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Scandals, Political Activism, Untimely Deaths Marked Music Industry in 2004


Musicians made news in 2004 with scandals and political statements, while others challenged the definition of decency. The music world also lost several performers, some were the victims of violence.

In the first few weeks of 2004, Janet Jackson created a sensation that stayed in the headlines for most of the year. During the halftime show at U.S. football's Super Bowl game, Janet's breast was exposed during a duet with Justin Timberlake. Calling it a "wardrobe malfunction," Janet claimed that the overexposure was an accident.

Television network executives at CBS and MTV, who produced the show, said they had no prior knowledge of Janet's plans. The Super Bowl is traditionally one of the most-watched events in American television. This year, 100 million viewers saw Janet's live performance. Nearly 500,000 complaints poured in to the Federal Communications Commission, FCC, and an investigation was launched.

The FCC has proposed a $550,000 fine for "violation of indecency rules" for the 20 CBS owned stations that aired the broadcast. And, since the Super Bowl, radio and television stations have been cautious about airing any content that may be seen as controversial.

In this presidential election year, Bruce Springsteen organized the Vote For Change tour, which featured his friends Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, REM, Pearl Jam, The Dixie Chicks and others. For the first time in his career, "The Boss" endorsed a political candidate, Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry.

"Sitting on the sidelines would be a betrayal of the ideas I'd written about for a long time," Springsteen said. The Vote For Change contingent played several shows across the U.S. Bruce then hit the campaign trail with Senator Kerry in the last few weeks before the November 2 election. Although his candidate didn't win, Bruce helped to register thousands of young voters, and urged them to get involved with the American political process.

The music industry and fans were shocked by the death of rock and R&B pioneer Rick James, who died in August at age 56 after years of substance abuse problems and declining health. Blending funk rhythms with pop melodies, Rick scored a Top 20 hit in 1981 with "Super Freak." He was also known as a producer and songwriter for other artists, and was a master of the art of musical fusion, mixing rock, funk and R&B with punk and disco.

In March 2004, Jan Berry of the 1960s surf duo, Jan and Dean, died at age 62. At the height of his career, Jan was involved in an auto accident, which left him severely disabled. In the last few years, he had been able to make some guest appearances with his old partner, Dean Torrance.

Johnny Ramone, guitarist for pioneering punk band The Ramones, also passed away this year. He's the third Ramones member to die in the past three years; Joey lost his battle with lymphoma in 2001, and Dee Dee was found dead in his home in 2002. Surviving member Marky Ramone announced that Johnny's unpublished book could be released in 2005.

Rapper ODB, founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, collapsed and died at a New York City recording studio in November. Medical reports say he had a heart attack after mixing prescribed painkillers with cocaine. He was 36 years old. "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot, former member of heavy metal band Pantera, was shot and killed in December while his new band Damageplan was performing at a nightclub in Ohio. At the scene, police killed a deranged fan after he went on a shooting spree in the club. One of Damageplan's crew was also killed, along with a club employee and an audience member.

The third season of the American Idol television talent contest was won by Fantasia Barrino, a 19-year-old from North Carolina. Beating out thousands of other hopefuls, Fantasia received the majority of the 65 million votes that were cast by television viewers. Her debut album, Free Yourself, was released in November.

Ashlee Simpson finally emerged from big sister Jessica's shadow this year with her debut album Autobiography. In October, she landed the coveted musical guest spot on the popular Saturday Night Live television show, which ended in disaster. She sang one song, then started another, when the vocal track from the first song was heard. Caught in the act of lipsynching, Ashlee left the stage, aware that millions of people were watching the live performance on TV. The next day, Ashlee explained that she was not feeling well, and the vocal tracks were being used in case her voice failed. Determined to move ahead with her career, Ashlee has announced her first headlining tour, which gets under way in February in Los Angeles.