Super Bowl Janet Jackson Justin Timberlake

Right, this is what happened between Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl

He exposed her breast on stage in 2004

Every year when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, people return to the same story over and over again: Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s infamous performance in 2004. Twenty years ago this week, The halftime performance stopped the world with shock when Justin ripped off Janet’s top and exposed her breast live on air as he sang out: “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song.”

Janet looked visibly distressed the moment her clothed was removed and breast (partly covered by a sunburst nipple shield) was exposed – for nine-sixteenths of a second at the end of their performance. She rushed to cover her body and almost immediately started crying as soon as the set was over, according to her brother, Rebbie, in the Lifetime documentary: Janet.

Was Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson’s breast an accident or deliberate?

In a statement made days after ‘Nipplegate’, Janet’s management said: “Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra. The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed.” However, MTV had a contradictory statement and claimed: “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.”

Both Janet and her brother Tito have reiterated the moment was an accidental wardrobe malfunction in her Lifetime documentary. She said: “Honestly, this whole thing was blown way out of proportion…And of course, it was an accident that should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame and that’s got to stop.”

So, what happened to Janet after her Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake?

After Justin exposed Janet’s breast on television, Janet was the one who was vilified, while Justin remained out of the firing line. Janet was disinvited to the Grammys while Justin was nominated five times and invited to perform.

During a conversation with her brother Randy in her Lifetime documentary, Janet reveals she told Timberlake not to say anything about the performance: “We talked once and [Justin] said, ‘I don’t know if I should come out and make a statement,'” she explained. “I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want any drama for you. They’re aiming all of this at me… If I were you I wouldn’t do anything.'”

Essentially, Justin’s actions caused the controversy but Janet took the blame. And all Justin said on MTV later when releasing his next album was: “In my honest opinion now, I could’ve handled it better…And if there was something I could have done in her defence…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 ten per cent 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.”

Janet, contrastingly, made a written statement and released an apology video:  “The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals,” she said. “MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologise to anyone offended – including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”

Did Janet Jackson’s career ever recover from her Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake?

When Janet released her first album after the Super Bowl, Damita Jo, it did terribly. Her name had been blacklisted by Clear Channel Communications, which then owned MTV, CBS Radio and various other stations because of the Super Bowl. So, it was nearly impossible for her to promote any of her new music. She was dropped from a film with ABC and Disney World even took down a statue of Mickey Mouse wearing a Janet Jackson T-shirt.

Despite all this history, Justin Timberlake asked Janet to perform with him again at his Super Bowl halftime show in 2018. But she refused and said she didn’t want to relive the horrendous experience all over again.

Eventually, Justin made a public apology to Janet when he was also under scrutiny for his treatment of Britney Spears: “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism,” he said in a notes app apology. “I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed.”

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Featured image credit via Hahn Lionel/ABACA/Shutterstock