13 Controversial Pop Culture Moments From The 2000s That Seem Tame Today

Isn’t it amazing, the extent to which our values and beliefs can morph in such a short amount of time? Following certain people on social media alone can upend our entire way of looking at the world on a personal level, but even as a collective culture, the way we look at certain issues–gay marriage, police brutality, reality show stars who become politicians–can differ dramatically from one year to the next.

That’s why it absolutely boggles my mind when I look back on how much pearl clutching we all did about some of the most controversial pop culture moments of the ’00s. Whether it was Britney Spears shaving her head or the boob incident with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl, the 2000s were full of moments that seem completely tame to us now. Here are 13 examples that will make you wonder WTF we were thinking.

1. Miley Cyrus’ Vanity Fair Photoshoot

miley cyrus vanity fair

Back in 2008, seeing 15-year-old Disney Chanel darling Miley Cryus in this kind of photoshoot made moms all over America clutch their pearls. But in retrospect, this was an incredibly tame photograph that wasn’t even all that sexual. Now that people even younger than Miley was are showing more skin on Instagram…yeah, NBD.


2. Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction

janet jackson justin timberlake nip slip

This still gets me heated. Back in 2004, there was a wardrobe malfunction during a Super Bowl performance between Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. To make a long story short, we saw a lot of Janet’s boob, even though her nipple was covered, and people reported it to the FCC because they thought it was the most unholy thing on the planet. Very few people defended Janet and she was a laughing stock. We’d have your back today, Janet.


3. Britney Spears/Madonna/Christina Aguilera Kiss

britney christina madonna kiss

It was the biggest deal in the world that Britney Spears, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera shared a smooch during the VMAs. We were a lot more wow’d by women kissing other women in the early ’00s I suppose.


4. The “Dean Scream”

Where politics and pop culture meet. Basically, politician Howard Dean was running for the Democratic ticket for the 2004 election, and he totally blew his chances after the media mocked him relentlessly for getting really excited during a campaign speech. Yes, for that. He literally just named the states really quickly and got amped. But apparently that wasn’t…presidential? Now we’re getting a President Trump. Yikes.


5. Ashlee Simpson’s Lip Sync Hodown

Ashlee Simpson was huge in the early-mid ’00s, but a lip syncing malfunction during her SNL set seriously sent her career into the dumpster. She blamed it on a sore throat. Who knows what the truth really was, but it makes that iconic(ally bad) Lana Del Ray’s SNL performance look amazing in comparison.


6. Tom Cruise Jumping On Oprah’s Couch

tom cruise couch

Everyone’s favorite aggressive Scientologist Tom Cruise got really excited about the fact that he was about to marry actress Katie Holmes. He expressed his excitement by jumping on Oprah’s couch. For whatever reason, this was the funniest and most OTT thing on the planet. Wow, a world before memes. He and Katie are now…divorced. Maybe the dude ran out of couches to jump on.


7. Paris Hilton Going To Jail

paris hilton arrested

As someone who was in Los Angeles at the time when Paris Hilton went to jail, I have to let you know that I still remember hearing multiple helicopters flying over my house and seeing the whole proceedings on the news. Yes, this was breaking news. Breaking. News. While a celebrity of Paris’ caliber hasn’t gone to jail in a while–the jail bird era of Paris, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan just isn’t en vogue–I wonder if there would be so much professional attention devoted to it. Like, is a local news helicopter really going to follow Selena Gomez to a court house?


8. Miley Smoking Salvia


Miley smoking salvia definitely killed her “good girl” image forever, but considering the fact that it’s more noteworthy for a teen celeb to do harder drugs these days (while it’s caught on, say, Instagram or Snapchat), Miley’s salvia escapades look pretty…tame these days.


9. Britney Spears’ Transformation

britney spears oops i did it again

Apparently the concept of a pop star growing up and showing off her body was a concept that was just unacceptable in the ’00s, which is why Britney got such a hard time for daring to let the world know that she had boobs. Funny how this was around the same time that that rumor about her getting breast implants first started going around. Hmm…


10. The “Moulin Rouge” Music Video

This song–a collaboration between Lil Kim, Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Mya–is still a bop, and looking back I’m still so confused as to why this video caused so much controversy. It’s really not much more scandalous than a Victoria’s Secret ad.


12. Jonas Brothers Purity Rings

jonas brothers purity ring

You know, I think everyone thought that the whole purity ring thing was a little weird, but it was largely positive. These days, there would be like 10 think pieces about why their purity rings shouldn’t be celebrated.


13. Lance Bass Coming Out

lance bass coming out gay

I’m not saying that coming out is easy today, but a celebrity coming out is way less of a big deal now than it was when N Sync member Lance Bass did. At the time, it was a barn burner. Now, there are even some folks in the LGBTQ community who wish that a celebrity coming out wasn’t such a colossal deal because having a more chill approach to coming out stories helps normalize non-hetero identities.


13. Britney Spears Shaving Her Head

Britney Spears Shaving Head

Britney Spears shaving her head and getting mad at the paparazzi was one of the biggest stories of 2007. I understand why: Britney was going through a rough patch and watching her self-destruction was somehow entertaining. But while we were freaking out about it then, I think that social media would be a lot more empathetic to her today. Yes, there would be some bad memes, she would be a trending topic, but I think there would be calls for people to be more caring and concerned about Britney than there were back then; we’re a lot better able to want to empathize with celebs now. Besides, we all know that it would be spun a lot better these days: Britney would make an Instagram post about her new hairdo, and people would jump on the bandwagon.

Which of these moments do you think would still be super controversial today? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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