Last time he was at the Super Bowl, Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson to a storm of backlash (literally and figuratively) following their 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance.
Janet Jackson headlined Super Bowl XXXVIII with Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock, and as a surprise guest Justin Timberlake. She’d been featured on his solo debut Justified, providing background vocals on the track “(And She Said) Take Me No,” so she invited him to perform alongside her in front of an estimated 90 million viewers. During a duet of his song “Rock Your Body,” Timberlake ripped Jackson’s breastplate off and exposed her right breast on live television. It was later referred to as a “wardrobe malfunction,” but it led to a massive FCC fine (ultimately rejected by courts) and backlash for Jackson, but not Timberlake.
MTV, which produced the halftime show, threw Jackson under the bus immediately, along with its parent company Viacom’s other networks (CBS, on which the Super Bowl aired, was one of them). In the wake of the “Nipplegate” controversy, according to Rolling Stone, it responded by “essentially blacklisting her, keeping her music videos off their properties MTV, VH1, and radio stations under their umbrella. The blacklist spreads to include non-Viacom media entities as well.”
In the era of Time’s Up, you’d expect Timberlake to be confronted about his treatment of Jackson and how, as a black woman, she not only faced more criticism than he did as a white male—even though it was he who exposed her breast—but also that he cruelly and coldly left her out to dry, brushing the incident off with jokes. It took Timberlake years to get Jackson’s back.
As evidenced by the recent Grammy Awards, however, the movement hasn’t truly hit the music industry. Despite Kesha’s emotional performance at the Grammys and Janelle Monae’s announcement that “time is up,” the music industry continues to pretend that there aren’t problems with harassment, assault, and diversity—or that white men are treated very differently than black women. One thing to acknowledge this year is how Jackson was slut-shamed while Timberlake earned the nickname “the Teflon man,” but despite his alleged support for Time’s Up during the Golden Globes, the former boy-bander has remained silent.
On the day of the awards, Timberlake tweeted a photo of himself and his wife Jessica Biel, along with the message: “Here we come!! And DAMN, my wife is hot! #TIMESUP #whywewearblack.”
And for the first time, Timberlake started to receive celebrity backlash for remaining silent. But not for his Super Bowl actions, which he claims he and Janet have “made peace” over; rather, the criticism concerned his recent appearance in the Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel.
Yet while his co-star Kate Winslet was plagued by questions of why she was still working with Allen, Timberlake managed to avoid any scrutiny whatsoever—until his Globes tweet.
Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter who’s accused him of molesting her as a 7-year-old child, tweeted at Timberlake about his hypocrisy. When he randomly tweeted, for some reason, that he didn’t understand the phrase, “Have your cake and eat it too,” Farrow responded, “The saying means, for example, you can’t support #TIMESUP and praise sexual predators at the same time. You can’t retain your credibility as an activist (i.e. – retain the cake) and, at the same time, praise a sexual predator (i.e. – eating the cake).”
Timberlake didn’t respond, and so this week Rose McGowan, another alleged victim of sexual-assault, addressed his silence on The View: “Then there’s Justin Timberlake hashtagging ‘My wife looks hot tonight hashtag Time’s Up’ hashtag I just did a movie with Woody Allen.’ So come on, it is fake. I wish it weren’t—I wish everybody were good. I’m sorry to puncture your heroes, but sometimes these heroes need to be better.”
This is the first time Timberlake has been questioned by other celebrities about his actions. He’s been able to mostly dip in and out of the public eye whenever he has an album or appearances on SNL and Fallon. Perhaps people don’t consider him to be serious when they discuss his acting so they don’t bother interrogating his decisions when it comes to which films he’s in.
But Timberlake has rebranded himself as introspective on his latest album Man of the Woods and he’s co-opting the Time’s Up movement, so it’s odd that no one has bothered going deep on his motivations. He’s always carefully existed as a happy-go-lucky white boy who can maneuver in and out of black spaces, but now that he’s attempting to navigate Hollywood, he’s finally being called out. The question is whether anyone else will care or if he’ll be allowed to do his Super Bowl performance and stage a comeback and just ignore all of the controversy surrounding him.
It worked for Taylor Swift, I guess.