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Melissa Webster via HuffPost.com
So mega rock band Green Day is selling their new album trilogy iUno! iDos! iTre! in Walmart this time around, offering “clean” versions of the albums in compliance with the major retailer’s personal guidelines regarding explicit content. To give a little background on the implications of this marketing decision, let’s start in the year 2003, when the popular country music band Dixie Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines said at a concert in London, “[W]e’re ashamed that the president of the United States [George W. Bush] is from Texas,” amid the lead-up to the Iraq War.
All of us watched in disbelief as radio stations across America removed the Dixie Chicks’ music from the airwaves and some Americans gleefully gathered together to publicly burn their CDs. Censorship in America over one little comment? Here? In the land of the free? It had to be a mistake, a misunderstanding. Americans wouldn’t give way to every fascist regime that has ever graced the history books, would they? But they did, and the message was clear, and artists, musicians, and entertainers of every stripe took heed. Speaking out publicly against the administration killed careers, completely stopping them in their tracks. So they remained silent, and the only voices for dissenters disappeared for over a year, until a rock band named Green Day, from Oakland, Calif., long written off as 1990s has-beens, made the intentional and risky decision to publicly oppose the direction this country had taken. And they didn’t just do it in an off-the-cuff remark at a concert. No. Subtlety has never been their style. They instead created not one but two albums as an admonishment to the Bush administration and the conservative, religious politics that had gripped the country, and called those albums American Idiot (2004) and 21st Century Breakdown (2009), earning critical acclaim and massive commercial success.
Staying consistent with the conviction to always do what they want and write music for themselves above all else, when 21st Century Breakdown was released three years ago, Green Day caused a firestorm of debate, because they refused to sell their music in Walmart, opposed to the powerhouse retailer’s insistence that they censor the music so it would be more family-friendly. Speaking out in interviews and on talk shows about the Walmart debate at the time, the band replied, “There’s nothing dirty about our record…. They want artists to censor their records in order to be carried in there. We just said no. We’ve never done it before. You feel like you’re in 1953 or something.”
Fast-forward to today, amid the promotional roll-out of Green Day’s latest risky venture, the album trilogy iUno! iDos! iTre!, and you get a complete change of heart toward Walmart, censorship, and apparently the 1950s in general. While it can be argued that this time, at least, the album trilogy can be considered (ahem) dirty, it seems that they now feel that American Idiot and anything else from their back catalogue is now fair game for censorship, as well. In a particularly ironic Orwellian twist, “clean” is the new word for censorship. Clean albums. Clean videos. Clean songs. I kid you not.
Green Day’s new direction and attitude toward censorship began to make itself known in the form of the first single, “Oh Love,” released in July, from the first album in the trilogy, iUno!, exclusively through Walmart, the powerhouse retailer for whom they’d refused to censor their music last time. A song that isn’t particularly dirty, political, or controversial in any way, “Oh Love” was the safe, tepid, radio-friendly song from the album. Accompanying the single release were two different versions for the music video: an R-rated adult version that included nudity and was only available online for a short time before being removed, and a “cleaner” video that contains only the suggestion of nudity — not a big deal, because the entire trilogy has a vast amount of sexual tension, both subtle and in your face. Aside from the fact that the risqué nature of the “adult” video, which bordered on soft porn, was such a stark contrast to the song itself, cleaning it up for younger audiences felt like a small concession, easily overlooked.
And then it became apparent that Green Day was also making available both a “clean” version of each album in the trilogy (to distribute through Walmart, though not exclusively) and an uncensored version of each album (which will presumably be sold elsewhere). Not only does this completely fly in the face of the stance Green Day took only three years ago against censoring their music for Walmart specifically, but it’s since been revealed that it isn’t even a matter of simply muting out the profanity. Green Day actually went into the studio and recorded alternate versions of some of the songs. So, in essence, they cleaned their own music for Walmart.
The most surprising complete turnaround occurred last week, when Green Day’s official YouTube channel released a clean version of the flagship “American Idiot” music video and removed the uncensored one. To be clear: The uncensored “American Idiot” video is gone. They also released a new, censored version of the American Idiot album, to be sold through various retailers. Going back into the catalogue to clean up American Idiot is especially egregious considering even the profanity and particularly offensive words have political connotations. The lyrics “the subliminal mindfuck America” have been changed to “the subliminal mind____ America.” The word “mindfuck” carries the meaning of an attack on the mind by way of propaganda that has turned Americans into idiots. It’s the core of the entire song. To take away the profane aspect of that one word completely changes the entire meaning and tone of the song itself and the political impact that inspired Americans in a time of turmoil.
The self-deprecating lyrics “maybe I am the faggot America” have been changed to “maybe I am the ______ America.” While the former reveals the writer’s own admittance to possibly being the problem for not going along with the status quo, the latter says nothing at all.
The cleaning of American Idiot, along with the current marketing strategy of the album trilogy so obviously geared toward the tween set, plus the decision to capitulate to Walmart’s demands, marks the moment Green Day has really morphed into a band few will recognize, with their public image, with the marketing of their products, and with the music itself. Their punk days have been long gone for a while (personally, I think we’re all better for it), and we knew their political days had passed, but these current moves on top of the risky venture of the album trilogy itself are evidence of a new, superficial, let’s-just-have-a-good-time-and-make-as-much-money-as-possible, older, more mature Green Day.
From what I’ve heard of the new music, from the “secret shows” last year and the song leaks on the current tour, along with the new single releases and videos, this new Green Day will most likely be met by their fans as equally better and worse — better for those who love a great band gifting them with a palette of musical variety full of iconic eras of sounds, styles, and platforms, as if they really did just say “fuck it” and set out to have a good time, and worse for the fans who still long for the simple days of Dookie, their most popular breakout album, when fans thought they knew who Green Day were and what they stood for. Whether or not this new direction is a good thing in the long run will reveal itself slowly over time and will be interesting to watch unfold. One thing this band can never be accused of is being predictable.