Excitement for the Super Bowl gets higher as each day passes. From the halftime performance, to the wacky commercials, to the game itself, there’s something about the event for everyone to enjoy. And with superstar Justin Timberlake slotted as the halftime performer, there’s plenty to be excited about. However, as talented as he is, his invitation to return to the Superbowl is not without controversy.
Timberlake previously performed at the Halftime show in 2004 alongside Janet Jackson in an event that would coin the term “wardrobe malfunction.” As the two reached the final line of the song Rock Your Body, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” Justin Timberlake pulled off a part of Janet’s costume, exposing her breast to the crowd and the millions of people watching the game at home. The cameras quickly switched to an aerial view, but the damage was done. “Nipple gate” was a national sensation.
Both Timberlake and Jackson released statements apologizing for the incident, but the blame was placed squarely on Jackson’s shoulders. Her written statement had her taking all the blame, as the last-minute change to include a costume reveal had been her idea. As well, both Timberlake and Jackson were invited to present and perform at the Grammy’s the following week. That invitation turned into a ban for Jackson, while Timberlake attended as scheduled.
This was just the beginning of the fallout for Jackson. While Timberlake’s career took off, she faced a blacklist. MTV and CBS banned her music and music videos from being aired on the TV and radio stations they owned and she was forced to resign from a movie deal she had recently signed. The FCC even filed a $550,000 fine against CBS for indecent exposure that went all the way to the Supreme Court, but was tossed out in 2012.
The unequal distribution of blame was recognized by Timberlake in a 2006 interview where he said, “In my honest opinion now, I could've handled it better […] And if there was something I could have done in her defense that was more than I realized then, I would have. But the other half of me was like, 'Wow. We still haven't found the weapons of mass destruction and everybody cares about this! […] 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.”
With the recent push to expose sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace and the downfall of Hollywood elites such as Harvey Weinstein, it’s no surprise that people are pushing for a more sincere apology from the former *NSYNC star than he’s previously given. Regardless of any plans for a costume reveal, it was his actions that exposed Jackson and greatly impacted her career while he scraped through with minimal consequences.
While I do firmly believe that Timberlake should make reparations, perhaps inviting Jackson to perform with him during the halftime show without removing any of her clothing, I think the controversy reflects more on how differently society looks at men and women’s sexuality. Female and male artists are treated differently when exercising sexual agency.
By and large, men are praised for their sexuality where women are attacked for it. This also extends to accidents. Blame for sexual mishaps or harassment is almost always placed on the women. I think that the conversation around Timberlake’s performance needs to be about the steps we can take to rectify that. Starting with men like Timberlake taking responsibilities for their actions.