First, in 2008, Miley Cyrus was notably photographed for the cover of Vanity Fair wearing only a sheet. The photo caused controversy because it went against her Hannah Montana persona. In order to regain her “good girl” image, Disney issued a statement calling out the cover for manipulating Miley, and they made Miley issue one, too, where she apologized to her fans and said she was “embarrassed.”
At the 2009 Teen Choice Awards, Miley Cyrus performed “Party in the USA,” and danced on top of an ice cream cart holding a metal pole. Many criticized the performance saying it looked like a then-16-year-old Miley was dancing on a “stripper pole.” In a recent TikTok, Miley reflected on the moment saying the pole was just there for her to hold so she wouldn’t fall.
During their 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson’s clothes, exposing her breast. Despite Justin’s involvement, Janet wrongfully ended up at the center of the controversy, with an MTV executive reportedly saying at the time, “Janet Jackson engineered [the stunt].” The moment led to Viacom CEO Les Moonves reportedly ordering that Janet’s singles and music videos be blacklisted from CBS and MTV. Her invitation to perform at the 46th Grammy Awards was also reportedly rescinded.
In 2007, Britney Spears notably shaved her head amidst being relentlessly harassed by paparazzi and during her ongoing divorce from Kevin Federline. The moment led to many tabloids and outlets continuing the narrative that she was having a “meltdown” and “in dire need of help,” with ABC News’ headline of the moment reading, “Bald and Broken: Inside Britney’s Shaved Head.”
In 2014, an online petition was started in an attempt to “deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card” following his arrest for DUI, resisting arrest, and driving with an expired license. The petition read, “He is not only threatening the safety of our people, but he is also a terrible influence on our nation’s youth. We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society.” Also, due to the fact it was started on a White House page and had over 275,000 signatures, the Obama Administration had to comment.
George Michael made headlines in 1998 after he was arrested for reportedly “engaging in a lewd act alone” by an undercover police officer in a public restroom. It was later reported that George was “soliciting sex” from the undercover officer. The media frenzy, which George later described as making him feel entrapped, that surrounded the arrest led to George having to publicly come out as gay in a CNN interview three days later.
In 2015, a video of Ariana Grande appearing to lick donuts in a display case and say, “I hate America,” surfaced via TMZ. After the video became public, many people criticized Ariana’s behavior and statement, and she even pulled out from performing at the MLB’s All-Star concert, although her team denied her dropping out was related. Police investigated the incident, and Ariana ultimately released a statement on Twitter saying, “I am EXTREMELY proud to be an American,” and she detailed the upsetting food habits of Americans.
After Lady Gaga released “Poker Face” as a single in 2008, the song caused some controversy particularly for the lyric, “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin,” with many people wondering if Gaga is bisexual. It was such a topic of conversation that Barbara Walters asked her about it in a 2009 interview, saying, “There’s a line that everybody found…*gasps* had to do with your sexuality.”
In 2018, Fergie sang the US national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game and said she wanted to “try something special.” Immediately, people flocked to social media to criticize the performance, with many saying it was the “worst rendition ever,” with Charles Barkley joking he “needed a cigarette” after. Ultimately, Fergie was forced to issue an apology.
Macaulay Culkin was notably at the center of his family’s custody battle in 1995. This caused a media frenzy, with many assuming he was emancipating himself. The attention got so bad that Kieran Culkin recalled writing a note to the court asking for press to be banned. The whole thing was reportedly blown wildly out of proportion, with Macaulay saying in 2020 that “it’s always misconstrued, that I ’emancipated’ myself from my parents.”
Vanessa Hudgens had a nude photo leak on the internet in 2007, around a month after High School Musical 2 premiered. Disney reportedly forced her to apologize in order to maintain her child star image. While reflecting on the incident in 2020, Vanessa said it was “really fucked up” that she was blamed for taking the photos instead of people calling out those who leaked them.
Photos of Michael Phelps seemingly smoking weed at a party months after the 2008 Beijing Olympics were published by a UK tabloid. Many people didn’t condone Michael’s behavior, with some saying that his “American hero” persona had “gone up in smoke.” Ultimately, Michael issued an apology, saying, “It was an awful judgment. And, really, the people I hurt is my family, clearly, my friends, the close people around me, and most importantly, the fans. And I realize that that hurt a lot of people.”
Runner Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for marijuana right before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and it led to a one-month suspension. Sha’Carri admitted to smoking weed as a way to deal with her biological mother’s death, saying, “We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with, but to put on a face and have to go out in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain.”
In 2001, Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting and was later found guilty of stealing $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories, according to the New York Times. At the time, the six-day shoplifting trial drew national attention and was fuel for countless tabloid stories. Reflecting on the incident in 2016, Winona said, “I won’t get into what happened, but it wasn’t what people think. And it wasn’t like the crime of the century! But it allowed me time that I really needed.”
And finally, Ashlee Simpson appeared as the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2004. When she came on stage to perform her song “Autobiography,” the song she had performed first, “Pieces of Me,” could be heard instead. This led to many criticizing her for appearing to lip sync. Later, she denied lip syncing, saying, “It’s just not me,” while blaming her “chronic acid reflux” for her needing a backing track for her SNL performance.