LOS ANGELES — In early 1989 Madonna was the center of controversy over the religious imagery in the video for her “Like A Prayer.” Twenty-two years later the song brought her Super Bowl halftime performance to an end with the all-together unifying message of “world peace,” and it was her collaborator M.I.A. who was suddenly finding herself in the center of a media fracas.
The politically inclined pop star, whose real name is Maya Arulpragasam, flashed the middle finger when cameras briefly focused on her during Madonna’s halftime show, inspiring apologetic statements from NBC and the NFL. “There was a failure in NBC’s delay system,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy in the league’s official statement. “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans.”
M.I.A.’s publicists at Interscope could not be reached for comment. However, a member of M.I.A.’s camp, speaking Sunday night from the Super Bowl host city of Indianapolis, said M.I.A. was struck with “a case of adrenaline.”
“She wasn’t thinking,” said the source, who requested anonymity but was with the artist at Lucas Oil Stadium. “It wasn’t any kind of statement. She was caught in the moment and she’s incredibly sorry.”
Madonna’s longtime publicist Liz Rosenberg could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for NBC said, “The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show. Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers.”
The “gesture” in question came during the performance of Madonna’s new single “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” in which M.I.A. and rapper Nicki Minaj donned cheerleader outfits and became members of Madonna’s dance team. Minaj and M.I.A. also appear in the official video for the song, with M.I.A. miming the firing of a gun — a self-referential nod to her Grammy-nominated, Clash-sampling, anti-consumerism hit “Paper Planes.”
The Super Bowl halftime show has been controversy-free since the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of 2004. That moment instigated a seven-year back-and-forth between the FCC and CBS, with the network winning a November appellate-court ruling that declared the $500,000 FCC fine against the network invalid. “This case reflected a policy change and improperly imposed a penalty on CBS for violating a previously unannounced policy,” the court said.
Madonna and M.I.A. each have new works to promote and are new label-mates. Madonna’s “MDNA” will be first issued via Interscope when it’s released in late March. M.I.A., meanwhile, just released a war-referencing video for her new single “Bad Girls.” A release date for her forthcoming album has not yet been announced.