A Look At 33 Years' Worth Of Controversial Videos On MTV

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JUSTIFY MY LOVE
Madonna's "Justify My Love" video is among MTV's most controversial. | YouTube

It's been 33 years since video killed the radio star, which means more than three decades' worth of MTV controversies. In days of yore, many of those mini-scandals stemmed from actual music videos. For a network that became known for its lewdness, MTV did, in fact, have standards when it came to what sort of sexual and violent content it permitted. In a way, it was almost a marker of success to be banned from MTV's airwaves, like a small victory for artists who enjoy courting controversy. We've rounded up some of them below, because who doesn't love a good racy music video?

  • Cher -- "If I Could Turn Back Time" (1989)
    The fishnet stockings and low-cut swimsuit that became an iconic part of Cher's wardrobe also lent themselves to one of the many videos MTV relegated to the prime-time block. "If I Could Turn Back Time" was first banned. After it was re-edited with less sexual content, the network aired it only after 9 p.m.
  • Nas and Puff Daddy -- "Hate Me Now" (1999)
    Nas and Puff Daddy became well acquainted with controversy after their "Hate Me Now" video featured Nas imitating Jesus' crucifixion. Puffy, a Catholic, demanded his portions of the religious imagery be removed from the final cut, but the wrong version was sent to MTV. After it premiered on "TRL," Puffy stormed the office of Nas' manager and smashed a champagne bottle over his head.
  • Madonna -- "Justify My Love" (1990)
    "Erotica," "American Life" and "What It Feels Like for a Girl" all got the MTV ax as well, but it's "Justify My Love" that remains Madonna's most controversial video. She released the clip on VHS, becoming the first artist to package a music video that way and giving everyone the ability to watch her slither through that grainy hotel as much as they wanted. After MTV banned it, ABC News aired the video in its entirety only once and then interviewed Madonna about its content. When asked whether she could make more money off of VHS sales than via MTV streams, she replied, "Yeah, so? Lucky me."
  • N.W.A -- "Straight Outta Compton" (1988)
    The excessive violence in "Straight Outta Compton" rendered the video unfit for MTV's airwaves. Along with "Fuck tha Police," the song also caught the attention of the F.B.I. and the U.S. Secret Service, who condemned the group's lyrics.
  • Incubus -- "Megalomaniac" (2003)
    Released the same year the Iraq War began, this Incubus hit came with a video that features a bald eagle eating the head of a George W. Bush lookalike and a gas pump spraying oil all over a crowd. Oh, and it opens with Hitler soaring above the scene. MTV refused to play it during daytime hours.
  • Eminem -- "Stan"
    The full, eight-minute version of "Stan" is four verses' worth of violence, drugs, misogyny and suicide. That was edited down to a clean version fit for radio and TV airplay, but it didn't stop an outpouring of anger regarding the song's content, no matter its critical acclaim.
  • Public Enemy -- "By the Time I Get to Arizona" (1991)
    Public Enemy used "By the Time I Get to Arizona" to depict a white-supremacist governor who wouldn't allow the state to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He's assassinated in the video, prompting MTV to pull the plug.
  • Nine Inch Nails -- "Closer" (1994)
    "Closer" is a mad scientist's curation of gritty images, including S&M and a monkey nailed to a cross. Even though the song became one of Nine Inch Nail's most iconic moments, the Mark Romanek-directed video was only shown a year later, during late-night rotations of MTV's most controversial videos.
  • Marilyn Manson -- "Coma White" (1999)
    "Coma White" was filmed before the 1999 Columbine massacre and JFK Jr.'s death, but it didn't premiere until after those events. Because Manson and then-girlfriend Rose McGowan recreated President John F. Kennedy's assassination, the video was the subject of much enmity. Marilyn Manson said in a statement that it's meant as "a tribute to men like Jesus Christ and JFK who have died at the hands of mankind’s unquenchable thirst for violence." Despite the controversy, it became one of MTV's most requested videos.
  • Pearl Jam -- "Jeremy" (1991)
    "Jeremy" ends with the video's titular character shooting himself, which didn't fly with MTV's restrictions on violence. The television version zoomed in on the scene so the gun is not visible, and the controversy prompted Pearl Jam to back off from making many videos. After the Columbine shootings, MTV rarely aired the video. Despite the contention, "Jeremy" nabbed four Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year.
  • The Prodigy -- "Smack My Bitch Up" (1997)
    Feminist groups lashed out at The Prodigy over the misogynistic nature of the song's title and lyrics. After being banned, viewers requested the video so heavily that MTV agreed to air it after midnight and with a viewer-discretion warning. It's been named the most controversial video in the network's history.
  • Sister Souljah -- "The Hate That Hate Produced" (1992)
    Sister Souljah released two songs, and both were banned from MTV for incendiary lyrics and aggressive imagery.
  • Björk -- "Pagan Poetry" (2001)
    "Pagan Poetry" is Björk's sexual opus. It starts with blurry images of fellatio and ends with an Alexander McQueen dress that only covers the singer's bottom half. Somewhere in between, it was banned from MTV. We don't think "TRL" missed it too much.
  • Queen -- "I Want To Break Free" (1984)
    Reflecting the changing tides in MTV's programming, the "I Want to Break Free" video was banned because of its gay undertones, including Freddie Mercury parading around in women's clothes. The network reversed the ban in 1991.
  • Robbie Williams -- "Rock DJ" (2000)
    Robbie Williams must have been in a creepy mood when he decided to peel off his skin at the end of the "Rock DJ" video. No one wanted to see that, yet it still managed to collect the MTV Video Music Award for Best Special Effects.
  • Michael Jackson -- "Black or White" (1991)
    Jackson axed the final four minutes of his 11-minute "Black or White" video after MTV, BET and Fox premiered it to a deluge of angry calls. The nixed portion featured Jackson emerging as a black panther, making sexual gestures and smashing the windows of a parked car.
  • Bloodhound Gang -- "The Bad Touch" (1999)
    When "The Bad Touch" first made a splash, GLAAD accused the Bloodhoung Gang of homophobia because the video shows the group hitting two men in sailor suits sharing french fries over the head with baguettes. "A gay-bashing scene in any context in today's climate is not acceptable," the organization said in a statement addressed to MTV. The scene was cut from the video.

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