On this day, August 8th, in 1966, the Beatles were banned from the airwaves by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) of the notorious apartheid era of the country. The blanket ban on the Liverpool group’s records by the corporation came after John Lennon made some of his most iconic and infamous remarks.
In March of that year, Lennon gave an interview with the British newspaper The Evening Standard where he made some controversial but nonetheless rock ‘n’ roll statements. The Beatles frontman posited that: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink.” Lennon didn’t stop there, though. Whilst the above comment actually displayed some degree of foresight, the one that got the South African’s knickers in a twist was that Lennon claimed that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”.
Although it was probably the intention, Lennon’s comment caused widespread outrage. This is understandable as rock had not yet totally corrupted our youth, but this comment probably went some way in doing so. Met by extensive anger from all manner of religious groups and grandmas alike, the SABC was swift in delivering their version of divine retribution.
Along with the apartheid regime, the SABC deemed the comments to be anti-religious. The ban lasted for five years, which didn’t matter as the Beatles were over by 1970. The interesting point is that the South African government were so deeply offended by the remarks that John Lennon’s solo records were also banned in the years following the Beatles’ demise.
Critically, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s solo works were granted airtime. It’s a good thing Harrison never aimed any of his thoughts on organised religion towards South Africa then.
On the anniversary of this famous ban, it got us thinking, what are the other iconic moments where musicians have been banned from countries in various capacities? Due to the inherent nature of musicians being outspoken and critics of the “oppressive” status quo, there have been countless examples of states using the full extent of their apparatus to block musicians from entering either sonically or physically. To varying degrees of severity, the majority of our favourite musicians have become public enemy number one at some point or another.
Join us then as we list the ten most iconic times musicians were banned from countries.
Ten moments musicians were banned:
Tyler, the Creator
Iconic American rapper Tyler, the Creator, gave us one of the most recent examples of today’s subject. No stranger to controversy, Tyler’s lyrics have caused extensive offence since he burst onto the scene 12 years ago. The two works that caused the most distress within the notoriously stuffy UK Home Office were his 2009 mixtape Bastard and his debut album, Goblin, two years later in 2011. Regardless of your opinions on the UK government at the time, Tyler had been accused of misogyny and homophobia, two claims we will let you make your own decision on.
He revealed that he was banned in 2015 for three-five years as a result of his discriminatory lyrics. This led to the cancellation of many of his UK shows. The ban was lifted in February 2019.
Not the Fab Four again? This time it wasn’t really their fault. You may also be surprised to find out that the 1966 South African ban was also not their first. This particular ruling came in 1964, and representative of the religious values that many still held dear at the time, this came from the Israeli government.
The Beatles were banned from entering Israel on the grounds that they would negatively influence the youth, which isn’t totally wide of the mark if you’re coming from a religious perspective. However, as we noted above, the ban came off the back of an event that wasn’t much to do with them. It followed a Cliff Richard show in the country in 1963 where the famously doe-eyed and largely inoffensive popstar was met with a crowd of crazed fans. Yes, crazed fans. Let that sink in for a second.
Following this, the Israeli committee in charge of bringing musicians and artists to the country did an investigation into the Beatles. With Beatlemania in full swing, they looked at the band and their performances and thought better of it, as Beatlemania was at the time an unprecedented mass hysteria, and the Israeli government didn’t want disorder on a greater scale than they had witnessed when the virginal Cliff Richard graced their shores. In 2008, the Israeli ambassador to Britain sent a letter of apology to Lennon’s sister, Julia.
A somewhat surprising entry, Madge has also found herself on the wrong side of the law in her uber-successful career. Upon visiting the land of the Pharaoh’s, the Queen of Pop found herself caught in the middle of the age-old rivalry between Israel and Egypt. In 2004, the African country banned her entry as she had previously holidayed in Israel.
How fitting that an artist named Madonna should be caught in the middle of a contrite religious rivalry. Members of the Egyptian parliament campaigned for the order as they thought her trip to Israel meant she had devoted to Judaism – this is a subject we will leave there.
Regardless, the ban meant Madonna couldn’t access the home of the Nile. It wasn’t that damaging to her, though, as she didn’t have any concerts booked there at the time. Elton John joined Madonna in being banned from Egypt in 2010 after comments he made about Jesus in Parade Magazine.
