After public outcry stemming from the New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake has issued a public apology to the pop star, his former girlfriend, and Janet Jackson, his co-performer at the “wardrobe malfunction”-plagued 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, following accusations of racism and sexism in his treatment of both women.
In a statement posted to his Instagram, the singer addressed criticism that he courted attention at Spears’ expense following the teen superstar couple’s breakup in 2002, when Timberlake split with boyband ‘NSync and launched a solo career. “I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond,” Timberlake began his statement. “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 continued: “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”
Since its release last weekend, Framing Britney Spears, a 75-minute documentary partnership between the New York Times and Hulu, reignited long-simmering conversations about media treatment of Spears and other female celebrities during the 90s and 2000s, as well as her legal conservatorship.
Timberlake began trending on social media last weekend after the documentary revisited the relationship through archival footage and critical distance. The union of the two Mickey Mouse club actors-turned-superstars inspired numerous magazine covers and intense teen fandom; their breakup, which tabloids largely pinned on Spears’ alleged infidelity, generated even more attention, much of it critical, on the 21-year-old pop singer.
“The way people treated her, to be very high school about it, was like, she was the school slut and he was the school quarterback,” says Wesley Morris, a New York Times critic at large, in the film. The public sympathy for Timberlake, meanwhile, coincided with the release of his first solo album and hit single Cry Me a River, whose video featured a Spears lookalike.
“He essentially weaponizes the video for one of his singles to incriminate her in the demise of their relationship,” Morris said.
The 40-year-old singer specifically apologized to Spears and Jackson “both individually, because I care for and respect these women, and I know I failed”. Jackson, who was Timberlake’s co-performer at the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, faced widespread media condemnation and was banned from that year’s Grammys after Timberlake exposed her bare breast on live TV.
Timberlake faced no professional consequences for the “wardrobe malfunction”.
“I think they put all the emphasis on me, as opposed to us,” Jackson said at the time. “I consider him a friend, and I’m very loyal. Friendship is very important to me.”
In 2007, Timberlake told MTV: “I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people. I could’ve handled it better.”
In a second slide, Timberlake wrote that the music industry “sets men, especially white men, up for success” and that he “didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again”.
“I can do better and I will do better,” he concluded.
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