The New York Times is set to help vindicate another famous female pop star who was unfairly maligned by the public: Janet Jackson. After playing a part in ending Britney Spears’ controversial conservatorship this year with its documentary, ‘Framing Britney Spears,’ the publication yesterday released its latest documentary, ‘Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson.’
The film begins by showing the pop icon’s rise to fame in the early-mid 1980s, as she broke free from her famous family to become one of the biggest musical superstars of all time. So when CBS and Viacom merged in 2001, she was selected to headline the halftime show of ViacomCBS’ second Super Bowl in 2004.
Throughout ‘Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson,’ several insiders involved in the Grammy Award-winning singer’s Super Bowl performance, which has subsequently become known as Nipplegate, revealed the intimate details about the fiasco. During her performance, Jackson sang alongside fellow Grammy Award winner, Justin Timberlake. At the time, the latter was still promoting his solo debut album, 2002’s ‘Justified,’ after leaving NSYNC.
Together during the halftime show, the duo sang the third single from the record, ‘Rock Your Body.’ During the performance, Timberlake sang the song’s infamous lyrics, “I’ll have you naked by the end of this song,” and ripped off part of Jackson’s costume. Her right breast was then briefly exposed during the live televised event, which led to a worldwide controversy and backlash against her.
In ‘Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson,’ former director of NFL Special Events, Jim Steeg spoke about the controversy. He revealed that before the game, the professional football league was least concerned about Jackson during the halftime show, as the performance also featured songs from Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock. Steeg claimed that Timberlake was added to the roster to help make the show more family friendly.
According to halftime show director Beth McCarthy-Miller, the singers did a full dress rehearsal a few times the Thursday before the big Sunday game. Steeg added there were a lot of notes given to the singers after rehearsals; he wrote up a two-page memo with what needed to be changed, including lyrics for Diddy and Nelly, as well as concerns over Kid Rock choosing to wear the American flag during his portion of the show.
Former Senior VP of MTV Salli Frattini also chimed in during the documentary, revealing that they had very little rehearsal time with Timberlake before the halftime show. Miller explaining that, initially, Jackson was supposed to wear a tear-away skirt Timberlake would pull off of her when he sang the infamous ‘Rock Your Body’ lyrics. She would have had a full jumpsuit on underneath that would have been revealed.
But the executives behind the show ultimately decided against the idea of the jumpsuit. As a result, the NFL and CBS agreed to pull it from the routine, and Jackson was agreeable to the note, Frattini revealed.
MTV’S former Senior VP then went over all the wardrobe looks with someone from standards and practices. The group left believing they had made their decisions clear about what was expected on the day of show.
However, it was alleged that Jackson’s stylist, Wayne Scot Lukas decided to go against the wardrobe approvals. So he spent money on new fabric and the starburst nipple shield. “We had no knowledge at all of what might have been happening with Janet and her team,” Frattini revealed.
On the day of the Superb, Bowl, Timberlake arrived in Houston, where the game was held, shortly before the halftime routine started. Frattini claimed in ‘Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson’ that “there was a request for him to speak with Janet and her stylist” in her dressing room. “We, as the producers, weren’t in the room, nobody was in the room,” she said. She added there “was a small conversation that lasted minutes” before Timberlake emerged from the room, and the singers went to the stage.
“And then of course…it’s the final few seconds of the song, and that’s just when everything went wrong,” recalled Frattini. “The song ended, we went wide, the pyro hit and we start applauding, ‘Oh my gosh, we did it!’ And then the phone rings. And I’m thinking I’m answering that phone because I’m gonna get, ‘That was amazing and congratulations.'” Instead, Steeg told Frattini what television audiences had just seen.
McCarthy-Miller immediately called her stage manager to ask what was happening on the field. “She said, ‘I don’t know, but I had a blanket for Janet to wrap her in. I put the blanket on her and she was crying,'” she claimed.
