The black eye of the 2013 CMA Awards may not have been an over-the-top performance by some pop country stud or maven, but the choice by ABC to censor a line from the Kacey Musgraves song “Follow Your Arrow” that goes “roll up a joint.” As Kacey performed her latest single, the clearly-edited audio did little to shield the ears of impressionable listeners, and did more to pique the curiosity of viewers, while eroding the message of the song itself.
According to the USA Today’s Nashville correspondent Brian Mansfield, the decision was not the fault of the CMA’s, but of the broadcaster ABC. “A former CMA executive director calls the bleeping of ‘joint’ in Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Follow Your Arrow’ ‘a bad decision by the ABC censor,” Mansfield tweeted out during the presentation.
Many viewers and fans are calling the decision a double standard, and so is Kacey Musgraves herself who after the presentation said, “I guess for some reason people feel the need to censor that word, but they leave ‘crack’ in.” Seeing how the “crack” line is delivered with a derogatory tone, and the “roll up a joint” line isn’t, this is likely the reason the censor decided to leave it in the song. The “joint” line of the song is also being edited by many country radio stations playing the single.
Where the true double standard may lie is with other country songs that infer much more heavy language, but get past censors because they don’t actually say the words. For example, Tim McGraw’s recent single “Truck Yeah” clearly swaps the word “fuck” for “truck,” and this can be clearly understood as the implication by adolescents and adults alike.
Though we may have reached a point where pot references in popular music are more about marketing than message, in Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow,” the message is to be yourself, and the “joint” line is chased in the first two choruses with “or not,” meaning she’s not necessarily endorsing pot use, but encouraging individuals to be themselves.
And in the end, curious viewers took to the internet in droves and “Follow Your Arrow” saw one of the biggest surges for songs on the night. The song sat outside of the iTunes Top 100 before the performance, and then surged to #29 after, making it one of the biggest gainers of the night.
Kacey Musgraves went on to win the CMA for “New Artist of the Year.”