'Nipplegate' controversy at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show

'Nipplegate' controversy at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show

A singular event occurred during the halftime show of the Super Bowl on February 1, 2004. While performing a duet with Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake briefly exposed one of her breasts in what was later described as a "wardrobe malfunction." The performance was airing live all around the world—an estimated 143.6 million people tuned in for all or some of the broadcast —and coincided with the rise of digital video recording and internet technology, as well as a national discussion about technology's impact on children. As such, "Nipplegate" became one of the most-viewed, most-searched-for, and most-talked-about moments in the history of the internet.

Jackson and Timberlake, along with Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock, performed a lavishly-produced medley of songs. Halftime shows were traditionally conservative affairs, featuring marching bands and family-friendly music, but this changed in the 1990s. Jackson’s brother, the iconic pop star Michael Jackson, had played the halftime show in 1993, proving to the NFL and television executives that high-powered pop performances could dramatically increase ratings and ad revenue.

During the final song, “Rock Your Body,” Timberlake and Jackson danced suggestively. They claimed that the show was supposed to culminate in Timberlake ripping off Jackson’s bodice to reveal her red lace bra as he sang the final line, which included the lyric, “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.” Instead, the bra fell away with the rest of the bustier, and the prophecy of the lyrics was fulfilled.

Jackson immediately moved to cover herself up, and CBS immediately cut away; her breast was exposed on television for less than a second. Many speculated, and continue to assert, that either Timberlake, Timberlake and Jackson acting together, or the event’s producers themselves had exposed her breast on purpose as a publicity stunt.

The Federal Communications Commission received 540,000 complaints about the incident, 65,000 of which came from a single organization, the Parents Television Council. Coming as it did at a time when the right-wing “family values” movement was still a major presence in American culture, and amid a growing paranoia that the internet and mass media were exposing children to inappropriate content, “Nipplegate” caused a sensation that lasted months. Viacom, CBS’ parent company, received the maximum fine the FCC could issue for such offenses, and paid $3.5 million to settle indecency complaints about the broadcast.

Nipplegate at 10: How Justin Won Superbowl XXXVIII, and How Janet Lost

Even Michael Powell thinks Nipplegate was overblown, now.

Powell, the FCC chairman who most vocally opposed Janet Jackson and her breast, recently told ESPN Magazine:

I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on. Part of it was surreal, right? Look, I think it was dumb to happen, and they knew the rules and were flirting with them, and my job is to enforce the rules, but, you know, really? This is what we're gonna do. I personally thought that was really unfair. It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it's Justin [Timberlake] ripping off her breastplate.

You don't actually have to slow the video down to see that. No one who was watching the show live needed endless replays on YouTube (which, inspired by the ordeal, would come into existence a few months later).

No one was ever under the illusion that the material covering Jackson's right breast just flew off unassisted.

No, we know exactly how it happened: At the end of their live duet of Timberlake's "Rock Your Body," the finale of the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, the former 'N Sync member sang, "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song," reached over, and pulled off the plate-and-lace combo covering Jackson's right breast. She whipped her head back and then down, and inched her hands up toward her exposed boob (clad only in a sun-shaped piece of nipple jewelry). It was a shocked expression of theatrical proportions.

The condemnations came swiftly and loudly. Powell made the media rounds (including network morning shows) and called the nipple reveal "a classless, crass and deplorable stunt" and "a new low for prime time television." "I personally was offended by the entire production," he said on Good Morning America—sounding very different from the man who told ESPN Magazine that Nipplegate was "the last great moment" of a TV-as-national-controversy.

But that's easy to say with a decade's remove. "She probably got what she was looking for," he told CNN at the time, sounding like a real creep. She didn't, though. Her next album flopped, and she's all but disappeared from glossy magazines and MTV, while Timberlake is still winning Grammys and Michael Powell is presenting a revisionist history of the event to ESPN Magazine.

But how? How did this happen? How did the superstar scion of one of America's most recognizable families come completely undone in 9/16ths of a second, while the boy-band refugee became one of music's biggest stars? How did Janet lose the Super Bowl, and how did Justin win?

Cry Me a River: The Timberlake Stories

Powell is right about one thing: It was unfair. Jackson bore the brunt of the blame, while Timberlake weaseled out of accountability. As early as February 4, 2004—three days after the Super Bowl—People was referring to Timberlake as "the teflon man" (keep in mind this all happened over two years before his quadruple platinum magnum opus FutureSex/LoveSounds). Jackson was effectively barred from the Grammys, which took place a week after the Super Bowl and were broadcast on the same network, CBS.

According to People, Jackson was being pressured to bow out of the music awards ceremony or risk being disinvited she was initially supposed to be an award presenter, but that offer was revoked. Meanwhile, Timberlake showed up, won two awards (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album), and during an acceptance speech, made amends over the horrible incident that had happened one week prior:

"Listen, I know it's been a rough week on everybody," he said, his earnestness breaking when the audience responded with laughter to his melodrama. "What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended."

This was, though, just the most recent version of the story, which would change several times through the years, starting with Timberlake's drastically different reaction on Access Hollywood recorded the night of the Super Bowl. I couldn't find footage of this online, but there's a transcript in Frederick S. Lane's book The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture:

He cheerfully described the show for co-hosts Pat Oɻrien and Nancy O⟞ll: "It was fun. It was quick, slick, to the point."

"You guys were getting pretty hot and steamy up there," Oɻrien pointed out to Timberlake.

"Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about," Timberlake laughed.

By 11:47 pm that night, Timberlake's tone had shifted: "I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl," he said. "It was not intentional and is regrettable."

A few more days later, in an interview with Los Angeles' KCBS that was also broadcast on Entertainment Tonight, Timberlake described himself as "shocked and appalled."

At what, though? The answer should have been himself, if we're taking his narrative at face value.

Jackson's spokesman, Stephen Huvane, told the New York Times that "Timberlake was supposed to 'peel away' Jackson's rubber bustier 'to reveal a red lace bra. but the garment collapsed.'" Timberlake's mention of a wardrobe malfunction seemed to corroborate this story. If we believe it, Timberlake's hand was the one that set the malfunction in motion.

Of course, none of that makes sense. Imagine what the finale would have looked like with one boob hanging out in red lace, slightly less covered than the other. And I don't know what a "collapse" in that patent leather action-figure armor would look like, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't look like Justin Timberlake reaching over to snatch the material covering Janet Jackson's right breast.

I think it's pretty clear that what happened was exactly what was supposed to happen, and it was only the negative crowd reaction that sent those involved scrambling to revise.

It didn't take long for Timberlake to show his hand, as he did in the aforementioned KCBS interview:

The fact of the matter is, I've had a good year, a really good year, especially with my music, even me personally. I don't feel like I need publicity like this. And I wouldn't want to be involved with a stunt, especially of this magnitude. I immediately looked at her, they brought a towel up onstage, I immediately covered her up. I was completely embarrassed, just walked off the stage as quick as I could.

That's pure careerism: Slimy, but good for business. Three years later, the discrepancies between his stories still being ignored, he managed to paint himself as a regretful nice guy, placing blame on the feet of "society." Once again, Timberlake shifted the narrative to his advantage:

In my honest opinion now … I could've handled it better. I'm part of a community that consider themselves artists. And if there was something I could have done in her defense that was more than I realized then, 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 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.

