Bad Taste Tributes


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by Various
26 Tuesday 26th July 2011

When Amy Winehouse passed away last weekend at the tragically young age of 27, it tooks just hours for Mathangi Arulpragasam aka M.I.A to release her tribute track '27' in memory of the jazz singer. Fans and critics alike blasted the hip-hop star for her seemingly bad-taste lyrics speculating at the cause of the singer's demise. Whilst M.I.A defended herself - and in doing so, her friendship with the singer - we decided to take a look at other seemingly 'bad taste' tributes.

Muhamed Al Fayed outside Fulham FC's ground with the new Michael Jackson statue.

Did you know Michael Jackson was a Fulham Football Club fan? Apparently he wasn't, but that didn't stop billionaire owner Mohamed Al Fayed erecting a six-foot statue of the deceased pop singer outside of the club's Craven Cottage football stadium at the beginning of April. The singer who died two years ago after suffering from cardiac arrest, is better known for his moon-walking stage antics than his love for the Lilywhites. But this didn't deter Al Fayed who originally commissioned the statue to be constructed outside of Harrods. Following the store's sale to the Qatar royal family, he made the decision to home the statue next to the Grade I-listed Craven Cottage stadium, telling the aghast Fulham supporters they could "go to hell" if they didn't like it. Like Jackson himself, the statue itself is a rather bizarre sight to behold ranking somewhere between a Pez dispenser and a Bobblehead collectible figurine - only huge.

'Rape Me' (Nirvana cover) by Jared Leto.

Another room-splitting tribute of the year was Jared Leto's 'Rape Me' tribute to the late, great grunge-idol Kurt Cobain. In the video he dresses and sings as Cobain - complete with grainy long-angle shots of him in the woods looking pensive- as a bizarre dress rehearsal he made "when I heard they were making a film celebrating [Cobain's] life. I made it to explore the character and explore creative possibilities. I never sent it to the studio or to anyone but thought I'd share it now." 'Now' happened to be a tasteful 17 years to-the-day after Cobain's suicide, riling Nirvana fans across the globe.

Left: cover image of the OK! 'tribute' magazine. Right: Goody shortly before her death aged 27.

Speaking of 'timing', how about Ok! Magazine's tribute edition to former reality-TV 'star' Jade Goody? The magazine received widespread condemnation for the issue which was released before her death. Talk about 'jumping the gun.'

Left: Jackon prior to his death. Right: a still from the Discovery channel promo of What Really Killed Michael Jackson?

Jackson's life was a gaudy haze of tastelessness - Neverland anyone? - so it seems fitting he should appear on our list twice. We're not talking about his televised funeral - no comment there - we're talking about the Discovery Channel documentary What Really Killed Michael Jackson, which was due to be screened earlier this year in January. The interest in Jackson's death is unsurprising, but what was shocking about the film was that it featured a re-enactment of Jackson's autopsy. The promo for the show featured the image of Jackson's corpse lying on a metal gurney with his famous sequined glove poking out from under a sheet -  unsurprisingly, it got pulled last minute but may appear in the future.

Another music-related bad-taste faux-pas was from Jay-Z's ‘best mate’ U.S. rapper Nas. The music video for his 1998 track Got U'r Self A Gun pays homage to the influence Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G made on the rapper which is quite sweet really, until you watch the video which features dramatised re-enactments of the rap superstars being murdered. What for Nas was a sincere tribute appeared to others as bad-taste, and his record company and the star himself were both forced to defend their decision to shoot the video. At the time, neither deceased stars' families chose to make comment.

"Long Live McQueen" tote bag by Lola & Bailey

Aussie designers Lola & Bailey caused a stir when they released this their "Long Live McQueen" tote bag a meagre 5 months after the troubled designer's suicide in February of last year. Undoubtedly, McQueen's influence on the fashion industry has been unparalleled in recent years, but the line between poignant tribute and making a quick buck became blurred when the tote was included in a range that also referenced teen movie Twilight ("Team Edward"), a move that cheapened the bag from 'touching homage' to just another hit in the pop culture parade.

A short clip from Steven Okazaki's 2007 documentary White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We've saved the best and most obscure bad taste tribute till last. On May 11, 1955 Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto was featured on the U.S. version of hit TV. show This Is Your Life. Tanimoto was a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He'd spent subsequent years tirelessly fundraising to help surviving victims visit the USA for reconstructive plastic surgery to repair the facial disfigurements they'd suffered as a result of radiation burns. Producers at This Is Your Life surprised Rev. Tanimoto by producing a testimonial to his life in recognition of his humanitarian work, producing family members and key players from the course of his life.

But no one could have expected the final guest they pulled out from Tanimoto's closet - Captain Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the B-29 US bomber the Enola Gay, the very plane that had dropped the world's first atomic weapon on Hiroshima killing 80,000 people (some of them Tanimoto's family and friends) and injuring 70,000 more. A man whose life had been irreparably damaged was brought face to face with the man physically responsible for that act. Despite his utter shock at meeting Lewis, Tanimoto behaved with grace and respect. When asked by the host what he remembered about that day, Lewis responded "(in the official log) I wrote down the worlds 'My God, what have we done'". Lewis suffered life-long guilt for his role in the bombing and appeared distraught on stage (and slightly inebriated - it was reported that he went to a bar before the show was filmed in order to 'steady his nerves').

Despite the initial shock, Tanimoto came to look back on his appearance on This Is Your Life with some fondness and pride, playing a copy of the film reel he received as a gift from the shows' producers to any English-speaking guests he received back in Japan up until the time of his death.

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