FX and Hulu’s The New York Times Presents Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson explores the aftermath of the infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance, which saw Justin Timberlake accidentally expose Janet Jackson’s breast live on television to more than 140 million viewers. Following the incident, Jackson was blacklisted from radio stations and MTV, causing her next albums, 2004’s Damita Jo and 2006’s 20 Y.O., to underperform commercially. Fans have long resented Timberlake for emerging from the scandal unscathed, as he then released his most successful album to date, FutureSex/LoveSounds, in 2006. The singer’s lack of public support for Jackson prompted him to publicly apologize 17 years later in early 2021.
But has Timberlake responded to the new Malfunction film? After the documentary’s release on Nov. 19, Jackson took to social media on Nov. 22 to post a cryptic quote on Instagram: “Not sure if you got the memo. But, we’re not competing anymore, we’re appreciating and uplifting each other instead.” Many fans interpreted the post as an indirect response to Malfunction — and they were quick to point out that Timberlake pressed the “like” button. However, the “Rock Your Body” singer hasn’t otherwise publicly reacted to the documentary.
Timberlake’s lack of a direct response to Malfunction isn’t all that surprising, considering it took him nearly two decades to apologize to Jackson via this February 2021 Instagram post:
Yes, seventeen years later, in response to FX and Hulu’s The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears, which addressed several misogynistic comments Timberlake made following his breakup with Britney Spears, he posted the note addressing the documentary and his lack of support for Jackson. “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,” he wrote on Instagram (above). “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 both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed. The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success. It's designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this,” he continued. “I have not been perfect navigating all of this throughout my career. I know this apology is a first step and doesn't absolve the past. I want to take accountability for my own missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports.”
Jackson did not respond to Timberlake’s apology, and she was not interviewed for Malfunction. However, as the musician recently announced, she will open up about the topic in her forthcoming two-part documentary, Janet, set to air on Lifetime and A&E in early 2022.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s halftime show stylist Wayne Scot Lukas spoke about his experience working on the notorious performance in a Nov. 22 interview with Access Hollywood. “You were never supposed to see a movement where a breast was out [or] a body part was out,” Lukas said. “[The show’s producers] were supposed to cut to black. You were supposed to get the idea of [the lyric] ‘I’m going to have you naked by the end of this song,’ [but] nobody was supposed to be naked. And I’ve never said that. Somebody didn’t push the button. Somebody didn’t protect my friend.”
The stylist reiterated that he “did exactly what [he] was supposed to do” on the job. “If I ever hurt my friend, I wouldn’t [have] worked with Janet for six years after the Super Bowl. I would have been fired that day,” he added, noting that his relationship with Timberlake has ceased to exist since the incident. “We haven’t spoken since he blamed me. [He] came off that stage and said, ‘It’s just a little wardrobe malfunction...’ He coined that phrase, and when he said that I thought, ‘Friendship over.’”
Immediately following the wardrobe malfunction, the “All For You” singer issued a statement: “I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention ... MTV, CBS, the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.”
Timberlake also apologized to any offended viewers, but he was inarguably treated differently. While she was barred by CBS from going to the 2004 Grammys and forced to step down as a presenter, he was permitted to attend. Additionally, he embarked on a worldwide, nearly sold-out tour for FutureSex/LoveSounds, and Jackson never performed Damita Jo and 20 Y.O. on the road.
Jackson opened up about the controversy in a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “All the emphasis was put on me. Not on Justin,” she said before alluding to feelings of betrayal. “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.” The same year, Timberlake touched on the topic while speaking to MTV, admitting he “probably got 10% of the blame” for the scandal.