Great call. Way to strike a blow against America's unfair treatment of "ethnic people," instead of, you know, using it to your advantage.

This is his standard take on the situation, now: "I wish I had supported Janet more. I am not sorry I apologized, but I wish I had been there more for Janet," he said in 2009. What a guy.

Control: Janet's Story

Like most of the work credited to Janet Jackson, the halftime show wouldn't have been possible without a team of producers, musicians, backup singers, managers, marketers, publicists, trainers, makeup artists, etc., or Timblerlake himself. But while Jackson was the show's headliner, it's hard to conceive a scenario in which Timberlake would have been forced to do anything he wasn't OK with as a media-trained performer (since 1993!) with his own brand to maintain.

As with any superstar, Janet Jackson was the face of the Janet Jackson industry. When Janet Jackson achieves a hit record, it's rare that anyone else who assisted in that hit gets name-checked in casual or written discourse. You don't say, "Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, her A&R guy, her engineer, and everyone else behind the scenes and in the studio went to No. 1." You say, "Janet Jackson went to No. 1." The Super Bowl incident was just the flip side to this disproportionate credit bestowal: Jackson was almost unanimously blamed for Nipplegate.

And, like a star, she took the blame. Publicly at least. Immediately after the show, Jackson issued a video apology. (Wikipedia says she was "forced" to do so by CBS, and the video that's on YouTube does have a CBS logo preceding it, but I've found no information supporting that.)

"My decision to change the Super Bowl performance was actually made after the final rehearsal. MTV, CBS, the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention."

You can imagine how easy it would have been to coerce Jackson into not just apologizing but taking all of the blame, as she does in her 25-second statement when she starts by labeling this "my decision." MTV, which produced the show, and CBS, which broadcast the Super Bowl, were both under the Viacom corporate umbrella all it would have taken was one threat to pull her from all of its networks.

In any event, both channels and the NFL distanced themselves immediately, disavowing any culpability. Judy McGrath, president of MTV networks, went as far as to call the incident "a renegade mistake by a performer." You know which one she meant, and it wasn't the active party. (That kind of blame contradicted the "wardrobe malfunction" story and almost always pointed at Jackson and only Jackson.)

"We are angry and embarrassed that this happened during our superb broadcast and have apologized to our viewers," said CBS CEO Les Moonves.

Mel Karmazin, president of Viacom, claimed to be "shocked and appalled and embarrassed" by the halftime show.

Tom Freston, chairman of MTV Networks, said, "We were really ripped off. We were punkɽ by Janet Jackson."

Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the NFL, said, "The show was offensive, inappropriate and embarrassing to us and our fans."

Unlike Timberlake or Powell, or any of the men that can look back and laugh or sigh and only seem more likable for it, Jackson remained consistent. She returned to CBS in March to promote her Damita Jo album on Late Night with David Letterman. She squirmed through 10 minutes of grilling from Letterman without delivering any substantial answers. Nipplegate was a mistake, embarrassing, not a stunt, and that's about all she had to say about that.

It's hard not to see Letterman's point. The most complete version of the story, the one about the lace bra and the wardrobe collapse, was flimsier than Jackson's costume was made out to be. These questions were uncomfortable but not impossible. And yet they were never sufficiently answered. Not on Letterman, and not a few days later when Diane Sawyer put Jackson through a similar grilling between Good Morning America performances while her gathered fans chanted "Get over it!"

"I've moved on from it," said Jackson, thinking wishfully. "I don't really don't want to talk about it ever again."

Nor did Jackson give much of a clearer picture of how the supposed accident happened in 2006 when she sat down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss Nipplegate for "the first and last time," according to a misinformed Winfrey.

To Winfrey, though, Jackson called the controversy "absurd," agreed that Timberlake left her hanging "to a certain degree," and said that she regretted apologizing. (If any time called for a "I'm sorry if you were offended" non-apology, certainly it was the time a woman was vilified for showing a bunch of drunk football fans what many of them wanted to see anyway.)

"It was an accident," she explained to Winfrey. "Management that I had at the time, they thought it was important that I did it, with a project coming out. I had said before I sat down to record the apology. 'Why am I apologizing?'… They wanted me to say that, so I did."

She also agreed that the furor over a breast was hypocritical "to a certain degree," citing how permissible violence on television is. She expressed similar sentiment to Blender, in a feature that ran in the magazine's June/July 2004 issue: "[It's] is hypocritical, with everything you see on TV. There are more important things to focus on than a woman's body part, which is a beautiful thing. There's war, famine, homelessness, AIDS."

She also suggested that she had been a pawn, a way to divert attention from real issues, and that it was no coincidence that this all went down in an election year.

And that's it. If Nipplegate offered Jackson any opportunities, it was to make explicit the politics implicit in the sexual expression that had taken over her career starting with 1993's janet. album.

This was a woman who, on her Damita Jo album (released less than two months after the Super Bowl) said, "Relax, it's just sex," and sang with a dick in her mouth (at least, that's what she implied to me) during the slow jam "Warmth." She had the platform, and the ability, to expose the real sexual hypocrisy of the controversy (how different was a jiggling Jackson from the football staple of jiggling cheerleaders?), the ludicrousness of the corporate and personal attitudes on display.

I don't know if it would have helped her career, but given her platform, she could have really said something. Instead she chose a path of quiet deference, an unwillingness to renege on her original story, reminding us in a new way that she is a consummate performer, one of the greatest of her generation.

And On and On: The Aftermath

YouTube was not the only direct result of Nipplegate. The incident was heralded as "the most replayed event" of all time by TiVo and brought 35,000 new subscribers to the service. "Janet Jackson" became the most-searched person of 2004, even as her career was imploding. The term "wardrobe malfunction" immediately entered the popular American English lexicon, and entered the Chambers English Dictionary in 2008.

America suddenly became a more dangerous place for public sexual expression. Broadcasters began regulating themselves even before the FCC raised indecency fines tenfold, up to $325,000, in 2006 (a result of what the Washington Post described as a "culture clash among lawmakers, regulators, broadcasters, interest groups, lawyers and ordinary consumers" that began two weeks before it found a catalyst in Nipplegate).

CBS imposed several seconds of a delay on the following week's Grammy Awards ceremony. A promised orgy scene on America's Next Top Model was censored. ER and Without a Trace were scrubbed of stray shots of nudity. NYPD Blue, a show that existed to push boundaries, was scrutinized. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was canceled that year. (The chief marketing officer lied and said it wasn't because of the Super Bowl.) The FCC fined Clear Channel $495,000 for Howard Stern's then-terrestrial radio show. The conglomerate dumped him, paving the way for his Sirius show, which has been not just a personal victory but one for the medium of satellite radio.

The Super Bowl halftime show itself became more conservative. Paul McCartney headlined in 2005, then the Rolling Stones the following year. Prince was the star performer of the Super Bowl XLI halftime show, but that was in 2007, after heɽ renounced all of that filthy sex-talking heɽ done in the past. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and the Who all followed, respectively. It wasn't until 2011 that a woman was even allowed to be a featured performer on that stage—it was Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, who headlined the Super Bowl XLV halftime show. Finally in 2012, a woman who repeatedly reveled in her ability to rile up crowds with her sexuality, Madonna, took the halftime stage. But it was the rogue middle finger of one of her guests, M.I.A., that caused the biggest fuss. Another year, another woman of color's dangerous body part.

