There was no wardrobe malfunction, nothing like that glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple eight years ago that caused an uproar and a government scrutiny. Instead, it was an extended middle finger from British singer M.I.A. during Sunday night’s performance of Madonna’s new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin.'”
In front of some 110 million viewers on NBC and uncounted others online, she flipped the bird and appeared to sing, “I don’t give a (expletive)” at one point, though it was hard to hear her clearly.
The NFL and NBC wasted little time in responding.
“The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans,” said Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the NFL, which produced Madonna’s halftime show.
The risque moment came during the biggest TV event of the year. The screen briefly went blurred after M.I.A.’s gesture in what was a late attempt — by less than a second — to cut out the camera shot.
“The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show,” NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey said. “Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers.”
Jackson’s infamous oops during the 2004 halftime show raised a storm of controversy and put CBS in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission amid questions about the responsibility of TV networks to police their airwaves.
Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson’s bustier, exposing her breast for nine-sixteenths of a second, a moment for which CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC. The network challenged the fine and last fall, a federal appeals court ruled against the FCC despite an order from the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. The three-judge panel reviewed three decades of FCC rulings and concluded the agency was changing its policy, without warning, by fining CBS for fleeting nudity.
This year’s game, in which the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17, is expected to challenge last year’s record of being the most-watched U.S. TV event ever.
M.I.A. is best known for her 2007 hit “Paper Planes,” a Grammy nominee for record of the year that memorably features a sample of the Clash song, “Straight to Hell.” It was featured on the soundtrack to the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”