Iver the past six weeks, two superstars have changed – or promised to change – the lyrics to their songs after disability advocates slammed them as capable.
First, in June, Lizzo re-recorded a lyric in “GRLLLS”, the second single from her album. Special, later shared his reasoning online, with some praising his actions as an example of a responsible ally. Then, after the release of Beyoncé’s seventh studio album Renaissance, his team announced that they would be changing the same lyrics after his song “Heated” was criticized for similar reasons.
The rare occurrence of a post-hoc lyrical change has shed new light on the negative connotations of the term “spaz”. Here’s what to know about why these artists made these changes.
Read more: 6 revelations from Beyoncé’s new album Renaissance
What happened with Lizzo’s song “GRLLLS?”
The second single from Lizzo’s latest album isn’t “Truth Hurts” or “Good As Hell,” but it is a song by Lizzo: an anthem of empowerment with a chorus made to stick. But when “GRLLLS” was released on June 10, it was criticized.
“Hey @lizzo my disability Cerebral palsy is literally classified as spastic diplegia (where spasticity refers to endless painful tightness in my legs) your new song makes me pretty angry + sad,” disability advocate Hannah Diviney tweeted the next day. “‘Spaz’ doesn’t mean freaked out or crazy. It’s an ableist insult. It’s 2022. Do better.
Diviney was referring to a lyric in the song’s first verse, originally “Do you see that shit? I’m a spazz” – and his tweet was shared over a thousand times. Within days, Lizzo changed the line to “See that shit? Hold me.”
“It has been brought to my attention that there is a harmful word in my new song ‘GRRRLS’,” Lizzo wrote in a statement she share on social networks. “Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language.”
“As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had a lot of hurtful words used against me, so I understand the power that words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally),” he said. she continued. “I am proud to say that there is a new version of GRRRLS with a change of lyrics. It is the result of my listening and my doing. As an influential artist, I am dedicated to being part of the change that I was waiting to see in the world.
What happened with Beyoncé and her song “Heated?”
Just over a month later, Beyoncé released her seventh studio album, Renaissance, acclaimed by critics and the public. But the pop icon also included the same word – “spaz” – in her music.
“Spazzin’ on that ass, spaz on that ass”, sings Beyoncé in the outro of “Heated”, the eleventh track of Renaissance.
“So @Beyonce used the word ‘spaz’ in her new song Heated,” Diviney tweeted the day after the album’s release. “It’s like a slap in the face to me, the disability community and the progress we’ve been trying to make with Lizzo. I guess I’ll keep telling the whole industry to ‘do better’ until the ableist slurs disappear from the music.
Diviney, who lives in Australia, then wrote an op-ed for Hiring, an Australian disability support provider. From there, the op-ed – now titled “When Beyoncé dropped the same ableist slur as Lizzo on her new album, my heart sank” – was picked up by The Guardian.
UK disability equality charity Scope shared the article on Twitter, writing“Here we go again. Shortly after Lizzo’s ableist language, Beyoncé’s new album features an ableist slur not once, but twice. Disabled people’s experiences are not song lyrics. This needs to stop. .
That very morning, Beyoncé’s team responded saying Variety that “The word, not intentionally used in a harmful manner, will be replaced.”
What is the history of this term?
The word “spaz” – which the two artists used to mean losing control or releasing inhibitions – comes from the term “spastic diplegia”, a form of cerebral palsy that often primarily affects motor control of the legs.
Lizzo, known for championing inclusivity, and Beyoncé, known for her attention to detail in her work, may have surprised fans by making the same oversight one after the other. But the two singers also have massive fanbases (“About Damn Time” by Lizzo is currently at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; “Break My Soul” by Beyoncé is at No. 7) and wield outsized soft power in popular culture.
Lauren Appelbaum, senior vice president of communications at RespectAbility, a nonprofit that works to self-advocate for people with disabilities, said that as people, especially celebrities, take longer to learn, many will become more aware of their language choices.
“In an ideal world, lyrics would never have been used,” Appelbaum said. “But we understand that it takes a bit of time for people to learn. And so the hope is that, after two high profile examples of alliance, listening and feedback-based change, others will avoid making a similar mistake.
On Twitter, fans pointed out that a cultural barrier may exist: “Spaz” has its own meaning in vernacular African-American English; has been widely used in historically black genres like R&B, hip-hop, and rap; and Beyoncé and Lizzo used the word as a verb, not a noun. Some fans took issue with the lyrical changes.
The term may also have a more deeply rooted history as an insult in the UK and Australia than in the US.
Either way, Appelbaum says she hopes the representation of people with disabilities at all levels of the music industry will improve. “In the same way that many people are very aware of having a diverse team in terms of gender, sexual orientation, different races and ethnicities,” she says, “so should be to include intentionally the handicap”.
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