To play on the words of The Who’s classic song: welcome to the new year, same as the old year… But was it just another humdrum year, or a landmark time? Tough questions demand tough answers, so we’ll try to accomplish something in the Year In Review.
Let’s start at the beginning. With the 2003 holiday season over, the new year brought with it the start of the NFL playoffs, and in February, the now infamous Nipplegate incident. Janet Jackson’s exposed breast at the Super Bowl led to an FCC witch hunt for indecency on television, bolstered Justin Timberlake’s heterosexuality, and introduced the American public to its favorite new catch phrase, the “wardrobe malfunction.”
And thus the tone was set for a year of censorship for entertainment. CBS was fined millions of dollars, and people everywhere were up in arms over the images they were seeing on TV.
Just a few short weeks ago, the public demanded an explanation and apology from ABC for their interpretation of its racist, sexist, misogynist, and generally indecent Monday Night Football promotion featuring a scantily-clad Nicolette Sheridan, of Desperate Housewives, jumping into the arms of Philly’s new favorite bad boy, Terrell Owens.
Speaking of moral values, voters turned out in record numbers to re-elect President George W. Bush, citing values as the key reason, despite the war in Iraq and the worst job losses since the Great Depression. Around the same time Janet Jackson and J.T. riled up America’s cultural sensibility, some folks had a reason to leave their homes and venture out to theaters, as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released to a rabid Christian fan base. Quickly becoming one of the biggest box office moneymakers in the history of film, it was a religious experience for all to be had.
Meanwhile, in the land of popular music, rock supergroup Velvet Revolver, uniting members of some of hard rock’s greatest bands, made a splash with their debut release. Maroon 5 lulled audiences to record stores with their infectious brand of soft-rock/pop and innovative video ideas.
In rap, Jay-Z’s pseudo-retirement took effect, although his constant touring kept fans happy until the R. Kelly pepper-spray melee. 50 Cent’s G-Unit clique was also riding high, releasing solo albums at breakneck pace. The Second Annual Vibe Awards kept the decade-long trend of violence at hip-hop award shows going, with Young Buck even getting the chance to shank a man who punched Dr. Dre. Congrats to Buck, who is currently facing attempted murder charges.
On the pop front, the little sister of ever-popular yet domestically-challenged housewife, Jessica Simpson, debuted to the teeny bopper crowd. Ashlee’s album sold big, due in no small part to her own MTV reality show, introducing her months before the record’s release. It seems the only thing that could stop her would be an ill-fated performance on a national stage in front of a Saturday Night Live crowd, and an ensuing leprechaun dance and blame session, which she pinned on her helpless band. Only in 2004.
Eminem’s new album, the appropriately titled Encore, has already sold roughly two million copies in its few weeks on the charts, proving there’s no substitute for a catchy single followed by 12 tracks demonstrating his truly warped perspective.
The Video Music Awards were the only thing in music this year that took a departure from the norm, leaving behind their New York roots and setting up shop on Miami’s sun-soaked South Beach. Luckily, there were no Vibe-esque antics at the VMAs.
Despite the usual excitement in movies, music and TV, the wide world of sports gave us the best eye candy this year, exposing the trials and tribulations of some of the world’s most talented and popular athletes.
The entire nation, not just sports fans, were captivated by the Kobe Bryant sexual assualt trial. Was it a money-hungry woman desperate to take advantage of the superstar’s infidelity? Or was the NBA’s poster boy for (relatively) good behavior really a rapist? The victim eventually backed out of the criminal case, only to announce her intention to file a civil lawsuit. Hopefully Kobe still has something left over after the $4 million he blew on the make-up ring for his wife.
Barry Bonds continued to face criticism about steroid use, while easily coasting to a 4th consecutive MVP award. Back East, the Fightin’ Phils once again failed to make the playoffs, despite setting a record for the highest payroll in club history. Hometown boy Larry Bowa took the fall.
While the Phillies continued their playoff drought, the Red Sox nation rejoiced with its first World Series victory since 1918. It was truly a special time for Boston and the fans spread out across the country as well.
On the ice, the Flyers looked impressive down the stretch, only to squander their last real chance at a Stanley Cup before the NHL lockout took effect this fall. If you’re looking for hockey, it’s still at the Wachovia Center, just under the AHL moniker. The Phantoms have won a league-record 17 straight games before losing on Sunday.
In the NBA, the Pistons-Pacers brawl that escalated into a full-scale PR fiasco for the league, and a season-long suspension for Ron Artest, intrigued fans in the last few weeks. Fallout continues as Detroit police have been on the hunt for fans who doused the players with beer and threw chairs, as well as their share of punches.
Of course, the venerable Eagles are hard at it again, making the most of offseason acquisitions T.O. and Jevon Kearse, cruising to a first-place division standing and dreaming of finally reaching the Super Bowl.
The sports, music, movies and television we all enjoyed over the past year leave us with some important lessons. If you’re performing on a live show, you might want to try actually singing live. If you’re ever tempted to cheat and worry about being caught, just look at the rock on Mrs. Bryant’s finger. And just when you think you have it all figured out, one slip of the nipple could send the FCC knocking down your door. Either way, 2004 had some memorable moments, to say the least.
Ross Bercik can be reached at email@example.com.