Beyond his abysmal treatment of Spears following their highly publicized breakup in 2002, fans have also been looking back at his silence in the wake of Jackson and Timberlake’s controversial 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performance. During their act Timberlake ripped off a part of Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast. This was partially planned: Timberlake was meant to rip off part of her top, revealing another layer underneath. Unfortunately, he removed the entire thing.
If you don’t remember, this was a huge deal and Jackson took on almost all of the responsibility. She was forced to apologize for an error that wasn’t her own, was disinvited to the Grammys, and blacklisted by most of the music industry. While Timberlake was the one who did the ripping, he received very little backlash for his role in the blunder, performed at the Grammys the following week, and eventually was given his own halftime show spot in 2018.
Janet Jackson gave one official television interview on the subject to Winfrey in 2006—two full years later—and what she had to say proves just why Timberlake owed her a public apology a long time ago.
After Jackson explained why she regretted apologizing for the incident (you know, because she didn’t do anything), Winfrey straight up asked the pop sensation whether she felt that Justin Timberlake left her hanging.
“All the emphasis was put on me. Not on Justin,” she said, seemingly trying to stay as diplomatic as possible. “Justin…We were friends. And not that we, we aren’t…we haven’t spoken, but I consider him a friend, and I’m very loyal, and friendship is very important.”
Winfrey pointed to Timberlake’s 2006 interview—remember, this was two years after the wardrobe malfunction—where he took on some of the responsibility. “If you consider it 50-50, then I probably got 10 percent of the blame,” Timberlake admitted to MTV at the time. “I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people.” (Even his choice of words here—“ethnic people”—reveals Timberlake’s ignorance.)
Jackson’s hurt expression seemed to say it all…too little too late. “I think they did put all the emphasis on me. And as opposed to us,” she said. “I have to say just to let people know that Justin has reached out—we haven’t spoken, but he has reached out to speak with me—and, like I said, friendship is very important to me and certain things you just don’t do to friends. In my own time, I’ll give him a call.”
When pressed on what she meant, Jackson said that she heard “certain things were said” by Timberlake during the “whole fiasco” and she felt he left her hanging “to a certain degree.”
One of those moments Jackson might have recalled was when he joked about the incident in the midst of the backlash. “Hey man, we love giving y’all something to talk about,” Timberlake told Access Hollywood. It didn’t seem to bother him at the time that many people were, in fact, accusing Jackson of planning the entire thing.
So yeah, Justin Timberlake owed Janet Jackson an apology. It’s a shame it came 17 years too late.