From the first gyration of Elvis Presley’s hips on “The Milton Berle Show” (way back in the summer of 1955) to the last grab of the crotch during Adam Lambert’s Sunday (November 22) night performance at the American Music Awards, musicians and live television have shared a rather contentious relationship.
Throughout the years, in attempts to shock audiences, promote albums or share their political views (or, you know, just because they were inebriated), artists have given censors fits with performances that pushed the boundaries of good taste — everything from bare butts to obscenity and potshots at the Pope. Things like that are the reason they invented the seven-second delay, after all.
So now, with Lambert already feeling the heat following his racy AMA performance, we decided it was a good time to re-visit some of the most shocking musical moments from in TV history — the ones that earned public condemnations and half-hearted apologies. Censors, get your fingers on the button.
Sinéad O’Connor Rips The Pope On “Saturday Night Live,” 1992: Sinéad O’Connor and “Saturday Night Live” already had a rather interesting relationship before she decided to rip up a photo of the Pope in her infamous 1992 performance. Back in 1990, she backed out of a scheduled appearance on the show because she didn’t want to share the stage with host Andrew Dice Clay. Two years later, after performing a moody a capella version of Bob Marley’s “War,” she produced a photo of Pope John Paul II, tore it to shreds and shouted “Fight the real enemy!” The audience reacted with stunned silence, and the media vilified O’Connor as an enfant terrible, and while she would later apologize for the act, she remained unrepentant.
Prince Shows Off His Assets At The VMAs, 1991: The Purple One took the stage at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards dressed in canary yellow, but it was his outfit didn’t have that raised more than a few eyebrows: namely, a backside. During his performance of “Gett Off,” Prince whirled around to reveal his butt, drawing the ire of several parent groups and paving the way for an entire wave of barely-there performances in years to come, including Britney Spears’ famous striptease at the 2000 Awards, as well as …
Marilyn Manson Bares His Butt At The VMAs, 1997: Manson stormed into the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards as one of the hottest acts on the planet, not to mention the most controversial. And his performance — part political protest, part S&M sex show — more than lived up to the hype. Beginning by delivering a speech behind a presidential podium (“My fellow Americans, we will no longer be oppressed by the fascism of beauty … Lemme ask you, do you wanna be in a place that’s filled with a bunch of a–holes?”), Manson ripped through “The Beautiful People,” shedding his feathered coat midway through to reveal a tiny leather corset and his very pasty buttocks. Audiences were shocked (especially Missy Elliott, whose reaction shot is absolutely priceless), but Manson (of course) never apologized, and went on to mock the performance along with Ben Stiller during promos for the 1998 VMAs.
Janet Jackson’s “Wardrobe Malfunction” At Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004: The controversial performance against which all others have been measured, Janet Jackson’s briefly exposed breast during the half time show of Super Bowl XXXVIII became the most hotly debated subject of the year. It earned CBS (CBS and MTV were both jointly owned by Viacom Inc. at the time) a $550,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission (which was later overturned) and set off much public debate about the issue of indecency.
Ashlee Simpson’s Impromptu “Saturday Night Live” Hoedown, 2004: While it didn’t involve a single second of nudity, profanity or political stumping, Simpson’s disastrous performance on “SNL” in the winter of ’04 was just as shocking, and earned her just as much criticism as any other artist on this list. Taking the stage to perform “Autobiography” — her second song of the night — the vocals from her first song, “Pieces Of Me,” began to play, making it clear that Simpson had been singing along to a vocal track (if she’d been singing at all). Panicked, Simpson broke into an impromptu (and much mocked) jig, then bolted off camera. At the end of the show, she explained that her band had “played the wrong song,” then called into “TRL” the following Monday to say that due to “severe acid reflux disease,” she had been singing along to a vocal guide track at the insistence of her father. It didn’t help much, and Simpson was taken to task by The New York Times and MSNBC’s Jeannette Walls, and footage of her dance became a YouTube sensation.