In 2004, the FCC fined CBS $550,000 for unwittingly (or whatever) broadcasting Janet Jackson's bared breast, but that was ultimately voided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 ruling. The fear of FCC condemnation has waned over the years, thanks in part to the growing influence of cable television, over which the FCC has virtually no jurisdiction.

That's the Way Love Goes: The Death of Janet Jackson's Career

Given the FCC's waning power—and leaving YouTube aside—Nipplegate's most profound effect was on Jackson's career. Looking back, it seems to have destroyed whatever was left of Jackson's commercial value at the time.

Jackson was once the sort of artist who could release seven commercial singles off one album—all of them from six-time platinum Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 went Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Five out of six commercially released singles from the album that preceded that one, 1986's Control, went Top 10. The six commercially released from the album that followed Rhythm Nation, the six-time platinum janet., went Top 10. Jackson had hit after hit after hit after hit after. She signed a $40 million contract with Virgin in 1991, making her the highest paid musical act at the time. In 1996, she renewed that contract for $80 million.

In the late ➐s, she faltered a bit—her sixth studio album, 1997's The Velvet Rope, was a critical success and remains a fan favorite but spawned only two bona fide hits, "Together Again" and "I Get Lonely." The No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 wasn't elusive—she hit it in 1998 with "Together Again," again in 2000 with "Doesn't Really Matter," and again in 2001 with the title track of her seventh studio album, All for You. It was just harder to achieve. All for You, too, signaled a shakeup in Jackson's creative team, as her secret husband of eight years, René Elizondo, Jr., filed for divorce in 2000. Elizondo claimed that he co-wrote 37 songs with Jackson, starting on 1989's Rhythm Nation 1814. If that's true, her music was bound to change post-Elizondo.

So was the pop-music landscape changing. In the early ✀s, established divas whose personal brands relied on virtuosic talent, superhuman charisma, or a combination of both had been pushed to the side in favor of a new crop of competent (at times barely so) singers with blank personae: Jennifer Lopez, Ashanti, and Ciara among them. Veteran female solo started flopping left and right: Mariah Carey's Glitter and Charmbracelet, Whitney Houston's Just Whitney, Madonna's American Life, and Toni Braxton's More Than a Woman all sold fractions of releases that preceded them and barely spawned a hit among them. (The biggest was Glitter's lead single, "Loverboy," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, largely due to sales of a budget-priced single, and fell from the Billboard Top 10 after three weeks). Mary J. Blige, whose career was rooted in the youthful sound of hip-hop, was the exception of a diva whoɽ been around for a while but showed no signs of stopping—she had the biggest hit of her career with 2001's "Family Affair."

Maybe it was just Jackson's turn to flop, Nipplegate or no Nipplegate. While the 540,000 complaints the FCC received as a result of Jackson's boob is a massive number, it is but a fraction of the estimated 90 million people who were watching at the time—0.6 percent. It's possible that old-school-style Janet greatness could have won back an apathetic or even slightly soured crowd. While not without its highlights, Jackson's next album was merely good.

Jackson released Damita Jo on March 22, 2004, and the set sold a respectable 381,000 its first week in U.S. stores. It went on to sell over a million copies in the U.S.—a third of what 2001's All for You moved. The former Billboard Hot 100 Midas failed to produce a Top 40 single this time, though, and the album quickly faded from public consciousness.

Virtually every Wikipedia article regarding Jackson post-Super Bowl cites a "blackout" as the cause of her chart failings. There's little evidence of this, though, save an anonymous quote from the aforementioned Blender article:

"MTV is absolutely bailing on the record," a senior Viacom executive told Blender. "The pressure is so great, they can't align with anything related to Janet. The higher-ups are still pissed at her, and this is a punitive measure."

"We didn't pull our support," responds Judy McGrath, MTV Networks Group president. "The video didn't seem to connect with our audience. If there was demand for it, it would be on TRL."

McGrath was referring to the set's lush second single, "I Want You," which was produced by Kanye West, back when he used to help women craft lovely R&B songs with equally keen senses of retroism and hip-hop currency. It's impossible to be sure, but the song sounds like something that would have been successful for Jackson given another set of circumstances, as does the similarly underperforming followup single, "All Nite (Don't Stop)."

It only got worse for Jackson commercially. 20 Y.O., released in 2006, sold in the U.S. about two thirds of what Damita Jo did (655,000). 2008's Discipline didn't even go gold. Jackson would never again hit Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100—the closest she came was with Discipline's lead single "Feedback," which briefly peaked at No. 19.

Mostly, her music has lived on through others—Plies' "Bust It Baby" and Kendrick Lamar's "Poetic Justice" heavily sampled vintage Jackson hits ("Come Back to Me" and "Anytime, Anyplace," respectively) and are the highest profile songs Jackson has been attached to in recent years.

Jackson released Discipline on Def Jam, having jumped ship from Virgin, whom she blamed for her anemic sales:

They kind of just lost touch. To only have support of the urban department and for (those two albums) to sell what they did, there's a lot to say for that. (At Island) they all come together, and one department knows what the other department is doing. You need that to really move forward. It's teamwork, and that's what Virgin lost.

To support that album, she launched the Rock Witchu Tour. Jackson played smaller venues than on previous tours, when she played at all—she canceled several dates, alternately blaming severe vertigo and the financial crisis.

Jackson's biggest commercial successes in the decade following Nipplegate came via starring in Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too? She also appeared in Perry's For Colored Girls, in which her powerbitch character is ultimately punished by contracting HIV.

In 2010, after releasing two post-Discipline singles that did very little except in niche markets, her ex-boyfriend and collaborator Jermaine Dupri revealed to Vibe that Jackson was throwing in the towel:

Last time I heard she really didn't want to do an album. She wanted to just do singles every once in a while. She's looked at the marketplace—albums are not really doing what they usually do when you put all this budget out there. Janet is just trying to figure out her landscape.

Who could blame her? When you've devoted your life not just to making art, but popular art, when you are defined not just for your output but its ability to command a crowd and that crowd is no longer there, what do you do? How does your public persona as a superstar endure when a key feature of that persona is popularity?

There have been rumors suggesting that Jackson is done with music for good, that she has fled to the Middle East with her billionaire husband Wissam Al Mana (whom she married, secretly of course, in 2012), never to return to the spotlight. More recently, Jackson has hinted at giving music another go. Last year, she told Billboard, "I am working on a new project now. We are creating the concept and initial thoughts on the music."

A comeback arc would be irresistible. America loves that shit. But this is a story about narratives, and from a narrative perspective, there's something spectacular in the finality of Nipplegate. Stars fade or die or grow weird mutant career tails as a result of reality TV exposure, but no one who didn't die mid-career can point to a single moment and say, "This is where it went wrong, this is where it ended." Absolutely no one else can say, "My career died so YouTube, TiVo, and Sirius could live." If Nipplegate took Jackson out, and it did barring a miraculous comeback (virtually inconceivable for a 47-year-old in the ageist world of mainstream pop music), Jackson went out with a bang. That is, at the very least, brand consistent.

Nipplegate at 10: A Flash — and a Flash in the Pan

Decency crusaders thought it would be a pop-culture 9/11. But if the Janet Jackson incident changed anything, it was the belief that one controversy could turn back the cultural clock.

Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" in full effect at Super Bowl XXXVIII.


A confession: I watched the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 1, 2004, and I did not notice Janet Jackson’s nipple.

I don’t remember why. Maybe I was looking down, typing notes on my laptop (this was a year before I started Tuned In, but I usually reviewed the Big Game-cast for Maybe I saw Justin Timberlake rip a patch from Jackson’s outfit, assumed she was wearing some type of sheer bodysuit, and thought nothing more of it. (I wouldn’t have HDTV for two more years.) Maybe I blinked. But not until chatter started popping up on blogs later—this was years before Twitter, three days before the founding of Facebook—did I go back to my TiVo recording, rewind, slow-mo, and—oh, yeah! There.

I say all this not to excuse my own cluelessness, but to emphasize something that, 10 years after the world learned the phrase “wardrobe malfunction,” we tend to forget: it was really, really fast. It clocks in at 9/16 of a second. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of close-up stageside photos, slo-mo replays, enlargements scrutinized like the Zapruder film. It’s become pop-cultural legend. So people could be excused for remembering it, in hindsight, as if the camera zoomed in, Reliant Stadium fell silent, and Timberlake boomed: “Gaze upon this flesh, America! See what decades of moral permissiveness hath wrought! Behold your doom!”

In truth, there was just not that much nipple. In the actual CBS broadcast (you can watch it right here) Timberlake and Jackson are shot from the middle distance. He rips there’s a breast—is it covered? isn’t it?—and the presumably panicked director’s booth instantly cuts to a pyrotechnic explosion. If your eyes can discern, even on replay, Jackson’s sunburst-shaped “nipple shield,” much less the fraction of areola beneath it, you have been eating your carrots, my friend.

Over that, America went absolutely nuts. And—even though I later wrote a cover story for TIME about the ridiculously excessive reaction—it was not totally without cause. It was not so much about a nip slip as the idea that CBS slipped it into 90 million viewers’ living rooms uninvited. It became a flashpoint (as it were) for people who had no problem with sex in sexy movies, with nudity in obviously adult shows like HBO’s, but who were tired of vulgarity busting out where they weren’t expecting—on billboards, in sportscasts, in airplane in-flight movies. A prime example being, well, the Super Bowl, which that year included commercials that featured a woman being farted on by a horse and another getting hit on by a monkey. (It’s worth noting that everybody devoted a lot more breath back then to a woman’s breast being bared than the way it was exposed—a man reaching across and ripping off half her bustier in essentially a choreographed sexual assault. “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song” were the lyrics Timberlake had just finished singing.)

Nipplegate was a big deal because it was so widely seen and extreme—actual blatant nudity on one of the few mass-audience broadcasts that still exists. But it was therefore also a relative fluke. It stayed a big deal, though, because of advocates who saw it as an opportunity to clean up the rest of the culture.

The moment seemed right. In winter 2004, President George W. Bush was well into his first term, an evangelical Christian presiding over the kind of pre-Tea Party, big-government conservatism that suggested to “decency” advocates an opportunity to bring back an activist FCC. And there was an election coming—Hollywood-bashing is a perennial fave in election years, let alone one in which, as it would turn out, Bush would owe his victory largely to evangelical turnout.

To these crusaders, the Super Bowl was potentially the 9/11 of public morality, a casus belli for a war on smut, the broom with which to sweep back the sea of changing social standards going back to the 󈨀s, Elvis, and beyond. “This is going to change things—finally,” the president of an Ohio conservative group told TIME the week after the halftime incident.

It did change things, for a short time, in ways that were inconsistent and largely for show. There were Congressional hearings and stiffer fines for broadcast indecency. Terrified of a crackdown by the FCC, which was vague as to what it would and wouldn’t consider indecent, TV programmers began pulling everything. That fall, 65 ABC affiliates refused to air Saving Private Ryan because of its profanity, though it had aired twice before without protest or punishment. The FCC reversed itself on an awards-show incident (Bono called U2’s Golden Globes win for Original Song “f—ing brilliant”) that it had ruled was not indecent just the year before. In a rerun of perennial indecency target Family Guy, Fox edited out the rear end of Stewie, a cartoon baby. TV executives erred on the side of scared.

But here was the thing: even offended Americans did not necessarily want the government, or anyone else, monkeying with their entertainment. The week after the Super Bowl, with umbrage at its peak, more than two-thirds of Americans polled by TIME said that the government should not punish CBS. Maybe parents were upset by the halftime flash, but most people aren’t parents. As taxation without representation was to the colonists, so to modern TV watchers is the idea that their entertainment choices should be circumscribed by someone else’s moral standards.

The question of who sets the standards may have been what caused the post-Janet backlash to fizzle. Family-values advocacy groups like the Parents Television Council depend on the legal concept of a “community standard”—the consensus values of the larger group, which should determine what’s acceptable in prime time. But by 2004, we were already well into the era of audience fragmentation—with hundreds of entertainment choices any evening, there was no pop-cultural consensus on anything.

In fact in the year after Nipplegate, the targets of protests and FCC letter-writing campaigns were also some of the most popular shows on TV. If decency-cop target CSI—the highest-rated show in the land, full of grotesque, often sexual violence—did not represent the community standard with 30 million weekly viewers, what did? The anti-nipple crusaders rose up in 2004 in the name of mainstream American values, but if anything, they were trying to defend against mainstream American values.

Ten years later, it’s the same story, except with smaller audiences for everything. Over the last decade, CBS has had the raunchiest sitcoms on network TV and the most popular, shows that throw around the word “vagina” like Fonzie threw around “Ayyyy!” (Whereas sweet-hearted, relatively clean comedies like Parks and Recreation are niche entertainment—or, like Bunheads, just cancelled.) Serial killers are mainstream drama protagonists. This guy can watch Phil Robertson, who fulminated against same-sex marriage, on the very popular Duck Dynasty and that guy can watch a beloved gay couple getting married this spring on the very popular Modern Family. Which of them can claim to set the standard?

There is no safer wager than to bet against any prediction that [insert big news event here] will “change pop culture forever.” It hasn’t happened after multiple school shootings that supposedly portended cutbacks in screen violence it didn’t happen after 9/11, when a fellow TIME columnist predicted “the end of irony.” In a statement marking the anniversary, the PTC tries valiantly to remind us that the Super Bowl was, in fact, “a very big deal,” but it’s much harder to argue that it remains one.

The 2004 Super Bowl did change some things. It made industry-wide practice of the kind of video delay that would have spared us the whole spectacle. And as an excellent Nipplegate retrospective in ESPN points out, it was a big part of the motive behind the creation of YouTube—to disseminate viral videos like that one.

(Imagine, by the way, if today’s piranha school of social media had been around to feast on the Super Bowl flash: Facebook would have exploded the scene would have been memed, GIF-ed, and Photoshopped within seconds and Janet Jackson’s nipple would have 5,000 fake Twitter accounts. The incident would have flared even faster, louder, and bigger, but it possible we might also have gorged ourselves on it sooner and moved on.)

But those are technological changes, and technological changes also make the case for sweeping morals policing much harder to make. We watch shows on DVR, on streaming we download shows to our phones we pause and skip ads and time-shift we watch shows that are not only not on broadcast but, through Netflix and Hulu, not on “TV” at all. We actively acquire TV now as much as we passively receive it. It’s hard to make a case for the sanctity of “the family hour” when so little viewing is tied to a particular hour, or channel, or even electronic device.

