Popular Culture

15 of the Best Onstage Celebrity Meltdowns


Celebrities are in the public eye for a reason. They’re better looking than we are, they make more money, they’re able to provide their children with a more exciting future and more psychiatric care. It’s no wonder that the best thing about a celeb-obsessed world is the field day everyone can have when some media darling takes a nose dive while the cameras are still rolling. The publicly visible celebrity breakdown is a delicate art — performed at the proper moment, it provides the public with a more satisfying entertainment than the entire body of any star’s filmed work.

Lady Sovereign

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Coming out of a US tour with Gwen Stefani, grime queen Lady Sovereign made a proper mess of a Brooklyn concert in 2007 when she decided to stop the show after two songs, complaining of depression, her impending homelessness, and America which, according to Sovereign’s complaint, “fucks you up.” It was a surprising denouement seldom seen in a Brooklyn venue, where the show is more likely to be broken up by the unseemly behavior of the audience rather than the performer.

Michael Ian Black

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In addition to being the lovable satirist of Stella and the I Love the… franchise, Michael Ian Black doesn’t take shit from ignorant folks. It was a fact in evidence when in August of last year at a live stand-up show an audience member equated Black’s support of Barack Obama with Nazism. Black, as he later put it in his semi-apologetic blog on the subject, ‘kind of lost his shit’, calling the offender an uneducated boor in terms somewhat more Black-centric. Suffice it to say the words ‘reflexive retardation’ were used.

Ariel Pink

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In the music world, one doesn’t get to be a freak folk legend for nothing. Ariel Pink certainly earned his salt in what will henceforth be known as a ‘coachella-down’. Accusing the audience of hating him, he spent an entire set with his back to the audience, crouching under his band’s instruments and looking entirely lost. In other words, doing anything and everything but actually singing. Fans, however, will hardly find Pink at fault for this. A star of his caliber makes his name less for talent than behavior.

Kanye West

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Some meltdowns are talked about, some are endlessly retweeted. Others are the stuff of legend. Kanye West’s uber-public stunt at the Grammys was responsible in part for one of the biggest hits (not to mention mantras) of 2010. When West reprimanded the music industry for awarding Country over Hip Hop at the 2009 VMAs, he was reprimanded by fans and foes alike. However the phoenix from the ashes was his Runaway, the ‘toast to the douchebags’ that made even the staunchest of Kanye-haters think seriously about embracing the man’s bad manners. If being a douchebag is the thing to turn out the tracks on Dark Fantasy, by all means, Kanye, keep on with your rude self.


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‘Tasteless’ got a new meaning thanks to geriatric goth emblem Ozzy Osbourne, when he infamously bit the head off a real bat in 1981. The aftermath was somewhat less climactic, as the show had to be stopped so that Osbourne could be tested for rabies. One can’t help but be disappointed to learn that even a goth prince with a penchant for entrails and Satanism has to keep the basic principles of health in mind.

Whitney Houston

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It’s always a shame to learn that the legends of yesteryear have become irrevocably the b-list tabloid news of today. Yet for a star as magnanimous as Whitney, who could have believed that the golden Bodyguard years could have lasted forever? Whitney disappointed Australians by the dozens when in February of this year she completely dudded a Brisbane concert. Her terrible vocals, antiquated shake-and-step dance moves and diva swagger that have over the years become mere caricature led a walk-out attendee to accuse Houston of ‘not being able to entertain a dead rat’.

Badly Drawn Boy

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While no one was exactly shocked, there were several miffed when an incident at the Troubadour last December caused Damon Gough of Badly Drawn Boy to profess his fondness for slang relating to female genitalia-albeit in a somewhat indirect manner. Denouncing his audience of LA-ers as ‘twats’ and ‘c-words’, Gough stopped the set after four songs because of audience cheekiness — or perhaps oversensitivity. In any case, the already loquacious musician won’t be losing his following anytime soon.

John Mayer

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Let’s face it, John Mayer just wants to play his guitar. Of course, it took a string of scandals (all happening within the course of a day) to get him to actually admit it. The musician whose trademark had been for the longest time a sort of down-home modesty broke out of his shell with a saucy (and racist) Playboy interview last year where he spoke frankly about sex, used some addiction metaphors and some colorful language including the n word. After being reprimanded by the media, Mayer broke down at a concert, publicly apologizing to the black musicians in his band and claiming to be ‘done with the media’. However, it takes two to part ways. The question remains, is the media done with him?

Fiona Apple

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No doubt it’s hard for forward-thinking celebrities caught in the gears of a hateful consumerist tradition. But it takes a certain kind of star to really rally against it. Fiona Apple has been demonized by all kinds of press since her meltdown at a disastrous New York concert in 2000 and her tirade against a bad, bad world at the 1997 MTV music awards. However such is the price of authenticity in a young, beautiful and disillusioned person in the public eye — and while such episodes of personality aren’t easily forgiven by the media, Apple seems to be soldiering her way into the public eye with a 2011 Spring release.

Lily Allen

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Lily Allen’s ‘fuck off’ tactics are most likely responsible for the appeal of her otherwise monotonous pop-palate in mainstream music. However, as sassy as Allen can be, she can also break out of character just as easily. When Allen wept her way through a concert in Helsinki in August of 2009 it made headlines—and proved how far she had come in three years, after having been rated 10th on BBC Three’s Most Annoying People of 2006.

Jessica Simpson

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Jessica Simpson is a warrior—her very existence is something of an anomaly in pop — someone who appears to be hitting rock bottom years after she signed on to do a reality television show. But trailblazer though she may be, it didn’t stop her from getting emotional at a 2009 concert, when she flubbed a couple of songs and threatened to walk out on her audience.

Courtney Love

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In the case of Courtney Love, one could say the meltdown never stops, that it is performed over and over, at several concerts throughout the day, upon the stage that is her life. But the feisty, twitter-illiterate Courtney we know and love today is yet a watered down version of the girl who made a non-stop run of fabulous faux-pas in the mid-nineties. Still she has enough of her original bite not to let us down, especially after an incident at a 2004 concert when Love stripped down to her underwear and bitched about legal and emotional problems. Perhaps an homage to a world of live performance decadence gone by?

Amy Winehouse

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For a star who’s made her name by singing a song about refusing to clean up her act, Winehouse had been doing relatively well, until she started drunkenly touting the praises of her jailed husband during a concert in 2007 and then reprimanding fans for not liking it. It was a milestone in feminism, but a surprisingly tamer moment for the ‘Rehab’ star, who was only speaking in the name of love and justice.

Chris Brown

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Yes, it’s that lovable domestic abuser again! But this time it’s serious. In March of this year, the distress of being questioned about the Rihanna altercation on Good Morning America led Chris Brown storm offstage after playing his set and break a window in his dressing room, creating legal issues of a different manner for the disturbed young pop icon. One can only imagine what Bieber might have done in his place.

Charlie Sheen

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If nothing else, My Violent Torpedo of Truth is a testament to the American Way. After the breakdown of Sheen’s private life, he did what any self-respecting celebrity would do: allowed the public to cash in on it with a one-man tour. My violent torpedo is, despite terrible reviews on all sides, exactly what it sounds like: an exhilarating account of one man’s misbehavior and the extended mental breakdown that has resulted from it. And if the promise of that doesn’t sell tickets in this country, I don’t know what will.


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