Now we get a break from religious controversy and instead turn to an equally as lighthearted subject, political controversy. We did warn you. Born in Havana, the Cuban capital, as a child Estefan’s family fled from the Communist revolution of the ’50s and were thus exiled.
She would go on to be hailed as the queen of Latin pop, but her position as an exile meant she was banned from performing in her homeland. Her ’80s megahits ‘Dr. Beat’ and ‘1-2-3’ were blacklisted by the government and were stopped from receiving Cuban radio play. The ban was so severe that Estefan and her husband were classed as “terrorists” by the Castro government. In 1997, the Pope asked her to return to Cuba, but she refused on political grounds.
One of the more iconic entries, the Kinks were banned from the US after a rowdy, alcohol-drenched appearance on the variety show Where the Action Is. According to frontman Ray Davies, the band arrived late to the show and were met with a torrent of abuse by the production team. Allegedly, one of the crew was so angry that he shouted: “Just because the Beatles did it, every mop-topped, spotty-faced limey juvenile thinks he can come over here and make a career for himself.” They went on to claim that the ‘Commie Wimps’ (The Kinks) were about to find out “just how powerful America is”.
The real-life version of Jeffrey ‘The Big’ Lebowski was right. Come to the end of that tour, the American Federation of Musicians denied the Kinks permits to tour the US for the next four years.
Let’s turn our attention back to May 2012. The ephemeral Lady Gaga was banned from several South-East Asian countries, all at the same time. These days the pop icon is no stranger to bans, and this early wave can be viewed as one of the reasons why. This ban came when she trotted the globe on her iconic Born This Way Tour.
Initially, Indonesia was the first country to ban Gaga. The country is rather conservative and has many different factions that wield social influence, one of which being the Islamic Defence Front. The group labelled her music blasphemous and even claimed her legions of fans, the “Little Monsters”, were devil worshippers. The tension got so severe that the American artist was faced with numerous threats of violence, which resulted in her promptly cancelling that neck of the tour. Similar occurrences happened at the same in the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, who also banned her performances.
You were probably waiting for Björk’s name to appear on this list. No stranger to controversy, the eclectic musician was completely taken by the notion of independence on her 2007 track ‘Declare Independence’. Famously she is a native of Iceland, a former Danish colony – and this ethos led to her valuing the concept of independence in all its forms. She even wanted Greenland and the Faroe Islands to follow Iceland’s suit. Björk being Björk though, the song wasn’t completely serious and she thought it funny to insert a “bid for independence” in a song about relationships.
However, in 2008 one country took the song title literally. Performing in Shanghai, when she played the song she added cries of “Tibet! Tibet!” at the end of the song. This set off a huge wave of backlash that culminated in the Chinese government banning her. The Chinese people largely backed their government as well, the artist was labelled insensitive for bringing up the seemingly unrelated and divisive issue.
Led Zeppelin is another group who have had their fair share of controversy. They were classically accused of being devil worshippers and of hiding satanic messages in their magnum opus ‘Stairway to Heaven‘. Additionally, guitarist Jimmy Page has received a vast amount of his own controversy for his interest in all things esoteric.
Understandably, the shockwave of hippie culture in the 1960s and ’70s drew widespread ire from the older generations. Our elders’ elders were appalled by the men with long hair, free love and drug use. One country took swift action to stop the perceived rot; Singapore. The country banned all long hair on men, which shut the door in the face of our countercultural heroes, which included Led Zeppelin. The band were booked to play there in 1972 but owing to their unkempt barnets, they weren’t even allowed to leave their plane after touchdown.
The Rolling Stones
What list of controversy and the law would be complete without our favourite rag-tag bunch of cockney rockers. The Stones have courted so much controversy in their time, it was hard to narrow it down to one occasion. This event came in 1973. The Stones wanted to play in the country’s they were previously yet to visit, which included Japan.
However, come January 27th, 1973, the band were denied their first show in the land of the Rising Sun due to frontman Mick Jagger’s previous drug convictions.
The Stones wouldn’t visit Japan until 1990. A staggering fact when you note the Stones’ stature.