Beyoncé will change lyrics after criticism over ‘ableist language’
By Julia Jacobs
Days after the release of her latest album, “Renaissance,” Beyoncé will modify the lyrics of one of its songs, a representative for the singer said Monday, in response to an outcry from disability rights advocates who say the pop star should not have used a word that has historically been employed as a derogatory slur.
In “Heated,” a dancehall-inspired track, the singer uses the words “spaz” and “spazzin’” in an energetically recited portion of the song that’s a callback to the freestyles at some ballroom events. Activists condemned the use of the word in social media posts, pointing out that another pop star, Lizzo, had removed the same lyric from a song following similar backlash in June.
“The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced,” a spokeswoman for Beyoncé said in an email.
The word at issue is based on spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that causes motor impairments in the legs or arms. In June, Hannah Diviney, a writer and disability advocate from Australia, tweeted about Lizzo’s use of the word, noting that to a person with cerebral palsy like her, spasticity referred to an “unending painful tightness” in her legs and urged the singer to “do better.” In response to the criticism from fans and activists, Lizzo changed her song, “Grrrls,” and wrote in a statement that “this is the result of me listening and taking action.”
Diviney wrote in an op-ed, published in The Guardian on Monday, that her “heart sank” when she learned that Beyoncé’s new album had used the same word.
“I thought we’d changed the music industry and started a global conversation about why ableist language — intentional or not — has no place in music,” Diviney wrote. “But I guess I was wrong, because now Beyoncé has gone and done exactly the same thing.”
Disability right advocates have noted that the word has been more commonly used as a derogatory term in the United Kingdom compared to the United States. Scope, a group in Britain that campaigns for equality for people with disabilities, tweeted, “Disabled people’s experiences are not fodder for song lyrics,” and urged Beyoncé to follow Lizzo’s example.