Jennifer Lopez sparkled on New Years Eve. Photo: Mike Coppola, Getty Images

There once was a time when celebrities dreaded the Worst Dressed List like Joan Rivers dreads silence.

These days? Stars have taken a different view when it comes to their fashion. It seems the trend has moved away from critic-proof couture and more toward shock value.

The tactic works. When Lady Gaga wears bubbles, blood, or red latex, we all talk about it the next day. When J. Lo hits the stage on New Year's Eve wearing a sequined brown bodysuit, we talk about it the next day. And when Leighton Meester wears Cirque Du Soleil-style spandex to launch her singing career, we talk about it the next day.

Would we be talking about any of these people right now if they just wore a safe little black dress? Probably not.

The reason behind the trend is simple: In an economic recession during which concerts, movies, and even cable TV becomes a "luxury" expense for the average American, celebs are stepping up their efforts to stay in the spotlight.

Leighton Meester knows how to get noticed. Photo: Startraks

Style becomes a vehicle not only for self-expression, but for career promotion. Wearing something unexpected (and, frankly, unappealing) will set tongues wagging, generate press, and basically buy an artist some extra face time with millions of fans.

One question remains: Will the wacky fashion trend make its way from the stage to the red carpet? Or will celebs (and their stylists) preserve the sanctity of our industry's biggest events by keeping the red carpet dress code "haute"?

With the People's Choice Awards, Screen Actor's Guild Awards, Golden Globes, and Grammy Awards all coming up this month, we'll be curious to see how many stars truly pull out all the stops and show up in a stunning, classic gown, vs. wearing something experimental, offbeat, or flashy.

One thing's for sure: 2010 is bound to be an interesting year of style!