If that Super Bowl halftime flash changed everything, really, it changed everything in precisely the opposite direction, by proving that even a controversy that dramatic could not shove provocative pop culture back into its bustier. Justin and Janet got everyone worked up for a long time. But America’s return to Mayberry? It was gone in .5625 seconds.

Super Bowl XXXVIII: 'NippleGate' shocks during halftime as Patriots defeat Panthers

The Vince Lombardi Trophy, pro football's ultimate prize, took a backseat to a booby prize in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal with four seconds left to cap Tom Brady's second Super Bowl-winning drive in three years as the New England Patriots topped the Carolina Panthers, 32-29. But one of the all-time Super thrillers was overshadowed by something gone wrong, a malfunction. Yes, The Wardrobe Malfunction.

The halftime incident starring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake sparked congressional outrage, record fines from the Federal Communications Commission and even inspired the founding of YouTube. To cap a performance full of suggestive dance moves and crotch grabs with Nelly and Diddy joining the fray, Timberlake pulled off a piece of Jackson's costume, and in two seconds, the league that would later give us the Butt Fumble had NippleGate upstaging its Big Game. There wasn't time to apply the Tuck Rule. It was too late. CBS and the FCC were flooded with 500,000 complaints. The incident was skewered by David Letterman and South Park. The NFL moved quickly, banning MTV from producing future Super Bowl halftime shows. Jawed Karim said his futile and frustrating search for video of the incident the next morning helped inspire him to start YouTube with pals Steve Chen and Chad Hurley.

Oh yeah, the game. After a scoreless and pretty boring quarter and a half, the excitement in Super Bowl XXXVIII escalated nearly as quickly as the Jackson controversy did. Brady led New England to a 21-10 lead, but the Panthers answered with two TDs (but with two missed two-point conversions), marking the first time in Super Bowl history a team had taken the lead after trailing by 10 or more points. Brady answered immediately with a 68-yard drive capped by a one-yard TD pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel. Kevin Faulk ran in the two-point conversion on a direct snap.

Jersey product Ricky Proehl, who caught the tying TD pass for the Rams against the Patriots in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI, struck again, catching a 31-yard pass and then a 12-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 29 with 1:08 to play, appearing to set up the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

But Brady was not done. John Kasay sent the kickoff out of bounds to set up the Pats at the 40. Brady threw two 13-yard passes to Troy Brown, a four-yarder to Daniel Graham and, on third-and-3, a 17-yarder to Deion Branch to the Panther 23. Vinatieri, who had missed a field goal and had another one blocked, booted a 41-yarder down the middle to give the Pats their second title in three years.

It would be a few years before the Patriot dynasty would be tarnished by the SpyGate scandal. In the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XXXVIII, a different conspiracy theory was making the rounds. Since Jackson's new album was tanking, allegations of an intentional stunt were flying faster than her malfunctioning costume piece. We'll never know if Bill Belichick had his minions videotape the halftime show's un-dress rehearsal.

Nipple Ripples: 10 Years of Fallout From Janet Jackson’s Halftime Show

Janet Jackson performs with Justin Timberlake during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004.

Donald Miralle/Getty Images

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Janet Jackson‘s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” Super Bowl halftime show. But the scandalous event has had a life long beyond the split-second during which Janet’s breast was bared. Here now, a timeline of the Super Bowl’s most controversial performance, from the planning, to the moment itself, to the current, still-going legal wrangling.

December 9th, 2003
For the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show at Houston&rsquos Reliant Stadium, MTV &ndash producing their second straight halftime performance &ndash recruits a lineup that includes Justin Timberlake, Nelly, Diddy, Kid Rock and Janet Jackson. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue says in a statement at the time, “We are pleased that a star like Janet Jackson will join the roster of entertainers who have made the Super Bowl Halftime so special.”

February 1st, 2004
Even before the Janet incident, Kid Rock riled up the TV audience by wearing sleeveless stars-and-stripes poncho during his portion of the halftime show. Many viewers complained to the FCC that Rock&rsquos wardrobe constituted desecration of the American flag. Sexually suggestive dance moves courtesy of fellow halftime performers Nelly and Diddy also helped put prude viewers on edge before the Nipple-gate opened.

February 1st, 2004 (Janet takes the stage)
The Janet Jackson-centric portion of the halftime show goes smoothly as the singer performs “Rhythm Nation” and “All for You.” However, producers opted to have Jackson remain onstage for Justin Timberlake&rsquos halftime closing slot. (Similarly, if hometown girl Beyoncé was asked to perform at the halftime instead of delivering “The Star-Spangled Banner,” we could have avoided what came next.)

The video can be rewatched frame-by-frame and scrutinized like the Zapruder film. There wasn&rsquot much choreography leading up to the moment Jackson just follows Timberlake around the stage while he sings “Rock Your Body.” They briefly dance together as they make their way back toward center stage for the grand finale. Throughout the performance, Timberlake’s moves were fluid, as if they&rsquod been rehearsed a million times. However, on the closing “Bet I&rsquoll have you naked. . .,” you see his approach to Jackson&rsquos bustier is stilted and unsure. Although a natural righty, he watches as his left hand makes the crucial grab toward Jackson&rsquos wardrobe and pulls on the cue “. . .by the end of this song.” For 9/16ths of a second, millions of viewers see Janet’s bare breast and its strange star-shaped nipple shield before Jackson realizes what has happened and covers herself up. Timberlake, red lace in his left hand, looks appalled as producers cut away to a distant long shot and firework display.

No one remembers the second half of the Super Bowl. (Seriously, name one down that happened in the 3 rd quarter.) The New England Patriots win. Tom Brady is named MVP. The spotlight goes rushing back toward Janet Jackson.

February 1st, 2004 (after the game)
The world waits for some kind of post-game response from Jackson, but the singer immediately flew out of Houston following her performance and before the Super Bowl even ended. Jackson&rsquos spokesperson calls the reveal “was a malfunction of the wardrobe it was not intentional. . . [Timberlake] was supposed to pull away the bustier and leave the red-lace bra,” which was visibly in Timberlake&rsquos hand following the pull. Jackson also admits that neither MTV nor CBS had any role or previous knowledge in the incident, saying Timberlake&rsquos ripping of the wardrobe was a late addition during their final rehearsal.

February 8th, 2004
Just days after the Super Bowl, it&rsquos reported that over 200,000 viewers had contacted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complain about Jackson’s performance. Court documents later revealed that over 540,000 people filed complaints with the FCC about the incident, although that number was inflated by conservative and watchdog groups mass-calling the commission. FCC Chairman Michael Powell calls Jackson&rsquos nip slip “a classless, crass, and deplorable stunt” and promises to take further action.

Later in February 2004
The NFL, upset that their Super Bowl was overshadowed by a halftime performance, respond immediately. &ldquoWe were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show,” NFL executive vice president Joe Browne said at the time. “They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show. It’s unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime.” CBS and MTV&rsquos parent company Viacom, angered that an unannounced addition to the Super Bowl performance has now cost them all future halftime shows, hits back at Jackson by essentially blacklisting her, keeping her music videos off their properties MTV, VH1, and radio stations under their umbrella. The blacklist spreads to include non-Viacom media entities as well.

