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.