From Like a Virgin to Like a Prayer to Erotica, Madonna built her career on pushing views and artistic expression on taboo subjects. However, her career today appears to have stalled, perhaps because of more than 20 years of exposure. And she may not appeal to a sought-after teenage audience hardly shocked by anything anymore.
Artists not known for sexually charged lyrics, photo-shoots and videos could probably generate the most attention for shocking incidents. They are the unlikeliest of suspects — and perhaps the least likely to perform stunts just to bring attention to themselves. John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged bed-in protests for peace, not just publicity.
"When Sinead O'Connor ripped up the photo of the pope during Saturday Night Live, she was trying to send a message," said Cave. "The huge deal that's being made over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion is about beyond selling movie tickets. It's something he [Gibson] feels strongly about."
Making a Statement vs. Attracting Attention
However, some experts point out, there is a difference between staging a shocking incident and making a shocking statement. Some believe that celebrities can never really be hurt by controversial incidents, as long as they're not crimes like murder and molestation, but are more damaged by political or religious statements.
Beyoncé Knowles was criticized for her sexually suggestive dance at Grant's Tomb during a live concert for NBC last Fourth of July. However, her career hasn't suffered — her album remains in the Billboard top 20 and she's been nominated for multiple Grammys.
However, arguably, Irish songstress O'Connor's career never truly recovered after she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II during a performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992. The Dixie Chicks' album sales dropped last year when a member of the trio said they were ashamed that President Bush was from their native Texas.
"You can almost be never hurt [by a shock incident]," said Levinson. "However, when the Dixie Chicks made their comments about President Bush, they felt a backlash because they were making a statement. When Sinead O'Connor ripped up the picture of the pope, she was making a statement."
‘Nasty’ Reality Check
Jackson is set to release a new album in the spring, her first since 2001's All for You.
At 37, she is geriatric compared to the 20-somethings who rule the pop charts these days, like Timberlake, Spears, 50 Cent and Nelly. Though Jackson said the breast-exposure was a stunt unintentionally gone too far, some believe it was the start of a publicity campaign for her upcoming album.
"The more I think about it, it's hard to believe it was a just a wardrobe problem," said Cave. "Here we have Janet, she's releasing an album soon. She's getting older and she's trying to prove once again that she's still sexy," said Cave. "If nothing else, this [the Super Bowl controversy] introduces her to an audience that wouldn't have thought about her otherwise, that didn't get her last album."
Still, Jackson's new audience may not buy her CD anyway — and not because they're offended by her Super Bowl performance.
"The idea is she may have been introduced to a new group of young boys," said Cave. "But the way the music industry is today, they're more likely to download the music instead of buying the album."