In the wake of Jay-Z allegedly turning down the Super Bowl halftime performance, Justin Timberlake has been selected to take his place. Some may be excited that the NFL’s halftime show — regarded by many sports fans as the biggest bathroom break in America — will showcase a contemporary artist with a range of hits. Of course, Timberlake has a lot of range period, as evidenced by his ability to supersede NSYNC, all the way down to a recent cover of “Humble.” But on another level, the announcement that Timberlake has been selected for such a prominent and prestigious show in the music industry is disheartening.
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room straight up: 13 years ago, the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” that occurred between him and Janet Jackson set off a firestorm of controversy that severely derailed her career. For those too young to remember, at the end of his 2004 Super Bowl performance with Jackson, he ripped off a portion of Janet’s top. Jackson’s publicist said only her red bra was supposed to be exposed, but his tug exposed her entire breast — sans covered nipple — to the world. In today’s “free the nipple” culture, the incident probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but back then it became a huge morality cause celebre. In response, the FCC ushered in a 5-second delay on live public broadcasts, and Janet Jackson faced the brunt of a controversy that Timberlake moonwalked right away from.
He’s the one who ripped up her outfit but suffered virtually zero backlash for it. He got to joke about it the next week at the Grammys — the same event that Janet, a music icon, was barred from. The optics here are too emblematic of this country’s racist double standards to ignore; Jackson, a Black woman, had her career irrevocably damaged due to Timberlake’s mistreatment of her body.