Every corner of television has an opinion about Nipplegate, but none do it as hilariously as David Letterman. The Late Show host relishes the opportunity to exacerbate his employer CBS’ red-faced moment, devoting a week&rsquos worth of opening monologues and Top Ten lists to the infamous 9/16ths of a second. Janet &ndash wearing a revealing red dress &ndash finally visits Letterman&rsquos show on March 29 th , 2004. Despite telling him “I don&rsquot want to revisit” the Super Bowl incident, Letterman asks a barrage of Nipplegate questions, as well as “How&rsquos Tito?”

America Online spent somewhere in the $10 million range to sponsor the halftime performance, exclusively host video of the event online, and promote their dial-up service. Following the Janet outcry and the negative press that came with it, AOL was quick to ask the NFL for a refund. “While AOL was the sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show, we did not produce it,” an AOL spokesman said at the time. “Like the NFL, we were surprised and disappointed with certain elements of the show and in deference to our membership and the fans, AOL and will not be presenting the Halftime Show online as originally planned.” The NFL then argued that CBS or MTV should reimburse AOL. Meanwhile, McDonald&rsquos, despite finding the halftime show “inappropriate,” decided to stick with Timberlake as their celebrity endorser.

Unlike this year, where CBS’ broadcast of the Grammys precedes the Super Bowl, in 2004, CBS had the Super Bowl scheduled prior to the Grammys, where Jackson was recruited to present a Luther Vandross tribute. However, following the Super Bowl and the uproar, CBS rescinded their invitation to Jackson. Timberlake, however, was not only allowed to attend the ceremony, he actually won a pair of awards. He did use his acceptance speech to once again apologize for the “unintentional” incident.

A young software programmer at PayPal named Jawed Karim is unable to find any video of the Jackson Super Bowl performance online. Frustrated in his attempts to find footage, Karim and some friends create a venue where people can easily upload and share video. Thanks to the scandal, YouTube is born in 2005. A year later, Google purchases the site for $1.65 billion.

While Karim worked on the code that became YouTube, the rest of America was looking for alternative methods to rewind and rewatch and reconcile what they just witnessed. As a result of Jackson&rsquos split-second slip, TiVo subscriptions jump expontentially, and the acronyms TVR and DVR become household terms.

March 22nd, 2004
Damita Jo, Jackson&rsquos eighth album, arrives roughly five weeks after her Super Bowl performance. Thanks to the radio and music television blacklist, the LP underperforms compared to Janet&rsquos previous releases. However, and perhaps propelled by all the controversy, Damita Jo still sells enough first week copies to debut at Number Two on the Billboard 200. Despite the backlash, the album eventually goes platinum several times over.

April 10th 2004
Two months after revealing herself to millions, Janet Jackson pulls double-duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live. During one skit, Jackson pokes fun at the Nipplegate scandal while impersonating then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. America finally seems ready to move on and forgive Jackson. The FCC, however. . .

For the FCC, Nipplegate provided an opportunity to restore order and flex whatever power they had left. Faced with lax broadcast standards for cable TV and satellite radio, as well as the absolute lawlessness of the Internet, the FCC becomes hell-bent on preserving common decency in the family-friendly realm of network television. Thus, screws are tightened everywhere under the body’s jurisdiction: Tape delays are lengthened and more frequent and sexually suggestive performances are replaced by less provocative selections. While the aftermath of Nipplegate starts to fade, the FCC will continue to carry its torch for the next half-decade.

September 22nd, 2004
The FCC finally issues a $550,000 fine against CBS, the largest fine ever of its kind. Additionally, the FCC alleges that the incident was planned by Timberlake and Jackson, who acted “independently and clandestinely.” Viacom immediately contests the fine.

November 24th, 2004
Two months later, Viacom agrees to pay around $3.5 million to the FCC to settle indecency fines from dozens of outstanding penalties, including radio stunts executed by shock jocks Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony. In the settlement, Viacom also agrees to implement more delays in their live broadcasting. However, the $550,000 Nipplegate fine is not included in the $3.5 million that Viacom agrees to pay.

February 6th, 2005
The age of the edgy All-Star Pop halftime shows come to an end and the reign of Classic Rock takes over as producers go conservative, choosing Paul McCartney to perform at Super Bowl XXXIX. The following years see a parade of established stars: the Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and the Who. The Super Bowl finally goes contemporary again in 2011 with Black Eyed Peas.

September 26th, 2006
Two and a half years removed from Nipplegate, Jackson&rsquos next album 20 Y.O. debuts at Number Two on Billboard‘s Top 200 album chart in September 2006. Janet also embarks on her first tour since Nipplegate.

August 8th, 2006
The Guinness Book of World Records names Nipplegate the “most searched item in Internet history.”

July 2008
The Third Circuit Court rules in favor of CBS, saying the FCC “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” by levying such a massive fine for what the Third Circuit Court deemed an accidental split-second of nudity. The FCC promise to appeal and take the case to the Supreme Court.

September 2009
The Supreme Court opts not to hear case between CBS and the FCC, but they send it back to Third Circuit Court for re-examination. During this time, the FCC argues that the incident was preventative since CBS had tape delay available to them, however CBS counters that the technology was still in its infancy and they were unable to utilize it in time.

November 3rd, 2011
Because the Jackson incident was deemed “fleeting indecency” Third Circuit Court again rules in favor of CBS and voids the fine. In July 2012, Supreme Court once again chooses not to hear FCC&rsquos appeal.

February 5th, 2012
Madonna, long a lightning rod for controversy, is recruited by the NFL to perform at the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show. While the Material Girl is on her best behavior, her guest and frequent shit-starter M.I.A. promptly gives the middle finger to the millions watching at home.

September 2013
It&rsquos revealed that M.I.A. is battling a $1.5 million lawsuit filed by the NFL after she flipped America the bird. By comparison, CBS was only fined $550,000 by the FCC in a lawsuit that lasted eight years.

January 2014
A decade removed from Nipplegate, former FCC chairman Michael Powell admits that the committee acted “unfairly” toward Janet Jackson following the incident. He tells ESPN that the FCC overreacted. “I personally thought that was really unfair. It all turned into being about her,” Powell said. “In reality, if you slow the thing down, it’s Justin ripping off her breastplace.” The comments are a complete turnaround from Powell&rsquos own words 10 years earlier, when he called Nipplegate “a new low from primetime TV.”

Everything You Need to Know About Nipplegate

On Sunday night, Man of the Woods Justin Timberlake, is set to perform the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Announced back in October, Timberlake's impending performance has everyone thinking about what happened the last time he performed at a Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Though Timberlake has recently suggested that Janet Jackson will not join him onstage (The Root breaks down Timberlake's comments well), that doesn't mean the 2004 incident won't be on everyone's minds while the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles go head-to-head during Super Bowl LII (that's 52 for everyone who thinks Roman numerals are as pointless as I do).

Here's a refresher about the most infamous wardrobe malfunction in history, which happened fourteen (yes, fourteen) years ago.

What happened during Janet Jackson's Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show performance?

During Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, the pop superstar performed a medley of her best hits including "All for You," "Rhythm Nation" and "The Knowledge" before surprising audiences with a special appearance by Justin Timberlake. They turned Timberlake’s Justified hit "Rock Your Body" into a duet.

