Parental Advisory is a message affixed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to audio and video recordings in the United States containing offensive language and/or content. Albums began to be labeled for "explicit lyrics" in 1985, after pressure from the Parents Music Resource Center. In 1990, the PMRC worked with the RIAA to standardize the label, creating the now-familiar black and white design. The first albums to receive the label in its new form included Danzig's self-titled album (ironically, no profanity is present except for a use of "whore" in Possession), Soundgarden's Louder Than Love, Guns N Roses's Appetite For Destruction, and 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be and had the label in the form of a sticker on the cellophane wrap. Later pressings of Danzig's self-titled, as well as many new albums with the label after 1994, had the label printed onto the artwork. To some, it has become known as the "Tipper sticker" because of Tipper Gore's visible role in the PMRC.
Some politicians have tried to criminalize the sale of explicit records to minors, and others have gone so far as to try to ban such records. Certain retailers refuse to sell albums containing the label, and many others limit the sale of such albums to adults only, although, most stores have settled on an age limit of 17 in order to buy an album containing the label. While the label is mostly prevalent on hip-hop/rap albums, it can appear on any genre of CD which the RIAA believes warrants the need for one.
Although many retailers use the sticker as a criterion for censorship, whether or not to use the sticker is determined by the record company that publishes the album. Many albums with a few instances of strong profanity, instances of violence, and/or sexual situations in lyrics have a "parental advisory" sticker, (Examples include KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza, Janet Jackson's All for You & Damita Jo, Faith No More's Angel Dust, Otep's the_Ascension, Gorillaz' self-titled album, Godsmack's Awake, Liz Phair's self-titled album, Simple Plan's self-titled album, Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, The Remington Steelers' In 3-D, Fergie's The Dutchess, Madonna's Erotica and Timbaland's Shock Value, among others.), although albums with multiple uses of explicit language may not. It is not a rating; there are no agreed-upon standards for a parental advisory label. It is totally up to the record company whether an album needs one or not. One might argue that just because an album has a parental advisory label, doesn't mean that it is any more explicit than an album that does not have that label. For instance, the punk rock group NOFX has largely avoided the Parental Advisory sticker (though their albums contain many profanities) because they are published on the independent label, Fat Wreck Chords. Another example is the death metal band Morbid Angel's 1993 album Covenant. While the band was signed on with the major record label Giant Records pressings of Covenant had the parental advisory sticker in the corner. However, when Giant Records went bankrupt and Morbid Angel returned to their old independent label Earache Records future pressings of the album no longer contained the sticker. Other independent artists avoid the label such as Modest Mouse (though on iTunes some of their albums have Parental Advisory) as well as Negativland, and their album Escape from Noise was released on SST Records and Seeland Records, both of them independent labels. But some major label artists' CDs evade Parental Advisory, such as most albums from Atreyu, Nickelback, Deftones, Green Day, Incubus, Warren Zevon, Kimya Dawson, and Maroon 5, The Hives' Barely Legal, Tori Amos' Boys for Pele, Jodeci's Diary of a Mad Band, Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, The Pussycat Dolls's PCD, Britney Spears's Blackout, Breaking Benjamin's Saturate, and Dir en grey's The Marrow of a Bone (on the Japanese and American versions).
Some albums may receive Parental Advisory labels even though these albums contain no profane, sexual, or violent lyrics at all. Examples include Danzig's first four albums (the first two which only contain mild and infrequent profanity), Blu Cantrell's Bittersweet, Gorillaz' G-Sides, Sum 41's Does This Look Infected? (which only has mild and infrequent profanity), Nikka Costa's Can'tneverdidnothin', Savatage's Fight for the Rock, Story of the Year's Page Avenue, Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss, Mastodon's Blood Mountain, Dragonforce's Inhuman Rampage, From First to Last's self titled, and The Remington Steelers' The Harsh Reality.
