Back in the early 2000s long before “woke” was an all encompassing term for knowledge and BET After Dark still captured the attention of curious adolescent teens, there was the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction scandal.
The half a second that changed TV history has once again captured public interest, after JT was recently confirmed as the 2018 Super Bowl Half Time performer. Hashtag #JusticeForJanet has gone viral in the wake of the Timberlake announcement, with many Rhythm Nation-ers demanding the ban on Janet be lifted before Justin is granted permission to hit the stage again.
13 years ago, Super bowl XXXVIII’s half-time show brought together two of the biggest names in music. Pop star Janet Jackson would headline the show as the musical vet in the pairing. A descendant of musical royalty, the Jackson 5’s sister earned her own fame in the 90s and early 2000s with her smooth vocals and captivating dance moves. Justin Timberlake, the Memphis, Tennessee native who ascended beyond his *NSYNC boy band roots and right into the embrace of Black culture, would join Ms. Jackson on stage with a song from his cross-over album, ‘Rock Ya Body.’
The mashup was poised to be of epic proportions. The night would indeed earn its place in music history, but not for awesome choreography and memorable vocal performances, but for a Black woman’s nipple being bared in front of millions of Americans during the last second of the show.
That half a second would plaster headlines and media reports for weeks in the fallout. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initially fined CBS over half a million dollars, launching public conversations around censorship and nudity. Janet Jackson became the most searched internet phrase in history, landing a spot in the 2007 edition of Guiness Book Of World Records. But where was Justin’s name in the backlash?
Janet’s reps insisted the nip slip was an accident. At the end of hit song ‘Rock Your Body,’ Timberlake was supposed to pull off a part of Jackson’s costume to reveal her lacy bra. Instead, her bare breast partially covered with a metal nipple pasty was exposed.
CBS made Janet issue a public apology for the moment saying, “My decision to change the Super Bowl performance was made after the final rehearsal. MTV, CBS, [and] the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry if I offended anyone, that was truly not my intention”.
A companion written statement said, “The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended – including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”
Janet ultimately took the blame in the backlash as a function of historical racial and gender politics. Janet was forced to apologize for her nudity as a Black woman being disrobed at the hands of a White man. She was also forced to take responsibility for her victimhood as a woman. The narrative remains in line with the ‘victim blaming’ rhetoric women still actively fight today.
Timberlake, however remained relatively untouched in the aftermath. He received a proverbial pat on the back from the public, while Janet endured the fires of public outcry.
Timberlake attended The Grammys the following week–an event Janet was forbidden from attending despite being scheduled as a performer and presenter.
“I know it’s been a rough week on everybody,” Timberlake said during a Grammy acceptance speech at that time. “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable and I apologize if you guys are offended.”
It wouldn’t be until two years later that the FutureSex/LoveSounds crooner would acknowledge the racial and gender undertones of the scandal.
“In my honest opinion now … I could’ve handled it better. … I’m part of a community that consider themselves artists. And if there was something I could have done in her defense that was more than I realized then, I would have,” adding “I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society … I think that America’s harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”
Although his words demonstrate the knowledge of his White male privilege in this situation, words are not enough.
To dismantle the privilege that allowed his reputation to remain unscathed as his co-performer drowned in criticism, Timberlake needs to take action.
Whether its refusing to perform at the Super Bowl until Janet receives an invitation, or foregoing the entire festivities period until the media orgs that damned Janet apologize for their witch hunt, Timberlake needs to stand on his platform to symbolically re-do the moment that cast a shadow on Janet’s reputation. The least Justin could do is stand in solidarity with Janet now, in a way he failed to do 13 years ago.
“Janet Apologizes, Says Super Bowl Stunt Went Too Far”. MTV News. February 2, 2004. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
“Janet Loses ‘Lena; Justin Exits ‘Motown'”. E!. February 24, 2004. Retrieved April 1, 2014.