The Great Super Bowl Rogue Breast Disaster of 2004 reached truly epic levels of overexposure, with every pundit, columnist, blogger and dude-standing-behind-you-at-Subway scrambling to weigh in on the moral outrage of it all. But in our haste to denounce either our shot-to-hell sense of human decency or the Puritan prudes who can't handle a little prime-time T&A, we missed the real story, the real point, the real outrage here.
Janet Jackson wasn't offensive because she got carried away being sexy and titillating. She was offensive because she was neither sexy nor titillating in the slightest.
We don't know how to be sexy anymore. Rock culture has been irreparably split into two completely polarized halves: You're either a deadly serious "artist" with Important Things to Say and all the sex appeal of a largemouth bass, or you're teen-pop jailbait whose "songs" unfold like acid-hit lap-dance routines that slap you across the face with all the subtlety of, well, a largemouth bass. The hallowed middle ground no longer exists; you can have actual musical talent, or you can have sex appeal. Not both.
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Furthermore, those with any sex appeal are strictly of the dunderheaded jerkoff-mag variety. Two-thousand four's best video thus far -- Kelis's "Milkshake" -- is so ridiculous it's hilarious, with metric tons of howling cleavage and blatant blow-job imagery. (Though that scene where the restaurant cook opens the oven and pulls out a loaf of bread shaped like an ass is pure genius.)
Never mind that. This sucks.
And I'm sorry, Ms. Jackson, but you're Exhibit A: After an actually quite splendid mainstream run (Rhythm Nation represents!), her career since the mid-'90s has merely treaded water in a sea of retarded sexuality. Janet tried to straddle the artist/sex-symbol line, but she merely crossed over and ended up straddling everything else. Sadly, the Super Bowl only served as the climax to her shocking soft-core-porn death spiral of absurd "wardrobe malfunctions," awkward bondage references and increasingly ludicrous lyrics: Got a nice package alright/Guess I'm gonna have to ride it tonight.
Janet Jackson abandoned pop music altogether in her quest to give the whole world a boner. The sexiest thing she ever said was Who's that eatin' that nasty food? -- and that was in 1987.
Where have our sex symbols who are actually talented gone? Why must Blender be so head-thwackingly lewd and vapid, and Magnet so sexless and staid? Who's playing the Madonna role nowadays? Certainly not Madonna herself, reduced to MTV-style faux lesbianism. R&B pop-rap studs like Ja Rule and 50 Cent are saddled with washboard abs and wet-cardboard personalities. (Funniest song of 2004 thus far: the Ja-assaulting "So Many Rappers in Love," by Westside Connection. No one embodies the funnier-when-he's-angrier paradigm like Ice Cube.) A flock of synchronized-swimming nuns packs more sex appeal than any Creed-biting "modern-rock" frontman, and the entire once-promising '90s "alternative" stable has lapsed into self-importance (Eddie), self-loathing (Trent) or self-crappifying (Billy). My mom could beat up John Mayer. My grandmother could beat up Clay Aiken. You get the idea.
The indie-rock realm is infinitely worse -- a single ounce of sexuality gets dismissed as pandering inauthenticity. Ask Liz Phair, who first surfaced as the nerdy virginal rock critic's ultimate wet dream -- lithe, blond, uncouth, unbelievably horny and responsible for a concept album dealing with Exile on Main Street -- only to withstand 2003's most public flogging when she attempted her own Janet Jackson leap in reverse, from sexpot artiste to pop princess, and wound up bleating on about "hot white cum." And don't you even bring up Karen O, the inexplicably lusted-after Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman, who in reality looks like she dresses in the dark while falling down an elevator shaft and only continues New York City's hallowed tradition of selling the world shit by pretending it's shinola: She's electroclash in convenient female form.
We needed Prince so very badly. And amazingly, telepathically, exhilaratingly, Prince heeded our Bat Signal and resurfaced.
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Please do your part to ensure that this resurgence lasts a good, long while -- or at least until January 2005. Imagine Prince's Super Bowl halftime show. Beautiful, isn't it? The buttless pants alone would be majestic. Has anyone ever aligned the planets of raw sexuality and artistic greatness with such towering bravado? Can anyone else in the universe possibly sing songs like "Gett Off," "Cream," "Dirty Mind," or "Little Red Corvette" without sounding like a juiced-up asshole? Has anyone in any artistic medium ever made pure animalistic lust feel so natural, so unforced, so non-threatening, so necessary? How did he do it? How did we not appreciate him sufficiently while he did it? Can he replicate it? Can we survive as a species if he doesn't?
What Janet Jackson actually exposed to the world that Super Bowl Sunday was a void, a non-entity, a vacuum. Our nation's very own Prince Deficit. Who was gonna rise to the challenge of replacing him and reconnecting the sexual with the artistically worthwhile? Andre 3000? Sure, The Love Below is a trip -- the bright-pink smoking revolver he's brandishing on the cover says it all. But in interviews, he comes across as just another sad sack lookin' for Ms. Right, a gigolo surrounded by sexpots but desperate for looove. Spare me, spare yourself, spare the children. As a nation and as a musical culture, we've never been more sex-obsessed, never been less sexy.
Save us from ourselves, Prince. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.