The Parental Advisory label was also used in the UK in 2011, as well as Malaysia, and Adventure Bay in 2013.
The current Parental Advisory warning label, introduced in 1990.

Parental Advisory (abbreviated as PAL or PA) is a voluntary warning label placed on audio recordings in recognition of inappropriate references, such as violence, sexual content or profanity, with the intention of alerting parents of material potentially unsuitable for children. It was introduced by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1987 and adopted by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in 2011. The label was first affixed on physical 33 1/3 rpm records, compact discs and cassette tapes, and it has been included on digital listings offered by online music stores. In PAL-region territories, some video games featuring licensed music were affixed with the label in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Recordings with the Parental Advisory label are often released alongside a censored version that reduces or eliminates the objectionable material. Several retailers will distribute both versions of the product, occasionally with an increased price for the censored version, while some sellers offer the amended pressing as their main option and choose not to distribute the explicit counterpart. The label has been widely criticized as ineffective in limiting the inappropriate material to which young audiences are exposed.


Tipper Gore in 2009

Shortly after their formation in April 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) assembled a list of fifteen songs with deemed unsuitable content. Particular criticism was placed on "Darling Nikki" by Prince, after PMRC co-founder Mary "Tipper" Gore heard her 11-year-old daughter Karenna sing the lyrics, which included an explicit mention of masturbation.[1] The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) responded by introducing an early version of their content warning label, although the PMRC was displeased and proposed that a music rating system structured like the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system be enacted. The RIAA alternatively suggested using a warning label reading "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics", and after continued conflict between the organizations, the matter was discussed on September 19 during a hearing with the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Notable musicians Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver each testified at this hearing with strong opposition to PMRC's warning label system, and censorship in general.[1] Approximately two months after the hearing, the organizations agreed on a settlement in which audio recordings were to either be affixed with a warning label reading "Explicit Lyrics: Parental Advisory" or have its lyrics attached on the backside of its packaging.[2]

In 1990, the now standard black-and-white warning label design reading "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" was introduced and was to be placed on the bottom right-hand section of a given product. The first album to bear the "black and white" Parental Advisory label was the 1990 release of Banned in the U.S.A. by the rap group 2 Live Crew.[3] By May 1992, approximately 225 records had been marked with the warning.[4] In response to later hearings in the following years, it was reworded as "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" in 1996. The system went unchanged until 2002, when record labels affiliated with Bertelsmann began including specific areas of concern including "strong language", "violent content", or "sexual content" on compact discs alongside the generic Parental Advisory label.[5] The Parental Advisory label was first used on music streaming services and online music stores in 2011.[6] That year, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) revised its own music censorship policies to incorporate more prominent usage of the warning label.[7]


An earlier version of a warning label, used during the 1980s.

The "Parental Advisory Label Program" in the United States and the "Parental Advisory Scheme" in the United Kingdom lack agreed-upon standards for using the warning label, although they provide guidelines for its recommended inclusion.[7][8] Although a voluntary practice that is ultimately left to the discretion of record labels,[9] the RIAA suggests that material with "strong language or depictions of violence, sex, or substance abuse to such an extent as to merit parental notification" be affixed with the Parental Advisory label.[8] The BPI additionally requests that "racist, homophobic, misogynistic or other discriminatory language or behavior" be taken under consideration when determining the appropriateness of a record.[7]

Example of a music album cover with Parental Advisory warning label (Nonnegative by Coldrain).

Physical copies of albums which have the label generally have it as a permanent part of the artwork, being printed with the rest of the cover. In some cases, the label is affixed as a sticker to the front of the case, which can be removed by putting the artwork in a different case. Audio recordings that include Parental Advisory labels in their original formats are generally released in censored versions that reduce or completely eliminate the questionable material.[10] They are recognized as "clean" editions by the RIAA, and are left unlabeled in their revised formats.[8] Target has sold both versions of a given record.[11] Walmart and their affiliated properties are well known for only carrying censored versions of records; in one instance, the retailer refused to distribute Green Day's 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown because they were not given the "clean" copies that they requested.[12] Online music stores, including the iTunes Store,[13] generally have the Parental Advisory logo embedded into digital files.[2] Digital retailers and streaming services such as iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music flag tracks as 'Explicit' if they have been identified as such. [14]


Since its introduction, the effectiveness of the Parental Advisory label has frequently been called into question. Jon Wiederhorn from MTV News suggested that artists benefited from the label and noted that younger customers interested in explicit content could more easily find it with a label attached.[5] On behalf of Westword, Andy Thomas said that the label was purposeless on the grounds that a young customer "would get a copy of the album sooner or later from a friend or another lethargic record store clerk" like the cashier that sold him a labeled pressing of La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 (1992) by White Zombie in his childhood. He noted that its intended reaction in parents was varied; his lax mother was indifferent towards the warning, while the stricter mother of his companion did not allow her child to listen to the record.[15]

The former design for the Parental Advisory label used during the 1990s, this logo also co-existed with the current label from 1996 to 2001.

