The 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII brought the New England Patriots a decisive win over the Carolina Panthers, ending with a score of 32 to 29. However, for most of America, the events of the halftime show overshadowed the actual game— and continue to live on in pop-culture infamy.
Arguably the most controversial and widely publicized moment of the game occured during Justin Timberlake’s and Janet Jackson’s halftime performance. During the show, Timberlake and Jackson performed a duet of “Rock Your Body.” And when the song reached its final line, Timberlake pulled off part of Jackson’s costume, accidentally creating a wardrobe malfunction that became popularly dubbed as ‘Nipplegate.’
Following the incident, Jackson faced profound career consequences. The singer songwriter was banned from performing at the Grammy Awards that year, and her music was removed from all Viacom channels and radio stations— according to NBC News.
However, although Timberlake was the person who caused the wardrobe malfunction, the popular singer faced no repercussions. In fact, if anything, the publicity gave his career a boost. And unlike Jackson, Timberlake was not banned from the Grammys and continued to enjoy a successful career for many years to come.
For many years, Justin Timberlake evaded responsibility for his part in the controversial show. However, almost 20 years since the incident, it seems as though JT is finally forced to face the music. Following the release of the New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears, fans from all over have begun to criticize Timberlake’s treatment of Spears, and subsequent response to the halftime show incident. He has been accused of sexism and misogyny in his response to the halftime show and has been widely criticized for seemingly abandoning Janet Jackson as her career began to free fall. He has also been criticized for his treatment of his former girlfriend, Britney Spears, following their very public breakup.
In response to the criticism, Justin Timberlake released a lengthy apology to both women on Instagram. In it, he admitted that he handled both situations poorly, and claimed that he was deeply sorry for his actions. “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”
But for many, his apology was too little and too late. Janet Jackson’s career was irrevocably tarnished by the Superbowl fiasco. In an interview with Oprah back in 2004, Jackson admitted that she felt as though Timberlake left her hanging. “All the emphasis was put on me, not on Justin. We were friends … And I’m very loyal and friendship is very important to me, and certain things you just don’t do to friends,” she said.
However, some good did come out of Timberlake’s apology. The following day Janet Jackson’s 1986 album Control topped Apple’s Top 40 US Pop Album chart, according to Entertainment Weekly. Jackson issued an emotional thank you video to her fans—but has yet to comment on Timberlake’s statement.