MTV To Air Video With Restrictions

By | August 23, 2001 at 12:00 AM

MTV is joining the party surrounding the hot pop song “Because I Got High,” but so far won’t inhale.

After negotiating some changes with the artist Afroman’s record label, the network has agreed to play the song’s video – but only in the overnight hours and not on the popular teen show “Total Request Live.”

“Because I Got High” appears on the movie soundtrack to “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and has quickly become one of the most requested songs on radio across the country. It presents anagonizing dilemma for programmers and anti-drug activists.

Is it an anti-drug song? Or is it just a joke for those who like to toke?

The comical rap song begins with the narrator lamenting, “I was gonna clean my room until I got high,” and quickly escalates through a series of best-laid plans and lost opportunities.

“I messed up my entire life because I got high,” Afroman says in the next-to-last verse. “I lost my kids and wife because I got high. Now I’m sleeping on the sidewalk and I know why. Because I got high.”

Steve Dnistrian, executive vice president of the Partnership For a Drug-Free America, says, “It’s really in the eye of the beholder, and makes this song particularly tricky to judge the impact on different audiences.”

The partnership hasn’t taken a position on the song.

“It’s a novelty song and it’s a joking song,” said Steve Bloom, senior editor of the magazine High Times. “It’s not to be taken seriously. If anyone takes this song seriously as an anti-drug message, they’re off-track.”

High Times has nominated “Because I Got High” as best pot song of the year for its annual Doobie Awards, given next month. Afroman will perform at the awards ceremony, Bloom said, and Universal Records has taken out a full-page ad in High Times for Afroman’s album. The label is distributing 20,000 free copies of the song to buyers of the magazine.

MTV was caught between two conflicting impulses: the desire not to be left on the sidelines with a hot pop trend, and its policy not to promote drug use.

Its standards department negotiated for a couple of weeks with Universal before getting an acceptable version of the video to air.

“We asked them to make changes and they said ‘sure,”‘ said MTV spokesman Graham James. “They were minor changes. We looked at it like, ‘we want to get this music on the channel and how can we make it happen?”‘

MTV wouldn’t detail the changes, but a record company executive who requested anonymity said all visual references to smoking marijuana were removed. A scene at the video’s end showing Afroman sharing a spliff the size of a baseball bat with the movie’s stars, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, was excised. So was a common vulgarity referring to a woman’s anatomy, and a sneaker company’s logo.

The simple fact that the song’s lyrics – “I got high” – were in the past tense also made things easier for MTV censors, the executive said.

Universal had no problem with the changes, said Steve Leeds, a senior vice president at the company.

“We’re in the business to sell music CDs,” he said. “Without MTV, we would have a level of success. With MTV, it takes us to the next level. The video puts a visual and a face on the project and we live in an age when visuals are very important.”

James would not say whether MTV, in making its minor edits, looked at whether the song as a whole encouraged or discouraged drug use.

In a similar case of editing, the channel has been airing a video of the rock band Weezer’s song “Hash Pipe,” but bleeped out the word “hash.”

Afroman’s real name is Joseph Foreman and he is from Hattiesburg, Miss. His album, “The Good Times,” which contains “Because I Got High,” goes on sale next Tuesday.

“He’s going to get the last laugh,” Bloom said. “He’s going to go to the bank with this song and people can call it whatever they want.”

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