NPR has an interesting podcast about shock value and popular music. As for which "controversial" artist marks my generation, I fall somewhere between Ozzy biting the head off a bat and Marilyn Manson... well, being Marilyn Manson (both, by the way, mentioned in the podcast), but most of the musicians I listened to in the waning years of the 80s through the alterna/grunge/you-pigeonhole-it 90s preferred earnestness to courting controversy. However, I have to bring this quote from pop culture critic, Ronda Pierce:
"I think it's increasingly harder to shock people, but what is relevant with these three particular works (Lady Gaga's "Telephone," "Born Free" by M.I.A., and Erykah Badu's "Window Seat") is that they're by women. And I don't think in the time of Ozzy Osbourne that women could make as strong a statement as these three women are making now."
Reading that, my reaction is to "but.. but" with women like Nina Hagen, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, and so on... none of whom was afraid of a little shock value. Oh and then there's Madonna. Not controversial at all, she. Save for Madonna, those artists weren't exactly mainstream, as show host Neda Ulaby noted:
"As least not in mainstream media. And the internet has changed what counts as mainstream..."
I think it needs mentioning that shock value and controversy are two different things. I'd consider an artist like, oh, Steve Earle controversial, but not hardly shocking. This is why I find it confusing to think of Lady Gaga's (or Badu's, or hell, Miley Cryus's) videos as being a cause célèbre for the music blogosphere. The line between shock and controversy gets a little blurry, Or I'm just getting old.