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8 '90s Hit Songs That Are Offensive by Today's Standards

These chart-toppers would be subject to major criticism if they were released in 2023.

Since the days when VHS tapes and Beanie Babies were all the rage, we've seen major changes in technology, style, and standards for what's acceptable to depict or even endorse in pop culture. While older movies and TV shows often come under fire for lack of representation or a dated approach to controversial subject matter, music is also always being reevaluated. Now, for example, we can look back on some of the chart-toppers of the '90s and realize they haven't aged well. Read on to find out which '90s hit songs are offensive by today's standards. (And please note that the videos below may contain objectionable language or images.)

READ THIS NEXT: 6 Classic Sitcom Episodes That Are Wildly Offensive by Today's Standards.

"Wrong Way" by Sublime (1996)

Sublime's hit "Wrong Way" certainly has an upbeat and propulsive sound. But if you listen to just the first line—which introduces a young girl who engages in sex work—you'll understand why it would probably be "canceled" by today's listeners.

Some on Reddit argue that the band is telling a story and that the song is intended to address serious issues, not glorify them. But others say that the language and casual discussion of children and trauma is not something taken lightly in 2023.

"It's dark, dark stuff all tied up in a neat reggae ribbon, which quite frankly, seventeen-year-old me had no business listening to," Charlie Gunn wrote in a 2020 piece for The Forty-Five, which outlined the "deeply problematic" aspects of Sublime.

"Indian Outlaw" by Tim McGraw (1994)

These days, cultural appropriation is a hot topic of debate, which is why Tim McGraw's first hit single, "Indian Outlaw," may now be considered quite offensive to some.

"You know, Indian Outlaw is an atrocious song by pretty much every metric imaginable, and I'm pretty sure that people would be pretty [expletive] about it if it was released as a single today," a Redditor wrote on a thread about "inappropriate" old songs. "The big problem is that generally Native Americans' issues with this sort of thing are not taken seriously, which is why it's taking so long to get any traction on getting some of those offensive stereotypes out of team mascots and the like."

Lyrics like "All my friends call me Bear Claw / The Village Chieftain is my paw-paw / He gets his orders from my maw-maw" don't play well now, but they weren't well received by everyone in the '90s either, as two radio stations in Minneapolis refused to play the hit.

"You're concerned any time somebody doesn't like something you do, but you're never going to please everybody," McGraw told the Los Angeles Times at the time. "A lot of times a song or something like the 'tomahawk chop' isn't the real issue, but a means to an ends (for the protesters), a way to be heard."

READ THIS NEXT: 7 Oscar-Winning Movies That Are Offensive by Today's Standards.

"Thinking of You (I Drive Myself Crazy)" by NSYNC (1999)

One of the biggest boy bands of the time, NSYNC also had a controversial hit—but this one was largely due to the music video.

In the video, the boy band members are shown singing in a padded room at a mental hospital after different women drove them "crazy." Some members are also depicted in straight jackets, which doesn't exactly jibe with modern views on mental health.

"Each member of NSYNC portrays a 'crazy person' in a way that's offensive at best and egregiously stereotypical at worst," blogger Genna Rivieccio writes. "Sure, we get that the band is trying to convey all the ways in which jilted love can make us non-functional, but the extremism in their 'artistic' decision to go the booby hatch route seems unnecessarily over the top."

"Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" by Aaliyah (1994)

Another song that ruffles some feathers today is "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" by the late Aaliyah. The song opens with the titular phrase, as the R&B star sings, "Age ain't nothing but a number / Throwing down ain't nothing but a thing / This something I have for you it'll never change."

The lyrics speak for themselves, as Aaliyah was just 14 when she recorded the song. But the song has taken on an added layer of discomfort, due to the fact that the singer was dating her 27-year-old mentor and producer R. Kelly at the time, per People. The relationship drew criticism—as did their rumored marriage—and in the following years, Kelly faced numerous other allegations of sexual abuse.

In Feb. 2023, the R&B singer was sentenced to serve 31 years in prison for charges including sex trafficking and racketeering. The singer has denied all the allegations against him.

READ THIS NEXT: 5 TV Episodes So Controversial They Sparked Protests.

"Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" by Aerosmith (re-released in 1990)

Aerosmith's 1987 song, which was re-issued in 1990, is a dig at Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil. According to Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler in his 1997 autobiography, he mistook Neil for a woman with blonde hair saying the "dude looked like a lady."

Speaking with People, Desmond Child, who co-wrote the song, said that the narrator of the song "goes for it anyway," and that the hit depicts a transgender character "in a positive light." But today, some feel the song is actually offensive and transphobic.

"In general, the lyrics blur the lines between being a trans woman, a cross-dressing man, or a man who simply has 'feminine' traits," Vox reported in 2017 after Caitlyn Jenner said the tune was one of her favorites.

"The song also plays on the idea that trans women intentionally deceive men or are 'in disguise,' that they are unattractive or repulsive (as evidenced in one of the video's first scenes where Steven Tyler recoils at the sight of a construction worker whose gender identity is purposely unclear), and at one point mixes pronouns, going from 'Oh she like it' in one line to 'Oh, he was a lady,' in the next," the outlet added.

"Fancy" by Reba McEntire (1990)

As in "Wrong Way," Reba McEntire's 1990 hit (which was a cover of Bobbie Gentry's original 1969 version) is another song that deals with controversial themes that might get disguised by its more upbeat melody.

"Another one I think would have gotten taken off radio if it was released today, instead of in 1990, would be Fancy by Reba, as it's a song all about prostitution and using a young daughter for money," a Redditor wrote.

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"Trashy Women" by Confederate Railroad (1992)

Country music fans will also recognize "Trashy Women," which was released by Confederate Railroad in 1992. But even those who enjoy the song admit that it wouldn't get much traction these days.

A Redditor who said they heard the song on the radio in 2020 wrote, "I thought, 'Wow, there is no way this would pass if it was released in the modern era.' As it's really demeaning towards women."

The chorus of the 1992 hit talks about the kind of women the narrator prefers, and it's not the most favorable description.

"Yeah, an' I like my women just a little on the trashy side / When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed / Too much lipstick an' er too much rouge / Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused," the band's lead singer croons.

On the Reddit thread, the listener also called attention to the more adult themes—which wouldn't fly in a more "politically correct world"—and the band's name, which is controversial in and of itself.

"Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)" by Snoop Dogg (1993)

Rapper Snoop Dogg's 1993 hit song was dubbed "thoroughly disreputable" by The Guardian in March—and we can't print the lyrics here, which should tell you something.

Redditors agree, citing it as a "horribly offensive song," but as is so often the case, they love to listen to it anyway.

"This one is so offensive but a favorite in my girlfriends group," a comment reads.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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