Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl Scandal: A Full Timeline
Arguably no halftime show has ever been as memorable as Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake‘s February 2004 performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The show was a relatively standard halftime concert until the final moment when the “Mirrors” singer ripped off part of Jackson’s costume, revealing her mostly uncovered right breast. Seen by more than 150 million viewers, the incident led to years of backlash and inspired a new wave of censorship across all forms of media.
On the night of the performance, both Jackson and Timberlake reacted with surprise before the broadcast cut to commercial. In the days following the game, however, there were many conflicting reports about whether the reveal was really an accident. At the time, the Poetic Justice star took most of the public blame, but some fans have always wondered why she shouldered the responsibility when so many other people were involved in producing the show.
Regardless of who or what caused the “wardrobe malfunction” — a now-common term that was actually coined in the wake of the scandal — the consequences were immediate. The Federal Communications Commission fined CBS a record $550,000 for the incident, and some networks and radio stations temporarily blacklisted Jackson’s music. (The fine was later voided by the U.S. Court of Appeals.)
The performance was so frequently searched for online that Jawed Karim, cofounder of YouTube, later said it inspired him to create the now-ubiquitous video-sharing service. Some observers even suggested that the entire incident was a conspiracy to distract Americans from the ongoing Iraq War, which had started one year prior.
The Super Bowl has since hosted many iconic performers, but the 2004 scandal (eventually known as Nipplegate) has never completely diminished from view. When the “Rock Your Body” singer headlined the show by himself in 2018, some critics and commentators felt that the opportunity should have gone to Jackson, whose career took a serious hit in the aftermath of the incident.
In November 2021, the filmmakers behind the “Framing Britney Spears” episode of FX’s The New York Times Presents sought to correct the record with a new installment of the show titled “Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson.”
Featuring interviews with NFL and MTV executives who were present at the infamous game, the episode set out to explore the very different ways Jackson and Timberlake’s careers were affected by their involvement.
“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 stated. “’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.”
Keep scrolling for a complete timeline of the incident:
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