Relive the Most Controversial Super Bowl Halftime Performances Ever

Will Lady Gaga join their ranks?
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Will Lady Gaga join their ranks?

It’s only week four of the NFL season, but it’s already time to start talking about the Super Bowl.

On Thursday night NFL announced that Lady Gaga will headline the halftime show at Super Bowl LI in Houston. It’ll be Gaga’s first halftime show, and her second Super Bowl appearance. She sang the national anthem earlier this year.

There will be a lot to speculate on between now and February when Gaga performs in front of 100 million TV viewers. Is she still the weirdo that wore a dress made of meat, or has she matured in her old age? Will any old white rockers, long a mainstay of Super Bowl halftime shows, join her? And will the performance from pop music’s most eccentric diva end up on this list of controversial halftime shows? If so, it's going to have to be nuts.

4. Prince at Super Bowl XLI
What could the NFL have expected when it booked Prince, the man who wrote “Darling Nikki,” to play a halftime show? Probably for him to not jerk off his guitar in front of half the country. But that’s what Prince did in a move that was missed by many by obvious to others. The FCC received many complaints about Prince’s show, including one that accused CBS of “turning my son GAY." (The jerkin' starts at 1:20)

3. M.I.A. at Super Bowl XLVI

Political British rapper M.I.A. was probably the fourth most famous musician to appear during the halftime show in 2012, which was headlined by Madonna and Cee-Lo. (Nicki Minaj was there as well.) But she was still the one who made the biggest splash—all it took was a well-timed middle finger at the camera.

2. Beyonce at Super Bowl 50
Earlier this year Beyonce gave a rousing halftime performance that referenced the Black Panthers and nodded to the Black Lives Matter movement. Cops around the country were pissed. Many departments threatened to boycott her shows, leaving them without security. In Houston, a police organization actually protested outside a concert. Don’t expect to see Beyonce back at the Super Bowl anytime soon. If the controversy-averse suits at the NFL hate one thing, it’s people who get political.

1. Janet Jackson’s nipple at Super Bowl XXXVIII
If anyone could unseat Janet, Justin and the areola seen ‘round the world, it’s Lady Gaga. But it won’t be easy. The fallout from “nipplegate” was tremendous. The FCC hit CBS with a then-record $555,000 fine, which was later voided by a federal court. It also increased the fine-per-violation for on-screen indecency from $27,500 to an astounding $325,000. Janet Jackson’s album, released not long after the Super Bowl, suffered from radio blacklisting and Jackson herself lost out on a role in a Lena Horne biopic. Worst of all, it gave the pearl-clutching cultural warriors another reason to crow about the decline of American morality. 

It wasn’t all bad though. Jawed Karim, a co-founder of YouTube, has credited nipplegate with inspiring the idea for the site.