Let me start off by saying, this is some bullshit.
To clarify: Justin Timberlake, formerly of *NSYNC fame, being allowed to headline the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show is some bullshit. As the entire world remembers, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson performed together at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, and made the phrase "wardrobe malfunction" immediately known in households everywhere, after JT "accidentally" ripped off a piece of Jackson's costume, leaving her right breast almost entirely exposed.
Lo and behold, it was announced Sunday night that Timberlake was indeed being welcomed back to the big stage with open arms:
Remember when I said this was some bullshit? I'm not the only one who thinks so:
As if the fact that this is even happening isn't a big enough slap in the face of Janet (and all women/people of color, which we'll get to), Timberlake even had a few laughs about the past in a sit-down interview with Sunday Night Football anchor Mike Tirico.
When Tirico asked him if the NFL brought up the incident, JT chuckled and said, "That won't happen this time."
"What I really want to do is take the opportunity to put together a performance that feels like it unifies," Timberlake continued. "I feel like that would be the ultimate accomplishment, and then the icing on the cake is at some point—within that 12 minutes—that everybody is shaking their booty."
Aside from the glaringly obvious and unbalanced treatment between Janet and Justin, the decision to have a historically problematic white male headline the biggest event of the year for the NFL, a league in the midst of intense protests against racial injustice, is tone deaf. AF.
But, I digress. Instead, let's talk about what happened 14 years ago, on that fateful February night, and the reverberating effects it's had since then.
Was Janet Jackson officially blamed for Nipplegate?
First things first: were Justin and Janet equally blamed? In the time since the incident took place, it definitely doesn't seem to be the case. While Janet was immediately reprimanded in more ways than one—chiefly, a draconian lifetime ban from the Super Bowl halftime show—Timberlake pretty much got off scot-free. Nipplegate happened on Feb. 1, 2004; the Grammys were held one week later, on Feb. 8, 2004. Janet was set to present during the event, but was barred from attending and forced to withdraw as a presenter. Meanwhile, good ol' JT was still allowed to attend the ceremony.
Michael Powell, the head of the FCC at the time, told ESPN in 2014 that he thought the heavy criticism of Jackson was over the top. "I personally thought that was really unfair," Powell said. "It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it's Justin ripping off her breastplate."
Correct. Timberlake—who was Janet's guest, to be clear—was the perpetrator. Even so, he publicly apologized and severed ties with Jackson, who had done him yet another solid by appearing on his debut album, Justified, two years prior.
How did the NFL ultimately decide Justin was welcome back?
In its official press release announcing Justin's comeback, the NFL did not mention how or why Timberlake was asked to return. Instead, they gushed over how swell the "multitalented actor and musician" is. In fact, this is about as close as they get to addressing JT's hairy history with them:
This will be Timberlake's third time performing on the Super Bowl Halftime stage, giving him the distinction of having the most appearances by an individual entertainer. He previously performed at Super Bowls XXXV and XXXVIII.
When reached for comment on whether there were any obstacles in finalizing their decision, the NFL replied with: "Along with Pepsi, we're excited to have Justin Timberlake. Like the elite NFL players who can run, catch, and block, Justin can do it all—sing, dance, act and entertain. He's the ultimate global superstar who we know will put on an entertaining and unifying show that will appeal to the massive worldwide audience."
A hearty FOH to the NFL.
So, how did the NFL justify blaming Janet alone?
There's no evidence that points to Janet Jackson being the sole person at fault for Nipplegate. Similarly, there seems to be no substantial evidence that points to a valid explanation from the NFL, FCC, or anyone about why Janet was singled out and rebuked so intensely. As far as I can tell, she was blamed because the exposed breast was a part of her body—a black woman's body.
Rolling Stone, which revisited the incident in a 2014 article called "The Nipple and the Damage Done: Janet Jackson's Post-Super Bowl Fall," did not mince words when assessing how and why the fall-out happened to Janet alone. "Maybe his quick apology saved Justin from the fire," Hillary Crosley wrote, "or maybe society had already begun a witch-hunt for Janet because she is a black woman in America, and as much as we try to disentangle race from our lives, stereotypes and their harmful blowback haunt us."
In 2006, two years after the incident, Timberlake spoke with MTV, pretty much echoing that sentiment. "I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society," he said. "I think that America's harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people."
No. Fucking. Shit, Sherlock.
Can Janet ever perform at the Super Bowl again?
According to the Independent, it's being speculated that Janet Jackson could make a surprise appearance during Timberlake's headlining set. But remember that lifetime ban? Well, per TMZ, there is no lifetime ban.
Everyone from NPR to Billboard has reported, over the past decade and a half up to today, that Janet was banned from the Super Bowl halftime show for life. So why is she now randomly unbanned? Hmm... methinks one of two reasons: 1) the NFL is preemptively un-banning Jackson because of (accurately) anticipated backlash; or 2) Janet may be making that aforementioned surprise appearance. On that note...
How can Justin make this right?
Dear Justin: eat 2004. Own up and take responsibility for what went down, seeing as you were the one that made Janet's wardrobe infamously malfunction. You're already on a come-up with this move, so toss her a lifeline and bring her on as your guest—and do it the right way.
When TMZ asked the NFL about the possibility of Janet joining, a spokesperson said, "We are not going to comment on any speculation regarding potential guests. There may be no guests. Along with Pepsi, we’re excited to have Justin Timberlake."
If this Janet appearance actually does happen... watch whiteness work. If not, get ready for a whole heap of backlash, bruh.