Here is Bob Stanley talking about Canada’s attempt to keep Eminem out of the country: he uses it as an opportunity to write about pop and outrage, and the history of pop being offensive. This is how we talk about offensiveness now: a light, jaded tone, which mixes up Eminem’s naughty lyrics and naughty lyrics in the 60s which used words like “bum”.

The reason Stanley writes like this is because he’s not offended. It’s very unfashionable to be offended by pop music now if you’re a music journalist. Ten years ago, when Stanley made his living as a music journalist and not as a cool pop star, it was fashionable to be offended. I remember reading reviews of NWA which righteously slaughtered them from the name on down. I felt then that perhaps the reviewers were missing something out, just like I feel now that Stanley might be missing something out when he says nobody could be offended by what Eminem sings.

Even so I start when I’m chatting to somebody on IM and she says she thinks a lot of hip-hop – Eminem isn’t mentioned actually – is offensive. Because people don’t get offended by pop music any more, surely? It seems too thorny and sticky for bright exciting pop to get caught up on this, and besides there’s the suspicion that maybe you just don’t ‘get it’. Among people who do get offended, on Salon and on bulletin boards, there’s the idea that the offense overcomes anything else that might be in the music, or renders the music artless or stupid: it seems like you have to take this line because otherwise you’re selling out whatever beliefs caused you to be offended in the first place. And similarly if you defend Jay-Z or somebody like that you have to contort yourself as well and take either a nihilistic line or a flippant one, or decide that it’s all in character, although it probably isn’t.

The good thing about the era when being offended was cool was that it prompted a lot of arguments: nowadays pieces like Stanley’s prompt a shrug and a knowing chuckle. Possibly there’s a feeling we haven’t got time to risk being bored by writing which might be difficult or hectoring, or not conclude very much. But in the end you engage with pop more for thinking these things through: maybe we should have an Outrage Issue of FT?

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