Seventeen years after the highly controversial half-time wardrobe malfunction between Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson during the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII, one thing is for sure.
It’s still a hot topic.
Timberlake, who was lead vocalist with US boy band NSYNC and aged just 23, was at the end of his set singing Rock Your Body when he tore off part of Jackson’s black “rubber bustier”, exposing her right breast to 140 million viewers worldwide.
Once the outrage and confusion over whether it was intentional or a mismanaged stage act gone wrong settled, either way, Timberlake’s career skyrocketed while Janet Jackson got hit hard, both professionally and personally, with the incident still referred to as ‘Nipplegate’ and the phrase ‘wardrobe malfunction’ instantly becoming part of pop culture.
Now, the next film from the award-winning series The New York Times Presents (Framing Britney Spears), Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson, will premiere later this month.
It will examine not how the accident happened, but why it turned into a “career-crashing scandal for Jackson, and Jackson alone”.
“Jackson was blacklisted from radio and her career momentarily derailed following the incident. Timberlake … faced no repercussions, and even returned to the Super Bowl half-time show as a solo artist,” observed Rolling Stone magazine.
According to Deadline, the film “will examine the racial and cultural currents that collided on the Super Bowl stage … and how the incident impacted one of the most successful pop musicians in history”.
It will show rare footage and interviews with people who were there on that night in Houston, and handling the controls, including NFL and MTV executives “to reconstruct an incident that shook the country and explain how it shaped culture in the decades to follow”.
“With new reporting by The Times, as well as insights from music industry insiders, cultural critics and members of the Jackson family, the film illuminates the fallout, and CBS boss Les Moonves’s role in it,” Deadline reported this week.
Malfunction comes as Jackson will release her visual memoir in January, a four-hour documentary titled Janet, which Rolling Stone says promises fans an “intimate, honest and unfiltered look at one of the greatest all-around entertainers of the last 40 years”.
Produced by Jackson, she will address the wardrobe malfunction in her own words.
Both Timberlake and Jackson issued various statements in the days and weeks after the incident, and with more than 540,000 complaints to the Federal Communications Commission, an investigation was launched.
“The FCC probe will encompass the entire half-time program – including the brief exposure of singer Janet Jackson’s breast and the sexualised dance routine precipitating it – to determine if it violates indecency standards set in law and enforced by the FCC,” the Washington Post reported at the time.
Jackson apologised, saying she didn’t intend for the stunt to go as far as it did, with MTV reporting it had no knowledge of the incident prior.
Timberlake also apologised, but he went on to secure a gig at the Grammys, winning two awards, while the pressure on Jackson meant she bowed out of that year’s ceremony.
“What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable and I apologise if you guys are offended,” he said on the night, according to Insider.
Responding to Variety‘s Instagram post of the documentary, it’s clear the incident still resonates across the music and entertainment world.
One reader said: “JT is still a little Nsync’r while Janet will always be Music Royalty”.
“JT completely threw Janet under the bus … because he knew he could!!! He yanked her clothes apart, but of course, it was her fault”.
Another wrote: “This wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction, it was a planned shock moment. But then people started to freak out and fingers were pointed. Oh, and as usual the white guy walked away unscathed and the woman of colour was blamed.
“Then punished by prudish conservative values.”
However, others said it was “all planned” and “why would Janet be wearing an intricate nipple star if it was not intended to be seen”.
“It was 100 per cent planned. Even further, you can see the shock on JT’s face when the whole breast is revealed. I would put my money on yes it was part of the choreography and there was going to be a non-nude reveal, but Janet’s camp opted last minute to go one step further for a shock moment.”
Timberlake again apologised to Jackson after the release of Framing Britney Spears, where he faced criticism for his treatment of Spears following their break up in 2002.
“I specifically want to apologise to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed.”
Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson will stream on FX and Hulu in the US from November 19 and in Australia shortly after