Frattini then rewound the footage and realized what they had all missed during the performance: the half-second of Jackson’s breast being exposed at the end of the song. “We all stood there in shock. Of course one of the first things we tried to do was talk to Janet. Janet fled. We couldn’t get her on the phone, we couldn’t get the manager on the phone,” she then claimed.
As Timberlake then spoke with reporters backstage as if nothing had happened, Jackson was nowhere to be found. Frattini said they then pulled Timberlake aside and asked him what went down. “That was never meant to happen. I was told you guys knew,'” she claimed he told them.
“We didn’t. He was very apologetic. He manned up. I was a wreck personally, I was in tears, people were crying, it was really upsetting. I felt betrayed,” Frattini added. “My instincts told me that there was a private conversation between wardrobe stylists and artists where someone thought this would be a good idea and it backfired.”
In the days that followed, Timberlake was the first to issue a statement about the incident, which he called a wardrobe malfunction. He later claimed he was under the impression that only Jackson’s red bra would be revealed, and started to distance himself from her entirely.
Jackson then released her own comments, absolving MTV and all the corporations involved in the Super Bowl of what happened. She added, “it was not my intention that it go as far as it did.”Jackson later release another statement on video. She stated: “Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.”
But the FCC still eventually fined CBS $550,000 for the fiasco. However, the network never paid any money after they won an appeal.
According to the New York Times, Timberlake later showed up at CBS’ offices to give an in-person apology to president Les Moonves. The singer was reportedly emotional about it as he did so.
Meanwhile, backlash for Jackson kept building, as the FCC received countless complaints. “Some people, I think, lost their jobs over it,” recalled McCarthy-Miller. “Others had to be deposed. And that was scary.”
Both artists were scheduled to appear at the Grammy Awards later that same week after the Super Bowl, which was also broadcast on CBS. But, in light of the Nipplegate fiasco, the terms of their appearances were changed at the last minute by Moonves.
“Even though Janet and Justin both gave written apologies, it was Les Moonves from CBS who decided that if Janet and Justin were going to be on the Grammy Awards, they would have to publicly apologize during the show,” said Ron Roecker, VP of Communications for The Recording Academy. “That’s where it got very sticky.”
While Roecker added the Recording Academy never “uninvited” the singers, CBS was adamant they make formal apologies on air. “Justin decided to be on the show and Janet decided not to be,” he continued. “Was it because of the apology? I don’t know. One can assume. Both artists leading up to the Grammy Awards had our full support … [but] when you have someone who’s paying your bills for the entire year, you have to listen to them,” he added.
According to Matt Serletic, the former CEO of Virgin Records, Jackson’s label at the time, they believed the demand to apologize again “felt like another request for (an apology) for something that was an accident…so she didn’t do it and good for her.”
Timberlake apologized again during his acceptance speech as he picked up awards for Best Pop Vocal Album for ‘Justified’ and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the album’s second single, ‘Cry Me a River.’ His career continued to grow from there, and he later released four more records, which all went to number one.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s career suffered immensely, as her music was considered to be blacklisted from some radio stations and MTV. Jackson’s brother, Tito chimed in on his sister’s career downfall: “I don’t know if ‘blacklist’ is the word that they tried to do to my sister, but it sure seemed liked they were trying to diminish her career and her ability.”
Timberlake, meanwhile, was invited back to perform during the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2018, which sparked a #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay trend on social media. Many of Jackson’s fans protested his performance and wondered why his career didn’t suffer as well.
Jackson would eventually return to grace, though, as she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. She eventually received a public apology from Timberlake as well, which was sparked by the public shaming he received after ‘Framing Britney Spears’ highlighted his treatment of both Spears and Jackson.
“I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism,” Timberlake said in February. “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.”
Both Timberlake and Jackson declined to publicly comment about ‘Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson.’ She’s set to release her own two-part documentary, ‘Janet,’ in January on A&E. She’s expected to address the Super Bowl incident in detail herself during that project.