Relationships

The Songs We Banned From Our Weddings

We wade into the hot debate over which tracks are wedding anthems and which are anathema.

People dancing at a wedding reception.
DGLimages/iStock

The 2018 wedding season is coming to a close, punctuated by some classic viral drama between a bride and her ousted bridesmaid. In the run-up to Labor Day, the official marker of the end of the season of love, beleaguered friends and family across the nation will no doubt play witness to countless “rustic chic” ceremonies lit by the warm glow of candles in Mason jars and first dances soundtracked to staples like Etta James’ “At Last” or Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”

Cheesy schmaltz is a playlist prerequisite for many couples. But the recent circulation of an “ultimate playlist of banned wedding songs” compiled by FiveThirtyEight proved that the question of which songs are wedding anthems and which are anathema is up for spirited debate. Songs listed as most likely to be banned include some tracks that objectively deserve to be retired (Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”) and straight-up bangers apparently banned by people who hate fun (“Love Shack”, “Dancing Queen,” “Single Ladies”). Inspired by this list, we polled Slatesters on the songs and artists they banned from their own weddings. In our small sample, the Black Eyed Peas strangely came in a decisive first place, although the staffer who had reason to ban the Game of Thrones theme song might have won best story.

“I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas

We told DJ Marvin the Martian that we wanted ’90s hip hop and ’60s soul and no Black Eyed Peas, which we figured would cover it. It was the year of “I Gotta Feeling” or shortly thereafter, and Black Eyed Peas felt too on the nose. But we forgot to address the ’70s. And Marvin the Martian did a long ’70s set that included “Dancing Queen” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” My one true bridezilla moment was during “Sweet Home Alabama.”
—Editor-in-Chief Julia Turner

All of the Black Eyed Peas, “Celebration,” “We Are Family,” the Chicken Dance, and Cotton-Eye Joe

We had to fill out a long form that involved checking off any songs we wanted to ban from a massive list, and we banned a lot. We definitely forbade all Black Eyed Peas songs. (Just no. They’re all awful and cynical earworms.) “Celebration,” “We Are Family,” and a few others I don’t recall were cut for being lifeless clichés. Importantly, all line dances were banned—but especially the Chicken Dance and Cotton-Eye Joe, curse their names. International law ought to forbid those under all circumstances. Thank goodness none of those were played, but our wedding did have a music problem nonetheless. When the party started, the DJ decided to spend most of his time spinning mashups, cutting between one song and another and back again, if not overlaying multiple songs. People got down, but dude, please just play the songs. If we knew that was gonna happen, we would’ve banned all mashups.
Night editor Seth Maxon

The Game of Thrones theme song

The (very, very good) string quartet we hired for the ceremony and cocktail hour gave us a list of the several hundred songs in their repertoire weeks ahead of time. We wanted something extremely specific for the ceremony: Bach for the processional, klezmer for the recessional. From that list, we sent back the 25 or so light pop songs that would’ve made sense for a noontime cocktail hour. After the yihud—the half-hour or so that my new husband and I could have to ourselves right after the (Jewish) ceremony, mostly staring at each other in shock at what we’d just done—we came back downstairs, where the quartet was playing a rather familiar dirge: the Game of Thrones theme song. Apparently the musicians had already gone through all the songs we’d chosen and were off doing their own thing. Sure, we didn’t formally “ban” that song, but we didn’t not ban it; we’d thought that leaving it off our “please play” list was clear enough. This experience gave me a new appreciation of how terrifying it must be to be a musician in Daenerys’ court. Without three fire-breathing dragons at my disposal, all I could do was vent a little—OK, a lot—to friends. But every wedding can be a Red Wedding if you’ve got a short-tempered monarch with extremely selective musical taste. As is so often the case with songs the bride and groom “banned,” the guests loved the brief trip to Westeros. Who needs thematic appropriateness when you’ve got epic heraldry?
Staff writer Inkoo Kang

“Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof

Too on-the-nose schmaltzy. We had a great klezmer band, seemed a waste of their talents. No regrets!
Managing producer for Slate Studios Michele Siegel

All Beyoncé Except “Love on Top”

I am currently planning my wedding, and we’ve made the controversial move of banning all Beyoncé songs aside from “Love on Top.” The decision was made after a negotiation with my partner, who would have placed no upper limit on Beyoncé songs. But I’d prefer to have only one Beyoncé song since many weddings have, like, eight—and in part because of the climactic key changes, I like that one best among her up-tempo jams. (Up-tempo Beyoncé jams are rather rare, I’d say! Don’t @ me, I find Beyoncé a little hard to dance to!) With only five to six(?) hours of dancing at the biggest party we’ve ever thrown, why would we waste a bunch of songs on one artist who isn’t Robyn?!
Staff writer Christina Cauterucci

Any song not on our “Please Play” list

Others worry about failing on their face as they walk down the aisle or a long-forgotten ex- turning up to object; my wedding nightmare was having bad music spoil the mood. I didn’t want to have to periodically excuse myself from the festivities to futz with an iPod, so we did hire a DJ, but I put together an extensive playlist to choose from, without a dud in the bunch. When the DJ asked if there was any song she shouldn’t play, my answer was simple: “any song not on that list.” —Senior editor Sam Adams

Nothing

We “DJed” our own wedding and loved it. Creating the playlist was like a love letter to ourselves and everyone we know who would be there. But the three things I learned about DJing your own wedding are:
1) You will lose control of the iPod.
2) Don’t bother putting the tracks you want in order.
3) Someone will put on Santana/Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” within the first hour, and they will get drunk enough to put it on again at the end of the night.
—Audience engagement editor Evan Mackinder

We had a dance-loving friend DJ our wedding and gave her what I remember as zero instruction or guidelines. It worked out great. I did learn, however, that if you go this route, your very well-intentioned brother may at some point take control of the aux cord and insist that the thing to do is play obscure Colombian folk music that “everybody can dance to.”
—Staff writer Rebecca Onion

My good friend is a professional DJ, so he knows what to stay away from. I gave him a bunch of songs to play at cocktail hour, and then I told him for the reception, just play like he was at a barbecue or cookout. I think a lot of people think there’s some sort of standard DJ set for weddings. But I think the best move is just to focus on having fun—and to treat your wedding like it’s not a wedding.
—Designer Derreck Johnson