speaking out in support of him louder than all the squares who want to pretend like sex doesn’t exist when they’re in public.  I think it’s refreshing to hear a song that specifically expresses a desire to please a woman sexually; I think that’s definitely something worth singing about.  I’m behind you, Brian, keep it up and be yourself.



  1. Man, I for one am not surprised that a lot of America is not ready to learn about pussy. People are uncomfortable talking about sex for a lot of reasons, but one is that it is considered bad form to talk about sex without using the proper euphemisms – by being “explicit” you commit to talking about sex, directly and precisely, and leave no room for people to easily exit, side track, or brush off the conversation. I could speculate endlessly about where this puritan impulse comes from, but I agree that it’s really unhealthy. One effect is that censorship makes people think they are supposed to hide or be ashamed of things that aren’t fit for “explicit” discussion.

    I think exercising restraint is good and necessary, but unfortunately our culture puts heavy emphasis on restricting communication and education, with regrettable effects on the sexual actions and experiences of a lot of folks.

    There’s so much out there that tells women to be ashamed of and restrict the sexual functions of their bodies. Over 10 million women in this country take birth control pills, and I would venture to guess that a huge number of those have never really been taught about the full workings of their fertility and sexuality. Sucks that this song has had so many negative reactions, how many other songs are telling women they don’t need to be ashamed? Seriously? I’m all about the message behind that song, somebody needs to speak up on it.

  2. […] it just because of the content of the lyrics.  I won’t go into another tirade about policing “explicit” language in our music or the stereotypes put on black musicians in our culture, but I do feel like there are a lot of […]

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