"Brown Sugar," the band's second-most popular song, which opens with the lyrics, "Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields," quietly vanished from shows this year after criticism for describing rapes of enslaved women.
"You picked up on that, huh? I'm trying to figure out with the sister's quote where the beef is," guitarist Keith Richards told the Los Angeles Times last week. "Didn't they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they're trying to bury it. At the moment I don't want to get into conflicts with all of this s***. But I'm hoping that we'll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track."
Frontman Mick Jagger said they were undergoing different setlists without embellishing on why the song was dismissed.
"We've played 'Brown Sugar' every night since 1970, so sometimes you think, 'We'll take that one out for now and see how it goes,'" he said. "We might put it back in."
Commentator Piers Morgan called the choice "deeply depressing."
"Whatever the truth, 'Brown Sugar' is demonstrably a song aimed at defending and supporting black women, not one that seeks to denigrate them or make light of slavery," Morgan wrote. "But the woke-fueled narrative will now be that the song IS racist, so the Stones are therefore racist, and they've abandoned performing it because they accept these assertions. What utter nonsense."
But others praised the move. Last year, record producer Ian Brennan called for the Stones to stop playing the song.
"This particular case is far from nitpicking or searching into the furthest corners of someone's history for any misstep. 'Brown Sugar' is not some obscure B-side," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "The concern is that they continue to perform and profit — and not just perform it, but feature it as the penultimate or final number on their most recent worldwide tour, a tour that shattered the all-time concert industry record for monetary gross at a single show."
Others in the entertainment industry have made similar adjustments, on occasion modifying content considered not politically correct. For example, Disney has limited the distribution of films such as Peter Pan and Dumbo, which the company claims contain "negative racial depictions and mistreatment of people or cultures," and award ceremonies within the industry have also made a push for increased diversity, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences mandating variety quotas to qualify for awards last year.