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With CBS breast ban, the Grammy Awards take a leap back in time

Is this country regressing instead of progressing?

The war on women is raging, feminism is a dirty word and skimpy clothes on stars is a no-no, even in the world of rock and roll.

Tonight, CBS hosts the 55th annual Grammy Awards where music royalty gather to honor talent in an array of  genres including jazz, country, rock and even classical. It’s a starry, sparkly event, the music business’ equivalent to the Academy Awards, where musicians strut on the red carpet in outrageous outfits.

But maybe not this year.

CBS has issued a “wardrobe advisory” for tonight’s show. It reportedly states, “Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Thong type costumes are problematic. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack. Bare sides or under curvature of the breasts is also problematic.”

See-through clothing that could “possibly expose female breast nipples” is also banned. And then there’s this: “Please be sure the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible ‘puffy’ bare skin exposure.” As if any worthy rock star has an ounce of puffy anywhere on his or her body.


Lady Gaga performs at the 2011 Grammy Awards. Lady Gaga performs at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

This is the entertainment business, not high church. Without shocking costumes, you have, well, lackluster television.

Music critics have written that singers such as Lady Gaga, Fergie and other buxom babes finally pushed producers enough to say enough is enough. Others point to the red carpet “window dresses” that many actresses wore to the recent Golden Globes. What’s a window dress, you ask? One that is very, very lowcut.

Comedian and actress Amy Poehler, who co-hosted the show with Tiny Fey, changed into several outfits with plunging necklines during the evening. She wasn’t alone in her fashion choice. A host of actresses including Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Lopez also showed a bounty of cleavage.

Lopez gets the gold star for cleavage couture at the Grammys. In 2000, Lopez wore a down-to-there green Versace dress when she attended the awards show with then-boyfriend Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. The world gasped, cameras flashed and Lopez’s star escalated.

Jennifer Lopez wears her infamous green Versace dress to the Grammy Awards in 2000. Jennifer Lopez wears her famous green Versace dress to the Grammy Awards in 2000.

Perhaps, Grammy producers are concerned that tonight’s performers will mimic Pink’s 2010 performance in which she wore a flesh-colored get-up that would have made any stripper green with envy. Or maybe Beyonce’s sexy Super Bowl performance and her skin-tight leather outfit made them panic about FCC fees for obscenity. Conservatives and PETA seemed the most upset over her appearance; First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted that her performance was “phenomenal.”

Then, there’s Lady Gaga. It’s unclear if she will attend this year’s ceremony but in past years she has worn an array of innovative costumes. Last year, she arrived in a custom-made Versace black fishnet and latex dominatrix ensemble. That was fairly tame compared to her 2011 arrival in a surreal egg that hatched on stage during her performance in which she emerged looking like an alien. In 2010, Lady Gaga wore a 21st century fairy godmother gown but emerged in a green glittery leotard cut down to there.

Most viewers want performers to wear outfits that they could only dream of wearing. Award shows are fantasy worlds where the average American can escape for a few hours and yak about it around the water cooler the next morning. They don’t want to see a turtle neck on Alicia Keys or Lady Gaga in a Hillary Clinton pantsuit.

Beyonce holds up her Grammy Award in 2007. Beyonce holds up her Grammy Award in 2007.

Regardless of what some critics say, powerful entertainers like Beyonce and Lady Gaga are not forced to “sex up.” They are savvy CEOs running businesses – and making money – just like Madonna did in the 1980s. They know sex sells. There’s no going back regardless of how much network TV executives long for the days of “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

But the CBS memo wasn’t just about risqué outfits. It also noted that “The Network requests that any organized cause visibly spelled out on talent’s wardrobe be avoided. This would include lapel pins or any other form of accessory.”

Let’s certainly not let our stars be provocative, much less political. Hello, censorship. Goodbye, ribbons of any color.

Here’s a tip to CBS. Creative types don’t like censorship. Tell an artist they can’t do something and they will. Rihanna has already said she won’t play by the rules. Good for her. This isn’t the 1950s. Wear a lapel ribbon while you’re at it, Rihanna.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker

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