During the live broadcast, Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson’s Alexander McQueen-designed bustier, revealing her right breast and jewelry-clad nipple while singing the song’s final line: "gonna have you naked by the end of this song."

Before the cameras cut to a shot of the fireworks surrounding the stage, Jackson’s nipple was seen by hundreds of millions of viewers - for less than a second.

What was supposed to happen during Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's Superbowl Halftime Show performance?

CBS, The NFL, and MTV all claimed they had absolutely zero knowledge of the stunt prior to the event.

Jackson's team revealed that when Timberlake sang the last line of "Rock Your Body," he was supposed to reveal Jackson's red lace bra, "but the garment collapsed."

MTV, the producers of the show, stated, "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 regrets this incident occurred and we apologize to anyone who was offended by it."

MTV Chief Executive Officer Tom Freston also plainly told Reuters that "Janet Jackson engineered it."

What Happened to Justin Timberlake After Nipplegate?

Timberlake told Access Hollywood, "We love giving you all something to talk about."

Timberlake performed, presented, and won at the 2004 Grammy Awards the following week. He apologized onstage for the incident saying, "What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable and I apologize if you guys are offended."

Timberlake is credited with coining the term "wardrobe malfunction."

Justified sales skyrocketed in the week following the broadcast

Timberlake Went on to become one of the bestselling and most-beloved entertainers of the 21st century.

What Happened to Janet Jackson After Nipplegate?

Jackson was blacklisted by MTV, CBS, and Infinity Broadcasting, and her new single was immediately pulled from stations worldwide. Her first album following Nipplegate, Damita Jo, is one of her worst-selling albums.

Jackson was disinvited from the 2004 Grammy Awards. She was originally scheduled to appear as a presenter.

Jackson was originally cast as Lena Horne in an upcoming biopic about the singer and activist but ABC reportedly forced her to quit.

CBS forced Jackson to make both a written and video apology after Nipplegate.

What Else Happened After Nipplegate?

MTV was banned from producing a Super Bowl Halftime Show again.

"Janet Jackson" was the #1 search for Lycos, Google, and Yahoo the following week.

CBS was fined $550,000 by the The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for Nipplegate, although the FCC officially lost the case in 2011.

The FCC also received reportedly over 200,000 complaints about the performance, leading to a five-second delay on future live television events.

Did Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Stay Friends After Nipplegate?

Uh, well, not immediately afterwards. In 2006, Janet Jackson told OprahWinfrey that the two weren't talking.

"We haven’t spoken. But I consider him a friend, and I’m very loyal, and friendship is very important to me," she said, "He has reached out to speak with me. Like I said, friendship is very important to me – and certain things you just don’t do to friends. And in my own time, I’ll give him a call."

Two years after Nipplegate, Timberlake officially apologized in an interview with MTV. "I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society," he said in 2006. "I think that America’s harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people."

According to JT the two are now cool, telling Beats 1 Radio's Zane Lowe that, "You can’t change what’s happened, but you can move forward and learn from it."

And that, friends, is your brief brush-up on Nipplegate. So, do you think it was planned?

In the meantime, Timberlake released his fifth studio album Man of the Woods and critics were not impressed that sung about a vagina being a "faucet."

14 years after 'Nipplegate,' fans demand #JusticeForJanet at Super Bowl LII

On Sunday, it was announced that Justin Timberlake will be the halftime show performer at next year’s Super Bowl. Many Janet Jackson fans were not happy to hear the news, citing Timberlake’s NFL comeback as a classic case of white male privilege, and they have taken to social media to demand #JusticeForJanet.

Nothing changes. Justin Timberlake gropes Janet Jackson during Super Bowl halftime show. He’s booked to headline again, she isn’t.

— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) October 23, 2017

Justin Timberlake officially doing Super Bowl halftime. Dream setlist:

– "Lovestoned"
– 9-minute Janet Jackson apology
– "Gone" (w/ *NSYNC)

— Jason Lipshutz (@jasonlipshutz) October 23, 2017

Unless Justin Timberlake starts his set by introducing Janet Jackson with an apology and then continues watching quietly while she does 12 minutes of her catalog solo, the Super Bowl can keep this halftime show.

— Crystal Methanny (@RafiDAngelo) October 23, 2017

Timberlake’s Super Bowl LII appearance, which will take place Feb. 4 at Minneapolis’s U.S. Bank Stadium, will mark his return to the NFL stage 14 years after “Nipplegate,” his controversial duet with Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime headliner Janet Jackson. At that 2004 event, watched by 143 million people, as Timberlake sang, “Gotta have you naked by the end of this song” from his own hit “Rock Your Body,” he forcibly ripped the bodice of Jackson’s costume, exposing her bejeweled right breast.

How quickly y'all forget about the snake he is.Didn't even address that this happened to HER. It was HER breast. bye ugly #JusticeforJanet

— moonchild ॐ (@mzshannon) October 23, 2017

If Justin Timberlake gets the Super Bowl, Janet gets to pants him. Pledge your support using the #PantsHim hashtag.

— Jeffery Austin (@JefferyAustin) October 23, 2017

Public outrage over the racy spectacle — which perhaps not coincidentally was produced by MTV, known for its sexy, buzzy VMAs productions — was fast and furious, with the FCC receiving a whopping 540,000 complaints. The incident actually resulted in an eight-year battle over FCC censorship that nearly went to the Supreme Court. While all parties involved apologized and claimed the bosom-flashing was unintentional (hence how the term “wardrobe malfunction” forever entered our lexicon), it was Jackson, a woman of color, who bore the brunt of the backlash while Timberlake, a white man, enjoyed a flourishing post-Super Bowl career that went from strength to strength. As the Village Voice’s Michael Musto put it, “Janet became a symbolic Joan of Arc to burn at the stake.”

At the time, a spokesperson for MTV’s parent company, Viacom, told the Charlotte Observer that MTV, VH1, and BET were “bailing” on Jackson’s eighth studio album, Damita Jo, which came out a month and a half after the Super Bowl controversy, because the “pressure is so great, they can’t align with anything related to Janet. The high-ups are still pissed at her, and this is a punitive measure.” Radio similarly blacklisted the album’s excellent singles, “Just a Little While,” “I Want You,” and “All Nite.” A statue of Mickey Mouse wearing Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” uniform was even removed from Walt Disney World, with a Disney rep telling Entertainment Weekly, “Considering all the controversy … we talked it over for a couple of days and decided it would be best to replace her [statue] with a new one.”

But most notably, just four days after Super Bowl XXXVIII, Timberlake appeared at the 46th Grammy Awards, while Jackson’s invitation to be a presenter on the telecast was rescinded by CBS, according to an Access Hollywood report. During his acceptance for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 2004 Grammys, Timberlake offered an apology described by Billboard as “laughable,” joking “I know it’s been a rough week on everybody” but offering no words of support or defense for his absent colleague.

Fast-forward to now, and much has changed. For one, in 2014, former FCC chairman Michael Powell admitted in an ESPN interview that the controversy was blown out of proportion. An NFL league spokesperson has assured Entertainment Tonight that Jackson is not banned from performing at the Super Bowl next year with Timberlake if asked, and a source close to Jackson, who is in the midst of a career revival with her successful “State of the World” tour and critically heralded Unbreakable album, tells ET that while Jackson has not been approached by Timberlake to join him onstage, “If Justin or his team did reach out, Janet would perform with him again in a minute.”

