What happened at the 2004 Super Bowl

After 14 years, singer Justin Timberlake will once again helm the Super Bowl half-time show.
After 14 years, singer Justin Timberlake will once again helm the Super Bowl half-time show.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Was it a publicity stunt or just a wardrobe malfunction? The issue is again being debated after news broke that Justin Timberlake will be helming the Super Bowl half-time show in February.

It marks his return to that closely watched stage since he infamously exposed Janet Jackson's breast at the 2004 Super Bowl. Here are answers to questions about that "nipplegate" incident.

What happened?

Jackson headlined the 2004 half-time show in which Timberlake appeared as a surprise guest. The two sang his hit, Rock Your Body, while dancing playfully.

"Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song," he crooned as he tore off a piece of her top, revealing her pierced nipple to millions of viewers. Both singers looked shocked and she quickly covered her breast.

If you watch a video of the incident, it is clear that her nipple should have remained covered by a piece of red fabric, which she wore on both breasts. She later said that Timberlake inadvertently tore off the extra material.

What happened afterwards?

MTV (which produced the half-time show), the National Football League (NFL) and CBS released statements. "We attended all rehearsals... and there was no indication that any such thing would happen," CBS said. MTV later placed the blame on Jackson, with its then chief executive saying she had "engineered" the stunt.

What did Jackson and Timberlake say?

Both issued statements. "I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction," Timberlake said.

Jackson said: "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my half-time show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did."

Have they said anything else since?

In a 2006 interview with MTV, Timberlake admitted that Jackson suffered more after the controversy. "If you consider it 50-50, then I probably got 10 per cent of the blame," he said.

"I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people."

He added that he could have handled the aftermath better. "I'm a part of a community that consider themselves artists. And if there's something that I could have done in her defence, that was more, that I could have realised, then I would have."

That same year, Jackson appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "I thought it was absurd. I thought it was very crazy that there was so much emphasis put on this when we were at war, our troops were over there (in Iraq). So much more important things were going on in the world and the focus was on my breast?" Jackson said.

Winfrey asked: "Do you think people were too hard on you?"

"I think they were," Jackson said. "I think they did put all the emphasis on me, as opposed to us."

Jackson added that Timberlake had reached out to her, but they had not yet spoken.

"Friendship is very important to me and certain things, you just don't do to friends," she said. "In my own time, I'll give him a call."

Winfrey asked: "So you do feel he left you out there hanging?"

"To a certain degree," Jackson said. "I didn't break down about it. I realised I was much stronger than I thought I was."

How has history remembered the incident?

Many are still angry that Jackson received the brunt of the blame.

In light of his upcoming Super Bowl appearance, a lot of people on Twitter feel that Timberlake needs to make a more pointed apology.

The news spawned a #JusticeforJanet hashtag, in which people pointed out the privilege inherent in Timberlake being invited back.

So far, he has not directly addressed her supporters. But Football Night In America host Mike Tirico asked the singer if the NFL should be on alert for another wardrobe malfunction. "That won't happen this time," Timberlake said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'What happened at the 2004 Super Bowl'. Print Edition | Subscribe