There are three parts that make up the Super Bowl: the game itself, the ads, and the halftime performance. The Pepsi Super Bowl hafltime show is big and there's a lot of production involved — usually involving some type of fire display — and it can be a big career moment for the headliner. However, Adam Levine's shirtless Super Bowl halftime show this year had twitter calling foul, with fans pointing out the hypocrisy of allowing Levine to parade around shirtless while Janet Jackson was vilified for accidentally flashing the audience when her nipple was exposed during the 2004 halftime show.
Now, to be fair, Levine generated quite a bit of controversy before he even took off his shirt. The Super Bowl halftime show wasn't such a sought-after gig this year, following the treatment of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who claims he was essentially blacklisted from playing in the league after leading a silent protest against police brutality. It's reportedly the reason why Rihanna turned down the Super Bowl this year. It's also allegedly the reason why Cardi B didn't join Maroon 5 on stage to sing their hit "Girls Like You." But, Maroon 5 went through with it anyways on Feb. 3, and they avoided answering any direct questions about the NFL and Kaepernick by cancelling a major press conference traditionally held before the big game.
It was on top of all that controversy that Levine decided to expose his chest to the world on Sunday, Feb. 3. As soon as he took off his shirt, people on Twitter began comparing his shirtlessness to the infamous Jackson wardrobe malfunction, that, according to reporting from the Huffington Post, caused CBS' Les Moonves to allegedly go after her professionally.
As writer and critic Ira Madison III pointed out here, Levine was full naked on his top half and nobody — not the network or viewers at home — were scandalized, but Jackson was not given even a 10th of the same freedom.
Another Twitter user, @mywhiterockie, pointed out, again, the total hypocrisy of the situation. "How does Adam Levine get to intentionally reveal both nipples," @mywhiterockie wrote, "But Janet Jackson can't accidentally show 1 nipple?" Janet Jackson, who performed with Justin Timberlake 15 years ago, had one of her breasts revealed by Timberlake in a "wardrobe malfunction." A cup of her costume was ripped off, showing a pasty-covered nipple. But whether planned or not, the aftermath was very different than anything Levine will see for his shirtless behavior.
The outrage was palpable on Twitter. TV writer Ashly Perez was moved to write in all caps.
It's no secret that women's nipples — and let's face it, their whole bodies — are sexualized in a way that men's aren't. While men are allowed to be shirtless in public, women, especially famous ones, can't show a nip without being the next big scandal. As actor Abigail Breslin pointed out on Twitter, Jackson received a ton of heat for what happened in 2004 and had to issue a public apology, but when Levine goes shirtless at the Super Bowl, "society seems [sic] it acceptable."
As Billboard reported, not only was Jackson made an example of at the time, the FCC took Viacom, who produced the game that year, to the Supreme Court over it, and demanded they pay a $550,000 fine. Later that year, she was banned from the Grammys that year while Timberlake was allowed to perform.
Seeing Levine shirtless at the Super Bowl had many on Twitter calling on #JusticeForJanet, a nod to how her career was affected by the 2004 scandal.
Will it ever be okay for a female performer to be shirtless on a national stage that public? Unfortunately, probably not. But holding men and women to the same standards on the Super Bowl stage would be a nice start.