Danny Goldberg from Gold Village Entertainment opined that the Parental Advisory label offered minimal value other than "being a way for certain retailers like Wal-Mart to brand themselves as 'family friendly'"; he felt that children were successful in getting content they desired "even before the Internet", and believed that the label had little impact on sales figures.[2] In contrast, the RIAA maintains that "it's not a PAL Notice that kids look for, it's the music". They stated that research they had gathered revealed that "kids put limited weight on lyrics in deciding which music they like, caring more about rhythm and melody" and implied that the label is not a deciding factor for a given purchase.[8] Tom Cole from NPR commented that the Parental Advisory label has become "a fact of music-buying life", which made it difficult for current consumers to understand the widespread controversy that came about from its introduction.[2] Greg Beato of Reason observed that by the 1990s, "A hip-hop album that didn't warrant a Tipper sticker was artistically suspect."[16]

The label has become well known enough to be parodied. Guns N' Roses's 1991 albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II included a similarly-styled sticker saying "This album contains language which some listeners may find objectionable. They can fuck off and buy something from the New Age section."[17]

Edited counterparts

It is fairly common for an album which received the Parental Advisory seal to be sold alongside an "edited" version which removes objectionable content, usually to the same level as a radio edit. The RIAA Guidelines however state "an Edited Version need not remove all potentially objectionable content from the sound recording."[18] These albums are packaged nearly-identically to their explicit counterparts, usually with the only indicator being the lack of Parental Advisory seal, although if the artwork is deemed 'explicit' too, it will normally be censored. In the case of some albums, a black box reading "EDITED VERSION" is placed where the Parental Advisory seal would be. This was part of new guidelines introduced on April 1, 2002, which also included a label that featured "Edited Version Also Available" next to the Parental Advisory seal.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Deflem, Mathieu. 2020. "Popular Culture and Social Control: The Moral Panic on Music Labeling." American Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(1):2-24 (First published online July 24, 2019).
  2. ^ a b c d Cole, Tom (October 29, 2010). "You Ask, We Answer: 'Parental Advisory' Labels — The Criteria And The History". NPR. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  3. ^ Schonfeld, Zach (November 10, 2015). "Does the Parental Advisory Label Still Matter?". Newsweek. IBT Media. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  4. ^ Browne, David (May 22, 1992). "As Prudish as They Wanna Be". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Wiederhorn, Jon (July 3, 2002). "Sex, Violence, Cursing: Explicit Lyrics Stickers Get Explicit". MTV News. Viacom. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  6. ^ Sweney, Mark (June 2, 2011). "Parental warnings to be introduced for online music". The Guardian. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c "BPI Parental Advisory Scheme Guidelines" (PDF). British Phonographic Industry. September 2011. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d "Parental Advisory Label ("PAL") Program". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  9. ^ Truitt, Warren. "Parental Advisory Labels – What Do Those Black-and-White Stickers Mean?". IAC. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  10. ^ "Music Content Policy". Walmart. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  11. ^ "Drake Take Care at Target". Target Corporation. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  12. ^ Mumbi Moody, Nekesa. "Green Day: No-go to Wal-Mart policy on edited CDs". ABC News. American Broadcasting Company. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  13. ^ "iTunes: About iTunes Store Parental Advisories". Apple Inc. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  14. ^ "What Does 'Explicit Content' Mean on Music Streaming Platforms".
  15. ^ Thomas, Andy (March 10, 2010). "Is Parental Advisory sticker still being affixed to albums these days? If so, how effective is it? Actually, was it ever effective?". Westword. Voice Media Group. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  16. ^ Beato, Greg (July 28, 2009). "As Nasty As They Wanna Be". Reason. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  17. ^ "New Sets offer Double Dose of Guns 'n' Roses". Sun Sentinel. September 11, 1991. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  18. ^ "Parental Advisory Label ("PAL") Program". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved August 1, 2015.
  19. ^ "Rating & labeling entertainment | Freedom Forum Institute". Retrieved August 2, 2018.