This Is The Story Behind Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl ‘Wardrobe Malfunction’

The singer says she told Justin Timberlake not to say anything after he exposed her breast on stage in 2004.

Janet Jackson Justin Timberlake

by Lydia Spencer-Elliott |
Updated on

When Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s top and exposed her breast during her Super Bowl halftime performance that was aired live to millions in 2004, the world was shocked.

‘Gonna have you naked by the end of this song,’ went the final line of Timberlake’s Rock Your Body as he reached across and tore off the cup from Jackson’s PVC bustier before the lights faded to black.

Jackson’s face clouded the moment her breast (partly covered by a sunburst nipple shield) was exposed for nine-sixteenths of a second at the end of the routine. She quickly clutched to conceal her body with her hand and began crying immediately after the set was over, according to her brother Rebbie, who has spoken of the incident in the new Lifetime documentary: Janet.

After the performance, Jackson was vilified by the world’s media while Timberlake went unscathed. When Jackson was disinvited from the Grammy’s, Justin was nominated five times and scheduled to perform - Jackson’s boyfriend and member of the Grammy’s board, Jermaine Dupri resigned in protest to the injustice.

In a statement made days after what was subsequently known as ‘Nipplegate’ Jackson’s management said: ‘Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra. The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed.’

Meanwhile, MTV responded with a contradictory statement saying: ‘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.’ Jackson’s brother Tito reinforces this version of events in the new documentary.

It was an accident that should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame and that’s got to stop

Speaking in her Lifetime documentary eighteen years later, Janet has explained that she avoided seeing the backlash that came in response to the alleged wardrobe malfunction and noted it was even harder to deal with because it happened during her brother Michael’s sexual abuse trial.

‘Honestly, this whole thing was blown way out of proportion,’ the singer said. ‘And of course, it was an accident that should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame and that’s got to stop.’

Jackson also explained that she and Timberlake had ‘moved on’ from the Superbowl show and said she think that ‘it’s time for everyone else to do the same’.

During a conversation with her brother Randy in the documentary, Jackson reveals she told Timberlake not to say anything about the performance. ‘We talked once and [Justin] said, ‘I don’t know if I should come out and make a statement,”’ she explained. ‘I said, “Listen, I don’t want any drama for you. They’re aiming all of this at me… If I were you I wouldn’t do anything.’”

Even though it was Timberlake’s actions that caused the controversy, Jackson took the fall. The most Timberlake ever said on the matter when it happened was ‘Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about,’ to Access Hollywood{ =nofollow}.

Later, when asked about the performance by MTV when he was releasing his next album Timberlake claimed: ‘In my honest opinion now, I could’ve handled it better…And if there was something I could have done in her defence…I would have.

‘But the other half of me was like, “Wow. We still haven’t found the weapons of mass-destruction, and everybody cares about this!” I probably got ten per cent 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.’

Meanwhile, Jackson (under the pressure of ridicule) released a written statement and an apology video: ‘The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals,’ she said. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologise to anyone offended – including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.’

Although Jackson alleviated Timberlake of any guilt for not defending her or sharing the burden of judgement with her, it would have been decent for him to have come out and shown his support for a woman of colour who was harshly critiqued for something she didn’t do but instead was done to her.

When Jackson went on to release her next album Damita Jo, it flopped. She was blacklisted by Clear Channel Communications, which then owned MTV, CBS Radio and various other stations because of the incident and this made it near impossible for her to promote any of her new material. She was dropped from a film with ABC. Even Disney World took down a statue of Mickey Mouse wearing a Janet Jackson T-shirt. She was completely, unjustifiably, disgraced.

Jackson reveals in the Janet documentary that Timberlake later asked her to perform with him as part of his Super Bowl halftime show in 2018. But Jackson refused, stating she didn’t want to relive the ordeal and referenced her ‘history’ with CBS.

Despite Jackson affirming in the documentary that she and Timberlake have ‘moved on’, retrospective judgement did come for him after The New York Times released their documentary Malfunction: The Dressing Down Of Janet Jackson in 2021.

Timberlake was then subject to further backlash from the public after the NYT’s Framing Britney documentary aired three months later. ‘I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right,’ Timberlake finally said in a statement written in his Notes app last year.

‘I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism. 'I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed,’ he said.

The treatment Jackson faced because of her breast being exposed at the Super Bowl was disproportionate and discriminatory. She was blacklisted from radio stations and film sets because of (what she maintains) was an accident—it was a stunt gone wrong.

While the world first blamed her, and retrospectively blamed Timberlake, it should now blame nobody if that’s what Jackson wants. She should be afforded the liberty to move on and be recognised for her decades of achievements rather than nine-sixteenths of a second of her Super Bowl half time show.

READ MORE: Clips From Framing Britney Spears Tell Us Everything About How We Used To Treat Mental Health

Michael Jackson's Relatives Are Reportedly Angry At Janet Jackson Not Speaking Out About Leaving Neverland

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us