Shock or show stop? Lesbianism at the MTV awards

As pop icon Madonna sensationally kissed fellow artists Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera live on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, controversy has ensued about the nature of lesbianism and whether it should be used as a promotional stunt.

The 2003 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) were billed as the hottest night of the showbiz calendar.
As celebrities stepped out of their limousines onto the red carpet, the world's media awaited a headline-grabbing moment to splashed across tabloid spreads in every country around the globe.

A moment so controversial it would leave "white America" - in Eminem's words - squirming on their settees unable to explain to their children what had just happened on the family home monitor system.

It seemed the perfect way to celebrate 20 years of the music channel's annual awards ceremony.

Madonna - or Mary Louise Ciccone - who performed Like A Virgin at the very first MTV VMAs in 1984 was asked to re-sing the track to open this year's star-studded event.

But there was a twist.

Namely, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears - arguably two of pop's brightest young things - performing alongside the musical legend in what was about to become a pop defining moment.

The tantalising trio carried out some pulse pounding, booty-bouncing moves as the crowd roared their appreciation.

But as the girls passionately locked lips, the audience at New York's Radio City Music Hall were left gasping for air as the show seemed to turn into a modern-day musical adaptation of Tipping the Velvet.

For those arguing the girls were just expressing themselves - why was such hoopla made?

Surely by now we should expecting this type of raunchiness from Madonna: a woman who has upset the Pope due to a "blasphemous" pop video in which she seduced a black Jesus, was threatened with arrest after she masturbated during a live show and composed Sex, a coffee-table book of nude photography?

On a darker note, how do lesbians themselves feel about their lifestyle and sexuality being capitalised upon to sell records and prop up a commercial music channel?

Many believe that glamorising gay life is not the way to combat homophobia or prejudice in our patriarchal society.

This isn't the first time lesbianism has been used as a powerful marketing tool in the industry.

Earlier this year, Russian female duo Tatu based their entire (and somewhat short-lived) career on the pretence that their relationship was more than platonic.

From the golden days of Marilyn Monroe on the silver screen to Elvis' hip-shaking antics in the 50s and Kylie Minogue's mischievous hot pants, controversy has become a bigger part of the music industry than the songs themselves.

Ask Marilyn Manson's accountant.

But some would argue that the fine line between pop music and sex has become so marginalised that it is difficult to tell the two apart.

After all, is there really a difference in Madonna's MTV shenanigans and picking up a top shelf magazine?

Both are offering to keep the spectator hot under the collar with raunchy content.

After Thursday's event had wrapped, one MTV producer exclaimed: "The performance was sensational, but I wonder what the good folk in places like Provo, Utah State, would make of it.

"Middle America is not going to let this one go lightly!"

It remains to be seen whether the moment will be cut during foreign transmissions of the show, and especially in broadcasts of the programme outside the west.

But one thing was for sure.

Even with most guests at the VMAs half her age, it seemed old Madonna had once again stolen the limelight.