At this point, it wouldn’t do any good to rehash all of the details of Kanye’s recent Twitter rampages and media stunts because, well, it’s enough already. So far, the year of 2016 can be measured in terms of Kanye’s stunts, starting with his shit-talking a certain skinny rapper and his pants, to the tortuous album rollout to soliciting donations from Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter. While making speculations about Kanye’s mental health or digging arduously for a deeper meaning in this all are futile, the whole affair proves one thing: When an artist has enough credit, they can get away with a shocking amount.
The stronghold Kanye has over the media is unprecedented due to his use of Twitter as a speaking platform and the prevalence of social media, in general. Those who haven’t even gone out of their way have probably caught wind of Kanye’s recent antics, which definitely speaks to the scope of Kanye’s influence on contemporary pop culture. That said, Kanye is not the first artist to be egregiously outspoken about the “truth,” although it may feel like he is the founding father of this art form. We take you back in time on an exploration of artists who were perhaps too open about their feelings in a way that did not endear the public to them.
Just to ground the rest of the list in some cold-hard historical facts, we go way, way back to the early 17th century when Galileo made his case for Copernicus’ proposed heliocentric model of the universe. Galileo’s writings on heliocentrism — the belief that the sun, not the Earth, is at the center of the universe — were hugely controversial as the refutal of geocentrism — the belief that universe revolves around the Earth — was viewed as blasphemy. Although Galileo attempted to delineate the separation between science and religion, his works were submitted to the Roman Inquisition for review and he was formally imprisoned after he was found “vehemently suspect of heresy.” The Inquisition banned future publication of Galileo’s written works, and sent him to live under house arrest when his sentence was up. Although he knew his works wouldn’t be published, Galileo continued to write until he passed away. He received all of his accolades and esteem posthumously, which deeply sucks, to say the least.
Continuing down the path of offending Christian people, John Lennon made a statement in 1966 that jeopardized the band’s fan base in a major way. During an interview, Lennon said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now.” The quote didn’t garner much attention in the UK, but the entirety of the United States’ Bible Belt rose up in ire, calling on devout Christians to boycott The Beatles and burn their records and paraphernalia. Lennon went on to explain in a press conference that he didn’t mean to offend a huge part of their Beatlemania devoted, that he was only making an observation about the amount of fame he and his bandmates had been experiencing. The Beatles went on a U.S. tour shortly after the Jesus controversy, but it may have been one of the reasons they decided not to tour ever again.
As long as we’re doing the Jesus thing, we might as well hit the sacrilegious stunt Sinead O’Connor’s pulled on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1992. At the very end of an earnest, arresting a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “War,” O’Connor paused on the word “evil” as she held up a picture of the Pope John Paul II and ripped it into pieces. She then commanded, “Fight the real enemy!” referring to the rampant, covered-up issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, as she tossed the shreds into the air and stared directly at the camera. A majority of the nationwide viewing audience took great offense to O’Connor’s performance, blaming NBC (although the network had no prior knowledge of what O’Connor would do on stage). SNL formally apologized in the following week’s episode when host Joe Pesci held up the same photo of the Pope, telling the audience he had taped it back together. Part of what makes O’Connor such a compelling artist is her unflinching conviction, though: To this day, she doesn’t regret what she did.
Fiona Apple is widely esteemed for her ability to incorporate her prickly character and painful life experiences into her music. That comes at a price though — she doesn’t have much of a filter, which she demonstrated at the 1997 VMAs when she went up on stage to accept her Moonman award. After starting out with a quote from Maya Angelou and warning the audience that her speech wouldn’t be your standard, gushing appreciation, Apple proudly declared: “This world is bullshit.” She goes on to condemn the insidiousness of the media and the pitfalls of the music industry, commenting on how people shouldn’t try to model their lives after her or other famous people. Just do you, is basically what she was saying, but there were people who were upset by Apple’s statements, viewing her as deeply troubled and ungrateful for her award. A statement like that probably wouldn’t garner the same amount of controversial attention today, but Apple’s aggressive and brave denunciation of the music industry in 1997 was clearly too much for some to handle.
Love is beautiful and dangerous, and there is no better video evidence of that than Tom Cruise’s appearance on the Oprah show in 2005. In the infamous couch jumping episode that changed Cruise’s career and the public’s opinion of him forever, Cruise behaved like an insane person as he maniacally ranted about his newfound love for actress Katie Holmes. The crowd of women went absolutely wild — I guess this is when Tom Cruise was still regarded as a dream hunk — as they basically levitated out of their chairs in excitement, and Oprah kept crying, “We’ve never seen you like this before!” It’s truly one of the strangest and most outrageous moments in pop culture to revisit, especially when you consider the public’s opinion of Tom Cruise nowadays. Being in love is surely exciting, but Cruise’s portrayal on Oprah incorporated more elements of an exorcism than we would have liked.
Let’s get back to artists offending Christian Southerners. In 2003 — during a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London — the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks Natalie Maines made a comment about the impending invasion of Iraq as she introduced their latest single, “Traveling Soldier.” She said, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Maines’ comment sparked outrage in America, especially because she made it on foreign soil. The Dixie Chicks spent the next three years of their career attempting to rectify the controversy, apologizing for condemning the president while attempting to maintain a semblance of conviction in the process. In 2006, the Dixie Chicks released their single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” about the political controversy that had shrouded their careers for the three previous years. They won the Best Record of the Year and Best Song of the Year at Grammys in 2007 for it. Ah, sweet vindication.
The actress and mother of an autistic child has assumed the position of “mother warrior” in the search for an untenable link between childhood vaccinations and autism. After noticing drastically different and strange behaviors in her two-and-a-half-year-old son soon after he received vaccines, McCarthy became one of the leading voices in the vaccine-autism truther community. She has written books on the subject including 2007’s Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, which has been criticized at length due to her claims that are unsupported by scientific evidence. McCarthy even received the sarcastic Pigasus Award from skeptic James Randi, which celebrates the unfounded contributions of pseudoscientists. The American Academy of Pediatrics has since stated that, “There is no definite, scientific proof that any vaccine or combination of vaccines can cause autism.” Welp, looks like this truther isn’t getting far.
In light of the Oscars having just occurred, let’s move to the present day. In the midst of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, several actors spoke up in favor of the Academy diversifying representation. However, British actress Charlotte Rampling said during a radio interview that the diversity problem is “racist to white people.” In an age when everyone jumps down the throats of celebrities who are blind to their white privilege, you better believe there was immediate backlash against Rampling for her ignorant comment. She later attempted to correct her statement when she said, “I regret that my comments could have been misinterpreted. I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration.” Doesn’t sound like much of an apology to me, though.