What Happened Between Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson During Their 2004 Super Bowl Performance?

A memorable performance. While many Super Bowls have showcased entertaining and jaw-dropping halftime concerts, few have spurred as much discussion as Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s joint effort at the Super Bowl XXXVIII.

During the February 2004 number, the two music stars performed chart-topping hits for the enthusiastic crowd until the now-infamous wardrobe malfunction occurred. At the time, the former ‘NSync crooner ripped off a piece of the “Rhythm Nation” songstress’ costume, revealing her mostly uncovered breast. Since the athletic event is seen by millions each year, broadcasters were notably upset, leading to a lengthy investigation and censorship changes.

Shortly after the wardrobe malfunction occurred, both musicians were shocked during the broadcast before the televised gig cut to commercial. However, days later, fans and critics alike speculated what really happened and who was actually to blame.

“The tearing of Janet Jackson’s costume was unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance,” MTV wrote in a February 2004 statement. “MTV regrets this incident occurred and we apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”

Jackson, for her part, opened up in her own statement one day later.

 

“The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals,” the Indiana native said at the time. “MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”

Years later, following the success of their The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears documentary discussing Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle, its filmmakers dove into the Super Bowl scandal next with Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson.

“In 2004, a culture war was brewing when the Super Bowl halftime show audience saw a white man expose a Black woman’s breast for 9/16ths of a second. A national furor ensued,”  a press release for the documentary read. “‘If the culture wars could have a 9/11, it’s February 1st, 2004,’ said one observer. The woman was Janet Jackson, and her career was never the same. The man was Justin Timberlake; his stardom only grew.”

The program aimed to chronicle the 2004 incident, noting how the Poetic Justice star’s career never fully recovered whereas the Tennessee native’s continued to flourish, as well as touching on the racial and cultural implications of the event. The filmmakers weaved together rare footage from the time and interviews with executives from both the NFL and MTV to break down the now-infamous event.

Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson airs on FX and Hulu on Friday, November 19.

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