In 2004, Janet Jackson headlined Super Bowl XXXVIII, and she brought former NSYNC-er Justin Timberlake on as a special guest. During their performance of his hit, "Rock Your Body," Timberlake pulled off part of Jackson's costume, revealing her right breast and pierced nipple.
The fallout was immediate... for Jackson.
MTV Got Involved....
MTV, the same company that had once refused to let black artists like Jackson’s brother, Michael, on their airwaves, “essentially blacklist[ed] her,” according to Rolling Stone, “keeping her music videos off their properties MTV, VH1, and radio stations under their umbrella. The blacklist spread to include non-Viacom media entities as well.”
Jackson struggled to rekindle her career, while Timberlake's soared.
She was forced to remove herself from the 2004 Grammy Awards, even though she’d been slated to honor R&B legend Luther Vandross, a former collaborator. For the next decade, while Jackson struggled, Timberlake rose to even greater heights. His sophomore solo album, Future Sex/Love Sounds debuted to nearly universal acclaim, and he solidified his status as a solo star.
But Jackson and her family had helped Timberlake make his career.
She’d appeared as a guest vocalist on his debut album, Justified, and had, in fact, boosted NSYNC’s ascension into boyband glory by having them open for her “Velvet Rope Tour”. Her brother, Michael, had helped NSYNC publicize their Pop album with a performance at the 2001 MTV Awards. The Jackson family had served as Timberlake’s musical god-family, giving him part of the cred necessary to establish himself as both a bona fide pop and R&B star.
What was Timberlake's response to the controversy? A big, fat "meh."
In the coming weeks, Timberlake excused the incident as a “wardrobe malfunction,” and distanced himself from Jackson. The closest he got to offering her an apology was the response, “I probably got 10 percent 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,” to an MTV interview.
People were not amused, and their displeasure has not weakened in the 13 years since Nipplegate.
Take last year, when Jesse Williams won the Humanitarian Award at the BET awards and had this to say in praise of black women: “This is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.”
Timberlake quickly tweeted he was #inspired by William’s speech, but Twitter wasn’t having it…