There’s a Problem With Justin Timberlake Performing At the Super Bowl

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Let me be clear, I am no hater of Justin Timberlake. I actually favor the N*Sync member-turned-breakout soloist as one of the great performers of my lifetime.

However, Janet Jackson is one of the greatest of all time, and I go hard for her.

And although I hate talking about this subject, these two artists have lived an interrelated career ever since the infamous 2004 halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII on CBS. In a night with performances from Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Timberlake, Janet Jackson was the only female act in the show and, to this day, cannot escape the condemnation that followed her performance with Timberlake — who has since reportedly been invited back.


At the time of the halftime show, my fandom for Janet (Ms. Jackson ’cause I’m nasty) was reaching its peak. So color me dedicated when the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots finally left the field to make way for the main festivity.

It started with the opening hook of “All For You,” as she sashayed down the stage as only she could. Spectacle, a funky yet provocative wardrobe, choreography, and natural rhythm to a T: this was Janet Jackson at her finest.

When she wasn’t on screen, I wasn’t paying attention. So after a few snooze-worth performances from the guys (each man in fact tossing off an article of clothing), life was back in order when Jackson came back into view with “Rhythm Nation.” Then, following “The Knowledge” and its calls of unity in the face of injustice (oh, the current irony of this happening at the Super Bowl), sweet beatbox noises came through my television as a rising platform revealed Justin Timberlake for a collab performance of “Rock Your Body.” My tween heart be still; I was in a musical heaven. I was convinced this was the best halftime performance America had seen in a long time. We deserved it.

We did, at least, until the day after, when the Federal Communications Commission, societal watchdogs, women-shamers, and nonsensical overseers cried “wardrobe malfunction.” They swiftly belittled an amazing 10-minute performance to a split-second mistake that half of the country did not even see, and blamed the wrong person with hysterical repercussions lasting for nearly a decade after.

The aftermath of the scandal simply boiled down to the industry’s reiteration: white is always in the right, and a man sticks with the plan.

In a right and just world, there is no acceptable reason Justin Timberlake should have any kind of seniority over Janet Jackson. He was a guest in her performance, a candle on top of her cake. We could all clearly see Timberlake was the one who could not match Jackson’s choreo, possibly distraught that this was Janet Jackson grinding on him. But in an already sexually suggestive performance with various male artists and background dancers shedding clothing throughout, it was Janet’s breast for just… existing, that made her the main one at fault.

Nipple Ripples: Revisiting Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction

Janet was uninvited from the GRAMMYs the week after, her music videos ripped from Viacom channels like MTV, leaving the singer forced to shield herself from public ridicule over one moment in a 20+ year career. Justin was given his time at the GRAMMYs, public consideration, and the ability to show up in a Google search without “wardrobe malfunction” forever accompanying his name.

And now, 13 years later, while Janet is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her critically acclaimed The Velvet Rope, has recently released an album, and is currently touring — it’s Justin who may be gifted with the opportunity to perform at the biggest halftime show once again.

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I’ll say it again: I enjoy a good JT performance. But for him to even be considered to return to the show, in which he contributed to “a new low from primetime TV,” is a case study in America’s struggle of identifying, accepting, and combating white male privilege, especially when it comes to music—an industry that perpetuates hypocritical favoritism and is known to celebrate the appropriation of influences over some music’s original roots.

The aftermath of the scandal simply boiled down to the industry’s reiteration: white is always in the right, and a man sticks with the plan.

Because participating networks, their parent companies, and affiliates were so quick to ostracize Janet and embrace Justin, this event ultimately affected the great career Justin has today. The irony is that Justin wouldn’t even have his career if it weren’t for Janet’s older brother, Michael Jackson, which he seemed to have forgotten when he left Janet under the bus 13 years ago.

For me, Justin does not deserve this redeeming halftime performance. And I’m not calling for Janet to perform either, since in this year, the NFL does not deserve her magical presence gracing its stage. But it’s Ms. Jackson who still deserves a sincere, public apology from: Timberlake, CBS, Viacom, the NFL, and FCC, for how she was singled out. And, until he makes an apology for all to see, Justin Timberlake has no business returning to the Super Bowl stage.

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