performers get ready

Spanish Carnival floats told to drop sexist songs 

In some small towns in northeast Spain, organizers for the Carnival holiday have told participants that they’ll risk losing public subsidies if they play songs with lyrics that denigrate women. Most people like the idea in theory, but in practice, the measure is proving tough to apply. Because with pop music, finding the line between sexist and sexy can be vexing.

The World

In the town of Calafell, Spain, along the beach road, hundreds of dancers are putting the final touches on their costumes while a line of floats stretches for over a mile. Crowds of spectators abound.

The festivities are part of the vibrant, yearly Carnival happening this week, which precedes the Christian period of Lent with costumes, parades, street parties and concerts.

Although for many it's a chance to let loose, in some small towns in northeast Spain, including Calafell, there’s a movement to fight male chauvinism that has historically come up during Carnival by banning songs with sexist lyrics. But when it comes to pop music, the line between sexist and sexy can be complicated.

people in costume

Pere Nin, a float organizer, helped craft the prohibition of pop songs that denigrate women. But he said that the bans are getting out of hand.


Gerry Hadden/The World

The local Sexist Lyrics Commission is paying attention to whether any parade floats play a song deemed to denigrate women.

If that happens, they’ll lose public subsidies that help pay for all of this, according to Pere Nin, a float organizer who helped make the rules against sexist lyrics back in 2019.

women in yellow

Performers in Spain get ready for a parade as part of Carnival.


Gerry Hadden/The World

“Each town has its own list of banned songs, and beforehand, each float has to give the town the names of the songs it wants to play,” he said, adding that the intention is good.

In this era of #MeToo, several towns in this region have embraced the idea. But in practice, he said, the question of whether to ban has gotten murky.

“It’s one thing if a song is obviously sexist,” he said. “It’s another when a song has a line or a word that might offend.”

For example, the song, “SloMo,” sung by Spanish superstar Chanel, has been flagged as problematic.

women in costume

Groups of performers in costume are a colorful part of Carnival in Spain.


Gerry Hadden/The World

“This song took third place last year in the Eurovision song contest,” Nin said. “And the singer, Chanel, is committed to the cause of gender equality.”

So, why ban it here?

Another popular hit, “Suavemente,” by Elvis Crespo, has also been banned. These are songs people love. So, it’s not surprising that this hunt for the lyrically offensive is getting mixed reviews from carnivalgoers.

Dancer Sara Coam said there’s no room at Carnival, or anywhere, for macho music that objectifies women.

kids on a float

Kids on a float toss confetti at the crowds lining the road. Carnival in Spain is an all-ages affair and sexist tunes are increasingly frowned upon.


Gerry Hadden/The World

“If people would stop listening, the artists would stop writing sexist lyrics,” she said.

But her friend Marta Tamayo said it’s more complicated: “Sometimes, a song gets so popular that you feel like the odd person out if you don’t sing along.”

DJ Miguel Aguila, 23, who was also on hand, said he is against the bans altogether.

The most popular songs he plays, he said, are those that allude to sex.

friends standing together

Carnival dancers Sara Coam, right, and friend Marta Tamayo keep warm before the parade begins in Calefell, Spain. The two women say they wish sexist lyrics would go away.


Gerry Hadden/The World

“Carnival is nothing if not sexy,” he said.

Even Nin, who helped get the lyrics ban going, said the whole thing may just need a rethink.

“It’s starting to remind me of other periods we’d rather not remember,” he said. Like, the Inquisition or the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, he added.

Under Franco, authorities banned songs from the political left. This is the Carnival conundrum, Nin said: Women must be respected. But in a pop song where’s the line?

The intersection of pop culture, sexuality and misogyny can create crosscurrents that maybe carnival floats simply can’t be expected to navigate. 

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