Online outrage over a song by pop artist Shao Yu (邵羽), as well as its accompanying music video, has raised questions about censorship, creativity and free speech. Shao’s song, With You (把你), which debuted on YouTube on June 2, immediately drew fire for its lyrical imagery of confinement and murder, as well as its “spooky” video.
Following complaints by civic groups, parents and Internet users, some of whom even called the police, Shao last week publicly apologized and removed the video from his YouTube channel.
The lyrics, which Shao said address the issue of people over-beautifying a romantic relationship when “its essence is nothing more than possessiveness,” cheerfully describe someone confining and possibly murdering their lover, with the music video suggesting cannibalism. Such lyrics and imagery can understandably make some people uncomfortable, and people have the right to express their views. However, pressing Shao’s management company to remove the content for “negatively affecting teenagers and children” is not acceptable.
The tired old argument that a song might drive people to commit crimes is outdated, as violence and other inappropriate content is everywhere on television, the Internet, in video games and other forms of entertainment. “Shielding” youngsters from such content will not work in this day and age, when they are more Internet-savvy than most adults. This is a problem with parenting in general: Like sex education, it is more important to educate children and establish healthy perspectives about issues they cannot avoid.
It is not just the entertainment industry — the local news is full of gruesome or salacious crime stories that are much more graphic than what Shao wrote. Just last week, the gory details of a former NTU student’s brutal murder of his ex-girlfriend were plastered all over the media again after the final verdict against him was announced. Nobody felt the need to “protect teenagers and children” from such reports, which children can access just as easily as Shao’s video.
The Taiwanese pop scene is much tamer and formulaic than its Western counterparts, and Shao made a bold statement that addresses a social issue in a creative and thought-provoking manner. Is it not part of celebrities’ responsibility to use their platforms to highlight certain issues? Shao was doing just that, saying that he hoped through the song to “give people an opportunity to calmly examine their values in a romantic relationship.”
Given how often possessive-relationships-gone-wrong reports appear in the news, the attention that Shao’s song received could have been an opportunity to discuss the issue and educate people. Ironically, those who watch Taiwanese movies and drama know that the entertainment industry often glorifies obsessive and unhealthy love as “romantic,” but nobody calls for them to be censored or even finds them problematic.
Shao wanted to talk about something that happens more often than people would like to admit, but instead of taking up his offer, people accused him of trying to grab attention with his “perverse songs to corrupt societal mores.”
Taiwanese have learned over the past few months that free speech does not mean one can say anything — people who spread false information about the COVID-19 pandemic have faced consequences, for example, and racist and discriminatory remarks are not protected by freedom of speech.
However, to censor content such as Shao’s would only further stifle the creativity of Taiwan’s music industry. Pop singers are indeed role models and should exercise caution when bringing up certain topics, but this incident might scare artists into restraining themselves even more, so that they avoid speaking up for social issues.
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