Justin Timberlake Will Perform At The Super Bowl In The Worst Year He Could Have Chosen

On February 1, 2004, Justin Timberlake was part of arguably the most memorable, and certainly the most controversial Super Bowl halftime concert. In the middle of the halves of battle between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, the fledgling solo star (two years removed from NSYNC) shared the stage with veteran Pop superstar Janet Jackson. The set was part of a medley that also included Jessica Simpson, Puff Daddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock as voted by MTV viewers. Timberlake, joining Janet’s segment, performed fresh collaboration “Rock Your Body.”

In conjunction with the song lyric, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” J.T. disrobed part of Jackson’s wardrobe, revealing part of the Rhythm Nation founder’s breast before 144 million live viewers. The camera cut away, in what immediately became the most TiVo’d moment in history, along with then-bests in web and news searches. “Nipplegate” landed in the annals of popular culture.

However, nipples may not have been the only thing that slipped. The 23-year-old Timberlake promptly would apologize by saying that he was “sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl.” The term “wardrobe malfunction” would enter the popular lexicon, apparently removing him from blame. Janet’s team noted that the choreography was intended to reveal a lace bra, not the veteran singer’s nude breast. Super Bowl XXXVIII aired on CBS, as did the 46th annual Grammy Awards later that month. Reportedly threatened by losing an invite, Justin was instructed to apologize at the latter. Timberlake read a scripted apology the same night he won two trophies. Meanwhile, Janet, intended to present, was no longer allowed to attend. The five-time winner has not won a Grammy nor has she appeared on the show since. That was only part of Janet Jackson’s fallout. Her role in playing Lena Horne in a biopic halted. A Mickey Mouse statue paying tribute to Rhythm Nation was removed from Walt Disney World.

Timberlake will now return to the Super Bowl stage 14 years later. Asked if there will be another slip-up like 2004, “That won’t happen this time,” he said yesterday (October 22) during Sunday Night Football. “There was a little bit of that [discussion]. But no, Mike, that’s not going to happen.” Timberlake did not mention Jackson in the incident leading up Super Bowl LII.

In 2004, Timberlake had used Hip-Hop and Black culture in his transition from “boy band” standout to solo superstar. 2002’s solo debut Justified featured The Clipse, along with extensive production by both Timbaland and The Neptunes. In the decade and a half since, Timberlake has won Grammy awards in the Rap and R&B categories, among multiple nominations. Additionally, he carries nine BET nominations. The Memphis, Tennessee native has featured JAY-Z, Beyoncé, and Janet’s late brother, Michael Jackson on his singles since 2004.

Although not confirmed, it was rumored in September, that Jay turned down an invitation for the Pepsi halftime show this year. Jay’s wife Beyoncé sang the National Anthem the same February 2004 night. In 2016, she performed “Formation” at Super Bowl 50, prompting criticism from former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and others for an “anti-police” message.

Timberlake returns to the Super Bowl halftime stage in a controversial year for the league, especially regarding its relations with the Black community. Following 2016 on-field protests against the killing of unarmed Black civilians and the non-conviction of officers, Colin Kaepernick has not been signed by any NFL team, despite verbalizing a desire to play. On-field protests have continued across the league, as President Donald Trump has entered the debate, condemning protestors and appealing to owners to fire any such participants. This month, as Kaepernick formally filed a grievance that owners colluded against him, 32 teams’ stakeholders met with league officials for a plan to deal with protests and surrounding debates. Boycotts—including from the Black community and those in support of Colin Kaepernick and other players—have hurt NFL ratings. JAY-Z is among celebrities showing allegiance to Kaepernick in TV appearances and concert dedications.

Justin Timberlake, as of now, appears to be the answer—a figure that the league and TV executives considered quite differently than a Black woman. It was Timberlake’s hand that disrobed Janet, but it was her hand that was swatted in the aftermath.

One year ago, Justin caught criticism following Jesse Williams’ 2016 BET Awards speech. The singer tweeted “#inspired” following Jesse’s words which included, “We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” A number of viewers believed Timberlake was one of the people guilty of appropriating Black culture, and that he had discarded Janet Jackson years ago, after exposing her body. Justin defended his post, eventually clarifying, “I really do feel that we are all one… A human race.”

It remains to be seen whether Timberlake will use his platform at the halftime show as an advocate for the human race, or whether it will simply be another song and dance. Super Bowl LII will take place on February 4, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NBC will broadcast the game.

#BonusBeat: A recent TBD episode examined how big media may have been ignoring impacts of an NFL TV boycott that relates to the very grievance Colin Kaepernick and his legal team are citing:

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