Twenty years ago Thursday, the term “wardrobe malfunction” entered the chat: Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson‘s top during their Super Bowl halftime performance of “Rock Your Body,” exposing her bare breast to 150 million viewers.
Some fans are still furious that Justin emerged unscathed from “Nipplegate,” while Janet was vilified and her career damaged. But should they be? Here’s a timeline of what went down.
On February 1, Justin, Janet and MTV, which produced the show, all apologized for the incident. The FCC launched an investigation on February 3 after receiving more than 500,000 complaints and ended up fining CBS $550,000 for airing the incident.
Allegedly urged on by the then-CEO head of CBS, Janet’s music was subsequently blacklisted by some radio and TV stations. In her 2022 Lifetime documentary, Janet said Justin did offer to speak out on her behalf, but she told him not to.
On February 8, 2004, Justin and Janet were invited to attend the Grammy Awards on the condition that they make an on-air apology. CBS said that Janet declined but Justin agreed. That night, Justin won two Grammys and said, “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys are offended.”
In March of 2004, Janet released her album Damita Jo; it was one of the lowest-selling albums of her career.
In 2005, YouTube launched, with its creators saying they were partially inspired by Nipplegate to create a platform where people could watch moments that they had missed.
In 2006, Janet explained on The Oprah Winfrey Show that Justin was supposed to rip off part of her top, but “more came off than what was supposed to.” In 2021, Janet’s stylist claimed the stunt was Justin’s idea, because he wanted to upstage his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears‘ Madonna-kissing antics on the 2003 VMAs.
In 2018, Justin was invited to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. To date, Janet never has been. In her Lifetime documentary, Janet said Justin asked her to perform with him in 2018, but she declined.
In 2021, Justin issued an apology to Janet, in which he admitted that he’d “benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”
Janet’s 2022 Lifetime documentary included a video that Janet filmed for fans, in which she tells them to stop trashing Justin. “Of course, it was an accident that should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame and that’s got to stop,” she said. “Justin and I are very good friends and we will always be very good friends … he and I have moved on, and it is time for everyone else to do the same.”
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