Most albums released on Sony BMG's record labels (Arista Records, Columbia Records, Jive Records, LaFace Records, J Records, among others) that contain the PA sticker provide additional explanations of why the disc warrants the sticker and sometimes note that there is an clean version of said album available. On System of a Down's Hypnotize, for instance, under the label it reads "STRONG LANGUAGE, SEXUAL + VIOLENT CONTENT", and on the North American versions of P!NK's albums Try This and I'm Not Dead, under the label it reads "STRONG LANGUAGE". Radiohead's Hail to the Thief has a warning of the strong offensive language on inside the CD booklet, next to the listed lyrics.
Many albums with the label have clean versions available, especially on online music stores such as iTunes or Napster. However, some of the "clean" stickers may be given to albums with no profanity, such as the case with Blur's self-titled album, which was given a clean sticker because it had three tracks within "Essex Dogs": "Dancehall", the former song, and "Intermission". Relient K had a similar case on iTunes, where they released a "clean" version of "Must Have Done Something Right", even though the band is known for not using any profanities. In 2007, rock group Garbage's "best of" collection was released worldwide through Warner Music Group, with all editions carrying a parental advisory label. A "clean" version of the album was, however, released through iTunes, yet the single instance of profanity found throughout the album (on the track "Why Do You Love Me") remained uncensored.
A few albums have a note saying that the lyrics are of an adult nature, but without the sticker: Back to Bedlam by James Blunt, Pinkerton by Weezer, Jimmy Buffett's Live in Hawaii, Guns N' Roses's "The Spaghetti Incident?" (though pre-1994 pressings did use the Parental Advisory sticker), Savatage's Gutter Ballet, Overseer's Wreckage, Motion City Soundtrack's Even If It Kills Me, Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust. However, Back To Bedlam and Even If It Kills Me only contain one or two uses of explicit language (fuck). The album Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers sometimes carries a sticker claiming the record "contains language that some people may find offensive". Also, the album Splinter by The Offspring has a sticker next to the Parental Advisory label that said, "This album has a Parental Advisory because it contains 11 uses of strong language".
There have been some cases of unusual use of the label. After Frank Zappa campaigned against music censorship in 1985, the sticker was attached to his next album, Jazz from Hell, because of the title of one track, "G-Spot Tornado", although the album is entirely instrumental and contains no lyrics that could be "explicit lyrics". The designation of instrumentals as taboo, however, is nothing new; in the 1960s, the "Rumble" instrumental by Link Wray was banned from some radio stations because it could supposedly incite "juvenile violence."
There has been the observation that the stickers appear to have had the reverse effect to what was intended - the sticker can make an album more desirable, and the sticker has been called the musical equivalent of an "alcohol content" label. The RIAA, however, officially states that "it’s not a PAL Notice that kids look for, it’s the music. Independent research shows kids put limited weight on lyrics in deciding which music they like, caring more about rhythm and melody. The PAL Notice alone isn’t enough incentive."
The label is also seen in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Greece, Finland, the Netherlands, Brazil, Denmark, South Africa, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada on albums of American origin. An album with the label is automatically banned in some conservative countries. At Wal-Mart (and until recently K-Mart) stores, only a "clean" version of an album is allowed, and if no "clean" version of the album is available, the album will not be available. However, Wal-Mart's policy on carrying "explicit" versions of music albums in their stores seems to vary by country, as albums with the parental advisory label are found in Canadian Wal-Mart stores, for example. Most cds are availible at Wal-Mart in edited formats. However, some cds such as N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton and 2 Live Crew's As Clean As They Wanna Be and Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 are availible in edited formats at Wal-Mart.com, but are not availible in the stores due to controversy.
Also, Tokyopop uses a circular variant of the label on most of their Mature (18+) rated manga. This was also used on certain volumes of Older Teen (16+) rated manga, such as the 4th volume of Gensomaden Saiyuki (due to references to rape).
Recently, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and its subsidiaries have been putting the label on the artwork of unrated versions of films such as Negima!, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Love Hina.