Janet Jackson won’t be appearing alongside Justin Timberlake during the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday. The singer confirmed she wouldn’t join in a tweet on Saturday. “To put to rest any speculation or rumors as to whether I will be performing at the Super Bowl tomorrow; I will not,” she wrote. “Thank you for your support and I do look forward to seeing you all very soon.”
Jackson and Timberlake performed together at the 2004 Super Bowl, during which the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” occurred. Their performance, which also included P. Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock, ended with Timberlake ripping off a piece of Jackson’s costume to coincide with the lyric “have you naked by the end of this song”; in the process, Jackson’s right breast was revealed on live television, her nipple adorned with a sun-shaped ring.
The Federal Communications Commission fined Jackson and CBS — which aired the game — $550,000 (a court eventually ruled the fine was wrongly imposed), and Jackson’s career was damaged. Timberlake’s wasn’t.
Timberlake’s selection to perform at Super Bowl 52 has stirred controversy and renewed questions about how the incident was handled. As Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos recently noted, Viacom, the parent company of MTV, which produced the 2004 show, blamed Jackson: They punitively blacklisted her music videos from airing and her songs from playing on their radio stations. CBS rescinded Jackson’s invitation to present at the Grammys, and she was reportedly pressured into skipping the ceremony. Timberlake, on the other hand, attended and won two awards.
And Timberlake largely left Jackson out to dry in the immediate aftermath, offering up some laughing apologies and during his Grammys acceptance speech calling the incident “unintentional” and “completely regrettable” and apologizing “if you guys were offended.” It wasn’t until three years later that the singer really acknowledged that he got off lightly. “In my honest opinion now ... I could’ve handled it better,” Timberlake told MTV in 2007. “I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society. I think that America’s harsher on women … And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”
As Vox’s Constance Grady recently wrote, America is unfairly harsh on women and “ethnic people” in a way that it is typically not harsh on straight white men:
America loves to police the bodies and the sexualities of women of color — so when Timberlake reminded us all that Janet Jackson, a black woman, not only had a body but also had secondary sex characteristics, the media pounced on her. But Timberlake’s uncontroversial white male hand, the hand that actively disrobed Jackson, went unremarked-on and unpunished.
That doesn’t mean Jackson’s career has been railroaded; she’s still a cultural icon (and just concluded her State of the World tour in December). But it is worth noting that it’s Timberlake out there promoting his Super Bowl performance right now.
In an interview with Beats 1 Radio in January, Timberlake said he has “absolutely” made peace with Jackson. “I had my wires crossed and it’s just something that you have to look back on and go like, okay, well you know, you can’t change what’s happened but you can move forward and learn from it,” Timberlake said. Jackson’s father, Joseph Jackson, however, told the New York Post he still hasn’t moved past the 2004 incident. “If [Timberlake’s] such a gentleman, he’d make sure Janet is there,” he said.