It’s been 10 years since Janet Jackson’s boob popped out at the Superbowl. That was an accident, but with today's league of pop stars resorting to shock tactics to get hits - Lady Gaga spewing paint, Miley Cyrus fingering Robin Thicke and even Madonna reduced to wacky grill wearing - is body shock the last hurrah for the modern female pop star?
Last month at SXSW everyone’s dreams came true and somebody was violently sick on Lady Gaga. The moment that was decried by Demi Lovato for glamourising eating disorders (although, you’d have to have been chowing down on a very specific combination of lime flavoured Tang, chlorophyll-infused asparagus and neon glowstix from 1992 to have sick that particular shade of green) was actually a specially choreographed piece during Gaga's song Swine. Millie Brown, the performance artist who stuck her fingers down her throat and did the dirty on Stefani, told Noisey, “It worked really amazingly with that song and the idea of purging all that bad energy and getting rid of it.”
Yeah, yeah Millie, it was also totally gross.
Still, there was something about the GG Allin-ish act that made it feel like the kind of thing Gaga should have been doing for the entire ARTPOP campaign. Alongside the shock factor, it nudged on the corner of a bigger conversation about female celebrities and abasement. In the age of the selfie, where the objectified female body is so readily served up to be lusted after, judged against perfectionist standards and marketed so ruthlessly, there’s nothing more eff-you than when a female popstar defiles her very own canvas - her body.
Ten years ago, Janet Jackson fucked with America when Justin TimberLAD ripped her stage outfit to reveal her pierced nipple at the Superbowl. The massive over-reaction (The FCC fined everyone and Janet got wiped off radio playlists) was one of those times where I thought, "wow, I figured America was all "Ross and the gang from Friends" and pretzels. But no, it’s FUCKING MENTAL." It also showed the power of female body horror. America had collectively swooned over Janet since she appeared in Good Times when she was 11 and it was a long journey from seeing her first kiss in Diff’rent Strokes to the post-Janet (1993) model - the bold, sexually confident one evidenced on soon to be released songs from that year’s Damita Jo album like Sexhibition and Moist. When that (pierced! brown!) boobie was unveiled and Nipplegate happened, the waves of discontent were so huge that it felt as if Janet had personally shat on everyone’s warm and fuzzy memories of making out to Let’s Wait Awhile.
When Miley-gate happened last year I totally thought of Janet. Miley, like Janet, was the beloved child star who played tic-tac-toe with America as Hannah Montana. Her attempts to assert her adult sexual self (the help-me-I’m-trapped-in-a-basement-with-only-a-sheet look of Annie Lebovitz’s Vanity Fair shoot and the burlesque budgie video for Can’t Be Tamed) were met with disinterested tuts. It took the absolute destruction of La Montana at the VMA's, where Miley's Gizmo was replaced by a crotch rubbing, tongue wagging FORB (Friend Of Robin Thicke) and recent incidents like her cat lip tattoo to make people take notice and banish the memory of The Climb forever.
There’s a body horror factor when Katy Perry dyes her hair green, when Madonna puts her grillz in or Britney decides to shave her head. It is perhaps the only piece of chaos and punk rock-ness that’s left in this highly controlled world.