As Justin Timberlake returns to headline the Superbowl halftime show, Shaun Ponsonby looks back at the American media’s appalling display following his 2004 appearance with Janet Jackson.
It feels like the world was a very different place in 2004.
David Bowie was still alive and touring, Temple of Doom was widely considered to be the worst Indiana Jones film and we didn’t know what Britney Spears would look like bald.
2004 was also the year we all learned what Janet Jackson’s snuggle pups look like, thanks to the infamous Superbowl wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show she performed with Justin Timberlake.
What happened seemed pretty straight forward. Jackson performed a medley of her hits, before Timberlake joined her for Rock Your Body – one in a long line of Justin Timberlake songs centred around how awesome Justin Timberlake is.
He was on tour at the time and had only one day to rehearse. The set-up was that Timberlake would be singing and chasing Jackson around the stage. On the genius, almost Dickensian line “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song”, they planned to have a piece of Jackson’s costume tear away. They ultimately decided on tearing away at Janet’s breast, which would reveal a red lace bra. Except the bra collapsed when Timberlake removed the area of the costume, and Janet found her clowns jumping out of the car.
I actually find the staging interesting from today’s standpoint. Over the last few weeks we have heard numerous stories of sexual assault in the arts on the back of the Weinstein allegations. I can’t imagine they would choreograph this with a man ripping off a woman’s clothes today.
14 years later, Timberlake has been invited back to the 2018 Superbowl, and has faced a bit of a backlash. And not because he has a smugly punchable face that he has an insatiable need to stick into life’s every orifice.
From my recollection, the wardrobe malfunction was treated pretty mildly here in the United Kingdom of England. I mean, yeah, it was embarrassing, but it was laughed off.
That wasn’t the case in America, and despite both artists being involved, only one of them was stigmatised; the man who carelessly ripped off Janet’s clothes.
Nah, I’m just fucking with you. Of course they blamed Janet. As if the media would blame the white man in his early 20s when there is a black woman pushing 40 who had become a gay icon that they could slut shame. Add in the fact that she was the sister of the then-ridiculed Michael Jackson, and you’ve got yourself a perfect tabloid storm, missus!
Even though she had already been humiliated in front of the world, Janet received the full brunt of media scrutiny. Despite appearing on screen for less than a second – if you blinked as it happened, you probably wouldn’t have known about it – it was usefully blown up and reprinted in every newspaper, shown time and time again on TV news. I’m pretty sure Janet Jackson’s breast appeared on TV more in that week than E4 show re-runs of The Big Bang Theory.
It didn’t extend just to the news media either.
The following week, she was disinvited from the Grammy Awards, where she was scheduled to present. Timberlake attended and performed. She was forced to film an apology by CBS. Timberlake wasn’t. Disney dropped her from a movie role she had been signed up for. Viacom and Clear Channel, who between them own a large amount of radio and TV stations in the US (including MTV) outright admitted than Jackson had been blacklisted and banned from the airwaves. Timberlake’s career in music and film continued uninterrupted and he continued writing songs about how great he isn’t (except Mirrors, which is about how great someone else is, because they’re the mirror image of him).
For context, before the incident the two of them were both shifting around the 10 million mark. Following the blacklist, Janet’s sales dropped dramatically and her career has never really recovered. Even artistically, her work suffered for around a decade. On a lot of those albums, she doesn’t sound as invested as she once did.
What’s sad is how silent Timberlake was in his support for Jackson at the time, allowing the American media to essentially bully an African-American woman who had already suffered a very public indignity. A few years later he told MTV; “If you consider it 50-50, then I probably got 10% of the blame. I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”
People grow, and I would like to think that Timberlake would act differently today. But his 12-minute Superbowl performance should basically consist of Senorita, an NSync medley and a five minute gushing tribute and apology to Janet Jackson.
Yeah, I’m sure it was a Noel Gallagher lookalike licking windows in Swindon. A lookalike. Yeah.
When Gomez announced their 20th anniversary tour for Bring It On, I was disappointed to find that it was an album and not the classic Kirsten Dunst film.
RIP Fats Domino.
Image from Janet Jackson’s and Justin Timberlake’s Facebook pages.