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Top 10 Infamous Moments in Music History

VO: Matt Campbell

Script written by Liam Hillery

You couldn’t get past the water cooler without hearing about these shocking stories. Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Infamous Moments in Music History. For this list, we’re taking a look at the moments that caught headlines, stirred conversation, and divided opinion.

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Script written by Liam Hillery

Top 10 Infamous Moments in Music History

You couldn’t get past the water cooler without hearing about these shocking stories. Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Infamous Moments in Music History.
For this list, we’re taking a look at the moments that caught headlines, stirred conversation, and divided opinion. We’re not, however, considering the deaths of any musicians, as those moments are always tragic, regardless of the circumstances.

#10: U2 Puts Their Album on Everyone’s iPhone

Presented by Apple as, “the largest album release of all time,” the free release of U2’s 2014 Album, Songs of Innocence, to all iTunes subscribers was met with some pretty harsh criticism. The thinking behind the promotion seems clear: who doesn’t like U2? Who wouldn’t want a free album? On paper, that looks great. In reality though people were too busy complaining about it to listen to it. Many users were upset because they did not consent to the album being automatically download to their devices, while fellow artists criticized the free release for devaluing music. To counter the backlash, Apple dedicated a page to removing the album, and have not yet released another album in the same fashion.

#9: Sinead O’Connor Rips Up the Pope

On October 3rd, 1992, Irish singer Sinead O’Connor stirred major controversy with her rendition of Bob Marley’s, “War” on Saturday Night Live. Without notifying SNL producers of her intent, O’Connor replaced lyrics to reflect child abuse in the Catholic Church, ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II, instructed the audience to “fight the real enemy,” and threw the pieces to the camera. The SNL staff and studio audience were stunned into silence, and while viewers at home were similarly shocked, they contrastingly found their voices. NBC received approximately 4,400 calls angry over O’Connor’s performance. The move is widely considered to have derailed O’Connor’s career, however she has gone on record saying she regrets nothing.

#8: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl Show

During the half time show of Super Bowl XXXVIII, with an audience of over 140 million people, Justin Timberlake ripped Janet Jackson’s outfit, exposing her breast and some really nifty nipple jewelry. Most may know this moment as: Nipplegate. The moment overshadowed the game, and caused some pretty instantaneous, pretty serious backlash. The FCC tried to levy heavy fines at CBS, but more importantly, they rampantly increased television censorship. This alone has divided public opinion, as many were upset about the “wardrobe malfunction” and appreciated the FCC’s censorship efforts, while others believe it is a violation of free speech. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, defeated the Carolina Panthers 32 to 29.

#7: Kanye Bum Rushes Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs

Considering the star power and incredible talent each of these artists demonstrate, one would hope “Imma Let You Finish” won’t serve to define Kanye or Swift. When accepting the award for Best Female Video, 19-year-old Swift was interrupted by West who took the mic and insisted Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” had one of the best videos of all time. The audience booed, viewers sat stunned, and Beyoncé looked on in horror. Of course, Queen B later graciously gave Swift the moment she deserved, however, West could not escape universal criticism for his actions, even drawing harsh remarks from President Barack Obama. Kanye did issue an apology, although some lyrics from “The Life of Pablo” suggest he may have different feelings.


#6: Woodstock 1999 Riots

The original Woodstock Festival was billed as 3 Days of Peace & Music. Its 1999 reincarnation, not so much. During Limp Bizkit’s performance of “Break Stuff,” fans tore apart parts of the stage, fans lit fires during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set, and while Metallica was on stage, a man died after collapsing in mosh pit. Fat Boy Slim, meanwhile, was interrupted when a truck drove through the crowd while the Tragically Hip were boo'd just for being Canadian. Worst of all, New York police investigated several alleged instances of gang rape, and there was reporting of widespread destruction and burglary of vendor booths. Ultimately, a large force of law enforcement was needed to quell and disperse the crowd.

#5: N.W.A and the FBI

Symbols of angry urban youth, NWA rocked the world when they dropped their debut album “Straight Outta Compton.” Rapping about gang violence, drugs, racial profiling, and police brutality, NWA reflected the raw realities of growing up in the inner-city. The FBI, however, took exception to the group’s music, specifically “F*** tha Police”, sending their label, Ruthless Records, a letter accusing the group of advocating for violence and assault, and warning them not to perform inflammatory songs. In addition to the FBI, many local law enforcement officers refused to provide the group with security. The dispute, however, brought the group publicity, which they used to their advantage and added to their notoriety.

#4: Metallica Sues Napster

Metallica’s Grammy loss to Jethro Tull certainly stirred debate, but it was their suing of peer-to-peer file sharing site Napster in 2000 that rocked the foundations of music. After discovering unrelased music available on the system, Metallica sued Napster for copyright infringement and racketeering, seeking 10 million dollars in damages. It was the first highly publicized case against a file sharing site, and served to encourage other artists to take a stand against illegal downloading. It also, however, drew some criticism from the public. While many viewed the case as an important step towards protecting artists, especially those less established in the industry, some criticized Metallica’s actions for simply being greedy.

#3: Payola Scandal

To clarify the terminology here, payola describes the bribery of a radio station to promote specific songs as part of their daily schedule. In the late 50’s, congress launched an investigation into payola, accusing several major names in the music industry, most notably DJ Alan Freed and TV’s Dick Clark. Freed, the man who gave rock and roll its name, lost his job and saw his career fade as a result of the scandal, while Clark barely escaped unscathed. The public was disturbed both because of big public figures being implicated and at the thought they were manipulated. Some in the industry, however, believed the practice helped smaller labels establish themselves, and encouraged the rise of rock n’ roll.

#2: Milli Vanilli Lip Sync Scandal

When their hit single “Girl You Know It’s True” began skipping and repeating itself during a 1989 MTV live performance, Milli Vanilli duo Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus attempted to play it cool. Meanwhile, the crowd didn’t seem to notice or care. It became, however, the catalyst for defrauding the group and unveiling the true singers behind the Grammy winning music. By the end of 1990, it was revealed Morvan and Pilatus were not the voices behind Milli Vanilli songs, and had in fact been lip syncing all along. The public condemned the group, stripping Morvan and Pilatus of their Grammy Award for Best New Artist. They also faced a collection of lawsuits, targeting the duo for fraud.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Ashlee Simpson Caught Lip Syncing
Ozzy Osbourne Bites Head Off a Bat
Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Video
Prince Changes His Name

Marilyn Manson is Blamed for Columbine Shootings


#1: The Rolling Stones Play at Altamont

Facing criticism over high ticket prices The Rolling Stones decided to conclude their 1969 tour with a free one-day festival. After struggling to secure a location, California’s Altamont Speedway was chosen at the last minute, creating a logistical nightmare. Ultimately, motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels was hired as security, but failed spectacularly. By the end of the one day festival a man was murdered, three people died in accidents, and four babies were born. The Grateful Dead, meanwhile, considered the scene too violent and elected not to play despite helping to get the festival off the ground leaving the Stones, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Flying Burrito Brothers to fend for themselves.
Do you agree with our list? What do you think is the most infamous moment in music? For more unbelievable Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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