The Material Girl was upstaged by . . . a bird?
Just before the eighth minute of Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI halftime performance Sunday night, the middle finger of rapper M.I.A. stole the show from the pop icon.
M.I.A., a 37-year-old British hip-hop artist of Sri Lankan descent, flipped her left middle digit toward the camera for 110 million viewers’ pleasure at the end of her verse on Madonna’s new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” The rapper’s accompanying lyrics, “I don’t give a [expletive],” were unclear to the audience.
Eight years ago, during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show featuring Janet Jackson, guest performer Justin Timberlake ripped off a portion of Jackson’s costume, momentarily exposing her right breast, which was adorned with a nipple shield, on live television. His lyrics: "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song.”
Ellen Goodman, a Rutgers-Camden law professor and communications law expert, sees similarities between M.I.A.’s finger in Super Bowl XLVI and Janet Jackson’s, ahem, nipple from Super Bowl XXXVIII. “This is not different from the ‘wardrobe malfunction,’ except that it was intentional, which makes it easier to censure,” says Goodman, referencing the euphemism made infamous by Timberlake’s publicist during “Nipplegate.”
A widespread indecency debate followed the 2004 incident, as did increased Federal Communications Commission (FCC) scrutiny, and a $550,000 fine for CBS, which aired the sporting event.
According to an apologetic statement released by NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy, the league had no reason to believe M.I.A. would make such a gesture during Sunday night’s show. Apparently, she had not done anything vaguely similar during rehearsal. “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans,” said McCarthy.
Now, other non-middle fingers are pointing. The NFL blames NBC for the delayed censor, NBC blames the NFL for the show’s content, and the Parents Television Council, a conservative media watchdog group, blames both the NFL and NBC for booking and, thereby enabling, multiple performers with histories of shocking behavior, including Madonna’s other guests CeeLo Green, Nicki Minaj, and party rockers LMFAO.