And, of course, social media didn’t exist in 2004. If it had, perhaps more people would have come to Jackson’s defense back then.

#JusticeForJanet we didnt have social media in 2004, we do know so lets make our voices heard ✊✊✊

— Ken Doll (@BeehiveKen) October 23, 2017

Many Jackson fans are hoping Timberlake will extend a Super Bowl LII invitation to make up for Jackson’s grossly unfair treatment, although Timberlake’s brief interview on NBC Sunday Night Football about his forthcoming Bowl performance, in which he said, “That won’t happen this time,” indicates that Jackson won’t get a much-deserved do-over.


Jackson and Timberlake performed a medley of Jackson's songs "All for You" and "Rhythm Nation" ⎚] and Timberlake's song "Rock Your Body" ⎛] during the halftime show. The performance featured many suggestive dance moves by both singers, and as Timberlake reached his final line of Rock Your Body, "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song," Timberlake pulled off a part of Jackson's costume, revealing her right breast, partially covered by a piece of nipple jewelry, for less than a second. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the CBS broadcast cut to an aerial view of Reliant Stadium, but was unable to do so before the picture was sent to millions of viewers' televisions.

Besides Jackson's exposure, the show's other performances included gestures by the rapper Nelly toward his crotch ⎜] and the musician Kid Rock appearing in a poncho made from a slit American flag, which was later removed by a stage hand. ⎝]

Janet Jackson's "Wardrobe Malfunction": Remembering Nipplegate on Its 10-Year Anniversary

Kevin Mazur/

Who could ever forget that Janet Jackson is responsible for the phrase "wardrobe malfunction?"

Nearly 10 years ago, on Feb. 1, 2004, 90 million viewers were unexpectedly treated to a televised peep show when the singer's right breast was exposed for nine-sixteenths of a second. Justin Timberlake had joined the music legend on stage to sing his third solo single, "Rock Your Body," during the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show. As the pop star crooned, "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song," he reached over, grabbed a corner of Jackson's right breast cup and gave it a tug, exposing her boob.

Jackson quickly grasped her chest as the camera cut wide and fireworks exploded from the stage.

And that's when s--t hit the fan (pardon the expression).

"Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra," Jackson's rep said at the time. "The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed." CBS forced Jackson to release a video apology, saying, "My decision to change the Super Bowl performance was made after the final rehearsal. MTV, CBS [and] the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention."

The Federal Communications Commission received more than 540,000 indecency complaints as a result of Jackson's nip slip. The FCC, in turn, fined CBS $550,000. The network appealed the fine, which was ultimately voided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 ruling. A case to reinstate the fine was refused in 2012. The incident, later dubbed "Nipplegate," nearly ruined Jackson's music career.

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In retaliation, several television and radio entities—including Viacom, CBS, MTV, Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel—blacklisted Jackson's eighth studio album, Damita Jo, released on March 22, 2004.

The 22-track record was her lowest-selling album since 1984.

A decade after the incident, former FCC chairman Michael Powell said the Super Bowl controversy had been blown out of proportion. "I didn't want this snowball, this juggernaut, to turn into pressure to go after Janet and Justin Timberlake. I thought we were getting into dangerous territory," he told ESPN.

Powell ended up testifying on the wardrobe malfunction more than any other issue else in his entire career. "I ended up testifying for nine hours on just this," he said in disbelif. "On 9/16 of a second."

Jackson was treated more harshly than Timberlake, much to Powell's chagrin. "I personally thought that was really unfair," he said. "It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it's Justin ripping off her breastplate." When the native Tennessean was recently asked about the Super Bowl performance, he declined to defend Jackson. "I take that I chose not to comment on it still, after 10 years," Timberlake told the magazine. "I'm not touching that thing with a 10-foot pole."

The scandal became one of the most talked about moments in pop culture history, and it also inspired several young entrepreneurs. Jawed Karim, for example, wanted to make it easier to find the Nipplegate clip and other in-demand videos. A year later, he co-found YouTube, the largest video-sharing site of all time. The incident also made "Janet Jackson" the most searched term, event and image in internet history, as well as the most searched person and term of the year in 2004 and 2005.

Jackson talked about the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show scandal for the first and last time in a 2006 Oprah Winfrey Show interview. She admitted that she and Timberlake hadn't spoken since the incident, though her partner in crime had "reached out to speak with me." Asked if she felt Timberlake failed to adequately stick up for her after the incident, Jackson replied, "To a certain degree, yeah."

The singer insisted that the incident was accidental. "So much more important things were going on in the world. And the focus was on my breast? That didn't make any sense to me," Jackson said.

It may not make sense to Jackson, but 10 years later, people are still talking about it. The same can't be said for the musicians who succeeded her as Super Bowl Halftime Show performers—no offense, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Inside Janet Jackson's Infamous Super Bowl Wardrobe Malfunction and Its Even More Complicated Aftermath

Nine sixteenths of a second.

That's all it took for the world to come crashing down on Janet Jackson during her performance at the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show on Feb. 1, 2004. Nine sixteenths of a second. Sure, in that minuscule amount of time, the performer's bare breast had been exposed—inadvertently or otherwise—to the over 100 million people watching TV's biggest event by fellow performer Justin Timberlake and that's no small matter. But in the end, that's all it was—9/16ths of a second.

In the years since that fateful moment in Houston's Reliant Stadium, many questions remain. Did Timberlake, who pulled at Jackson's leather bustier right as his hit song "Rock Your Body" reached its climactic "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song," exposing her right breast and its sunburst nipple shield as if on cue, pull away more fabric than he ought to have? And did MTV, who was handling production on the big show for their second year in a row, know more than they ever let on? And how do Jessica Simpson, Nelly, Diddy, and Kid Rock—all of whom also took part in the "Choose or Lose"-themed show—feel about their moments on the stage becoming nothing more than a footnote?

While we may always wonder about the answers to those questions, what we do know is that the aftermath to "Nipplegate" was truly wild—with far-reaching effects that may surprise you—and that Jackson's career (and only hers) took a hit that it never quite recovered from.

As the NFL and MTV both immediately tried to absolve themselves of any culpability for the moment that registered over 540,000 complaints with the Federal Communications Commission, Jackson's rep chalked it up to "a malfunction of the wardrobe it was not intentional." FCC Chairman Michael Powell called the moment "a classless, crass, and deplorable stunt" and vowed to take further action. With the game airing on CBS, the network's parent company Viacom (which also owns MTV) enacted revenge on Jackson for losing the music network all further halftime shows by essentially blacklisting her, keeping her music off MTV, VH1, and all radio stations under their corporate umbrella. Soon, non-Viacom media entities followed suit.

With the Grammys scheduled to air on CBS days later, Jackson's invitation to attend—she was due to present a Luther Vandross tribute—was rescinded. Timberlake, meanwhile, was still invited, where used one of his acceptance speeches to apologize for the incident. According to a 2018 Huffington Post report, published in the wake of former CBS CEO and chairman Les Moonves' downfall amid sexual harassment allegations, the powerful network head only allowed Timberlake to still attend and perform once he made a tearful apology to him for the incident. As the report alleged, Moonves was livid that Jackson didn't make the same contrite apology and he sought revenge, hence the blacklisting.

Watch the video: Janet Jackson Discusses Wardrobe Malfunction at Super Bowl Halftime Show (December 2021).

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