• Pin

If you thought Lizzo’s very public dispute about the use of the ableist “S” word slur was the end of that battle, you’d be wrong. Beyoncé just changed her own “Heated” lyrics for the same reason! So, what exactly is this ableist slur that keeps popping up and how can singers/songwriters further support the disabled community?

Just this past June, Lizzo was called out online for including an ableist slur in her song “Grrrls”. She was quick to accept the criticism, apologized, and removed the word completely. While Lizzo was able to narrowly avoid the unforgiving cancel culture, no celebrity is safe from the public asking for accountability and responsibility for language in songs. In fact, “Chandelier” singer Sia recently went through her own online ableist strife for her movie featuring Maddie Ziegler Music that came out last year. So, this is an ongoing battle for the disabled community.

More recently, this same slur was used in Beyoncé’s “Heated” from her album Renaissance. The album came out only a month after the Lizzo controversy which confused many of Beyoncé’s fans. Why would Beyoncé get a pass on using this derogatory language? Well, she did not get a pass—quite the opposite as she was immediately asked to take action and do better.

Even though Beyoncé’s team responded to this, claiming that “The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced,” some people feel as though singers and songwriters need to pay attention to what is happening around them in the music scene to avoid another doubled-up call out about harmful language.

What Is the Ableist Slur Both Lizzo and Beyoncé Had to Change?

Beyonce Black is King wearing animal print dress.

The word “spaz” is what got the attention of many advocates and social media activists. The way the word was used in both Lizzo and Beyoncé’s songs, and the way most people understand this word, is to lose control physically or emotionally. Although, the history of this word is much deeper than that. The word comes from the term spastic diplegia which is a form of cerebral palsy that affects motor control, specifically in the legs. Once you know the history of the word, the use of it in a song does seem questionable.

There was definitely some online debate about whether the words were used in an ableist manner. The two award-winning artists used this word as a verb and not a noun, which led many to believe that it was okay in the context. Culturally, many black artists have used the “S” word in the past and continue to do so, but the overwhelming majority felt that it was offensive to the disabled community.

Lizzo is known as a highly inclusive person. As she pointed out in her online apology, “As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I overstand the power words can have (whether intentionally or unintentionally).” Beyoncé did not put out a personal statement as Lizzo did, but her large fanbase was simply happy that they were heard and that the word was going to be removed altogether.

Cultural Vs. Offensive: How Can We Tell the Difference?

Most words have two or more meanings, which is why context is so important. But when one of those meanings is derogatory or offensive, it can be quickly misconstrued despite the context. Many claim this happened with Beyoncé’s song “Heated”. The “S” slur has been used for decades as a verb in a number of Hip Hop and R&B tracks. This is important to keep in mind when talking about the intention of the use of the word. What can’t be ignored, even in the face of a cultural dilemma such as this one, is that intentional or not, using this word can be hurtful.

The word doesn’t offend us the same way unless we are part of the disabled community, and that’s something to note. Even though we may not be offended by something particular doesn’t mean others are. As someone with top-tier influential status, Beyoncé and her team need to be mindful that she is widely listened to and has fans from all kinds of backgrounds and communities. It’s not about appealing to the masses, but it’s about making her music a safe space for every individual.

Intention is not everything, but it should count for something. Lack of awareness of certain slurs is common, especially less commonly used ones just as the “S” word in question. Events such as this, calling out big names in Hollywood for using it, brings attention to the word and lets people know that we’re changing what language is acceptable or not. But that also begs the question of, how can we keep up with being politically correct in times where language is constantly shifting?

The Social Responsibility of the Music Industry

Beyonce lifting up her Grammy Awards

Music touches the hearts of many and has the potential to incite change and inspire the masses. This is why singers and songwriters need to take accountability for sensitive or offensive language. Those who listen to their music may not be aware that it contains harmful words, so it’s their social responsibility to make it known through statements or lyric changes.

Hollywood is in an era of self-censoring to appeal to a broader and less tolerant new generation. Minority groups are no longer letting incidents like this slide, but rather speaking up about how they feel and encouraging celebrities to do better in the quest for social justice. Society is no longer putting up with ignorance and if celebrities can’t keep up, they may be a victim of the vicious cancel culture.

Unfortunately, music is not the only way that perpetuates the use of discriminatory language. Many people use them in their day-to-day lives. You don’t have to be a part of a minority group to stand up for one and be an advocate for change. Whether it’s a neighbor in a wheelchair, a black classmate, an immigrant cousin, or a gay best friend, it’s part of our social responsibility to ensure equity and equality so that we all have the quality of life we deserve. This kind of change sounds larger than what we’re capable of doing on our own, but when we’re backed up by those with more influence than we can imagine, anything is possible.

KEEP READING:

Who Is Rumi and Why Did Beyoncé and Jay-Z Name Their Daughter After Him?