The moment that sent the world into a frenzy.
The moment that sent the world into a frenzy.

How Justin Timberlake escaped Super Bowl scandal

FOURTEEN years ago, two of the biggest pop stars in the world created, in a split second, the biggest controversy in Super Bowl history.

The world treated them both very, very differently.

THE INCIDENT

Janet Jackson was the halftime performer at the 2004 Super Bowl and delivered a precise, high-energy medley of hits from throughout her career, before ending in a duet with Justin Timberlake, then a newly solo boybander riding high in the charts with his first post-NSYNC album Justified.

The pair strutted the stage to Timberlake's hit Rock Your Body, striking a pose for the final line of the song.

 

The most infamous moment in Super Bowl history. Picture: AFP
The most infamous moment in Super Bowl history. Picture: AFP

"Gonna have you naked by the end of this song," Timberlake sang - and in one swift motion, ripped one of the breast plates off Jackson's leather bodice.

Out popped Jackson's breast, bare but for a sun-shaped piece of jewellery covering her nipple.

In an instant, Jackson reached to cover herself up, a look of shock on her face - and then the lights went out.

THE AFTERMATH

An estimated 143 million viewers saw what quickly became known as "Nipplegate" live, and many millions more discovered the moment online - the incident is credited with helping kickstart YouTube, such was the volume of people searching for video footage online in the hours and days that followed.

In the immediate aftermath, Timberlake was jokey about what went down: "[Jackson and I] love giving you all something to talk about," he told reporters.

But as the outrage grew, both singers were under serious scrutiny over the wardrobe malfunction - and it was Jackson who took the heaviest hit.

In a taped apology that had the air of a hostage video that was played on US television, she took full responsibility for the stunt while absolving the show's producer MTV, broadcaster CBS, and the NFL of any blame.

"Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end ... I am truly sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention," she said.

For his part, a contrite Timberlake seemed to throw Jackson under the bus as the scandal deepened, recounting the mess in less than empathetic terms:

"I looked at her. They brought a towel up on stage. They covered her up. I was completely embarrassed and just walked off the stage as quickly as I could," he later said.

"I'm frustrated at the whole situation. I'm frustrated that my character is being questioned. And the fact of the matter is, you know, I've had a good year, a really good year, especially with my music."

It wasn't just Timberlake and Jackson who faced consequences over Nipplegate.

The network that aired the Super Bowl, CBS, was fined $680,000 by the Federal Communications Commission for showing Jackson's exposed breast on television.

America Online, who sponsored the halftime show, demanded a refund of the $9.3 million it had paid to do so.

Several private citizens even filed their own lawsuits against the broadcaster, such was their horror at seeing Jackson's partially bared breast for a split-second.

One Tennessee woman even filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of "all American citizens who watched the outrageous conduct".

Those in charge were eager to distance themselves from the performance. MTV stated: "The tearing of Janet Jackson's costume was unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance. MTV regrets this incident occurred and we apologise to anyone who was offended by it."

CAREER FORTUNES

It's true that in the world of pop, what goes up must come down - and Jackson's imperial era, which by 2004 had lasted some five albums from 1986's groundbreaking Control, was surely due to wane. But even so, the change to her career fortunes was dramatic: she was barred from attending the Grammy Awards and MTV Video Music Awards, organisers apparently nervous she'd whip her top off at any moment. Grammy-nominated Timberlake attended the awards without incident. At that same ceremony, Timberlake was referred to onstage as the "Teflon man", as the controversy had seemed to slide right off him.

One month after the Super Bowl, Janet released Damita Jo — the first in a string of underperforming albums for the previously untouchable singer.
One month after the Super Bowl, Janet released Damita Jo — the first in a string of underperforming albums for the previously untouchable singer.

Two years after the Super Bowl, Timberlake returned to music with the acclaimed FutureSex/LoveSounds album cementing him as the biggest male pop star of the noughties.

For Jackson, a woman with 10 US number one singles under her belt - the most recent only a year before the Super Bowl - the decline was almost instantaneous. Never again would a Janet Jackson single trouble the top 10. After two decades as one of the biggest names in music, in the years to come Jackson releases would turn from worldwide events to niche offerings for the faithful fans who'd stuck by her.

14 YEARS ON

Taking a prolonged break after the death of her brother Michael, Jackson returned to music with 2015's Unbreakable, her first album in seven years. For a woman so publicly exposed, it seemed a period of radio silence had done the trick - the album was widely praised as a return to form. Then last year, as a new mum for the first time, Jackson, 51, completed a successful 56-date US tour. While not the world-conquering pop force she once was, Jackson's career is finally back on track.

And now, in 2018, Timberlake faces a career decline similar to the one Jackson suffered, as the three singles released in quick succession from his new album Man Of The Woods have failed to make a chart impact. His bizarre video for the single Supplies was widely criticised for what commentators saw as Timberlake opportunistically "rebranding himself as a male ally".

In interviews ahead of his 2018 Super Bowl return, Timberlake has spoken about the incident and its aftermath.

"I stumbled through it, to be quite honest," he told Beat 1's Zane Lowe earlier this month. "I had my wires crossed and it's just something that you have to look back on and go like, 'OK, well you know, you can't change what's happened, but you can move forward and learn from it.'"

He also insisted that he and Jackson had privately made peace after the backlash subsided.

"I don't know that a lot of people know that," Timberlake said. "I don't think it's my job to do that, because you value the relationships that you do have with people."

Jackson's father thinks that Timberlake should make amends for Nipplegate - and he is not the only one.

"If he's such a gentleman, he'd make sure Janet [Jackson] is there," Joseph Jackson told The Post.

Since it was announced that Timberlake would be performing at this year's big game, Twitter has been alight with the #JusticeForJanet hashtag, as users call out the privilege suggested by Timberlake being asked to perform again, while Jackson was not.

But unless the pair are cooking up a well-kept secret, don't expect to see Jackson make an appearance at Timberlake's Super Bowl show on Monday.

Jackson said in a statement "to put to rest any speculation or rumours" as to whether she would be performing at the Super Bowl: "I will not." She thanks her fans for their support and says she looks forward to seeing them very soon.

An NFL spokesman also refuted long-held rumours that Jackson had copped a lifetime Super Bowl ban, saying: "There's no ban. We are not going to comment on any speculation regarding potential guests."

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