Why public outrage is now the new rock 'n' roll
Miley Cyrus had already danced with a dwarf and gamely writhed in a silver catsuit when she applied a lick of show-stopper scandal to her MTV Europe Music Awards performance in Amsterdam by appearing to light a spliff and take a long, languid drawl.
She'd gone to the Dutch capital to accept the gong for Best Video for her single 'Wrecking Ball', but Cyrus's pop career was the last thing anybody was talking about as footage of the 20-year-old enjoying a hearty puff went global.
Even for a performer well versed in the art of outrage it was an extraordinary . . . well, 'stunt'. Aside from attesting to Cyrus's current frame of mind, her ganja-style antics speak to the contemporary condition of the institution of celebrity. Simply put, if you can't shock, you may as well not exist. Cyrus is an extreme example but she isn't alone.
One of the world's highest profile rappers, New Yorker Azealia Banks, has achieved notoriety via her Twitter rants. Her major smash, the profanity-sluiced '212', meanwhile, feels more like a slowly exploding indecency grenade than a conventional piece of pop. Banks is one among many.
Similarly it seems to be slowly dawning on Justin Bieber that acting like an uncouth 18-year-old – he's confessed to smoking a joint and was quizzed by police over claims of graffiti vandalism in Brazil – in no way damages your celebrity.
In fact, if trying to transition from tween-age crush to serious artist, such antics could be advantageous.
Even Hollywood, normally above crass shenanigans, has discovered the viral benefits of tweaking the moral majority's sensibilities.
The teaser trailer to Ridley Scott's The Counsellor has Cameron Diaz 'dry humping' a car windshield. And that is nothing compared to the forthcoming Nymphomaniac, from Danish auteur Lars von Trier. A promotional clip features 22-year-old actress Stacy Martin wriggling in the nude with Shia Lebeouf.
There was a time when toking up on live television might have ended a performer's career. Remember, for instance, the furore over Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and the 2004 Superbowl 'wardrobe malfunction'.
'Nipple-gate'' arguably killed off Jackson as a major league pop star. Were the same to happen today – would anybody care? As she produced a joint (allegedly) from her purse on Sunday, Cyrus surely sensed that, far from a career wrecker, public outrage is nowadays something you can 'twerk' to your advantage.
Well and good for her – but where is it all leading to, you wonder?