We’re smack in the middle of wedding season, which means it’s the perfect time to revisit one of the most divisive components of wedding planning out there: the music. Specifically, we wanted to know what songs couples ban at their wedding receptions — the sonic experiences considered so universally unpalatable that statistically discernible numbers of people go out of their way to avoid hearing them on the happiest day of their lives.
This is only the latest in this website’s quest to use the considerable resources and polling opportunities available to us to answer burning questions about this delightful ritual. There’s no single rule book on weddings, just a vaguely worded social contract we’re chipping away at, from how much to spend on gifts to who pays for the shindig. Last year, we asked readers to send in the songs they chose for their receptions, and thus we were able to establish the ultimate wedding playlist. But every light casts a shadow, and the interest in sending over the must-plays was met with even more fervor for the must-not-plays. We collected the testimonies of more than two dozen professional DJs on nearly 200 weddings to find out what the most commonly prohibited songs and artists are.
Here are the songs that couples most frequently ban from wedding receptions:
Line dances, kitsch, the cultural detritus of the disco era, dictated choreography and the far-longer-than-you-thought-it-was “Love Shack.” Some songs make the list for their vulgarity, but the most contemptible are singled out for their very banality: The “Chicken Dance” is done. The “Hokey Pokey” is over. The “Macarena” es muy, muy mala.
Oddly enough, a few songs on this list are the MVPs from last year’s list! “Happy,” “Shout” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” are just a few of the most popular songs that also appear on DJs’ rosters of banned songs. Either those songs have gone out of style overnight, or, more likely, their popularity has made them polarizing. If you’re making demands of a DJ, you don’t need to ask him or her to avoid playing Bulgarian death metal — that’s probably a given — but you need to speak up about “Single Ladies” now or it’s going to get a rotation.
Some songs “are perceived as overplayed, cliché and perhaps cheesy,” New Jersey wedding DJ Gregg Hollmann said in an email. “Wedding couples want to be unique.”
Many couples want to avoid line dances at their weddings, as well as songs that have inappropriate lyrics. I was shocked at some serious wedding classics on the no-play lists — your “All of Me” and Etta James and romantic staples — but Hollmann reminded me that some may be associated with a past broken relationship or marriage.
Still, some couples may want to err on the side of crowd-pleasing by including a few songs with lyrics that are their own choreography instructions and line dances. There’s a tradeoff to being unique: “Many of these popular wedding songs also populate the ‘must play’ list — because they are fun and work on dance floors!” Hollmann said.
Some artists are so heinous to couples that to request one song be struck from the list is too reasonable — couples frequently strike the entire oeuvre of a hated performer. This ire most commonly fell on one performer in particular: Justin Bieber. The Biebs was banned from 6 percent of weddings, far more than immediate runners-up Backstreet Boys, Bruno Mars, Rick James, Rihanna, Sir Mix-A-Lot and (inexplicably) War. The Bieber Backlash is as strong as ever. This is a bit strange, as one would think his style — the platonic ideal of generic, middle-of-the-road danceable pop — is neutral enough that people wouldn’t ban it due to vulgarity or inappropriateness or cheesiness.
In rare cases, couples ask that an entire genre be eliminated. In such cases, they typically follow MySpace Music Taste rules: no country (10 percent of weddings) and sometimes no rap (3 percent).
So not being picky enough can mean you have to sit through 30 reps of “bang, bang on the door, baby,” but being too picky can limit the DJ’s options. What’s the ideal number of requests? On average, weddings in our data set made 5.5 no-play requests each. So that’s five or six artist, song or genre bans per wedding. In the set, 80 percent of weddings had two or more banned items, and 80 percent had seven or fewer banned items. The pickiest person in the set had 66 banned songs or artists, and at that point maybe it just makes sense to leave the party in Spotify’s hands.
In the end, perhaps people should be a little more forgiving of the line dancing and focus on what truly matters on their wedding day: making sure that “Love Shack” and “Rock Lobster” are never played on a dance floor again.