September 29, 2017 at 4:49 pm EDT | by Kevin Naff
NFL’s embrace of Timberlake a racist, sexist joke
Justin Timberlake, gay news, Washington Blade

One of Justin Timberlake’s more cringeworthy moments: cornrows. (Photo courtesy Twitter)

Reports that Justin Timberlake will headline the 2018 Super Bowl offer further evidence of the NFL’s racism, sexism and ageism. It’s craven lunacy that NFL executives would consider asking Timberlake back while continuing to boycott all things Janet Jackson in the wake of the duo’s infamous 2004 nipple-baring performance.

The black woman took the fall for the accident, while the white boy was celebrated and saw his career take off in the aftermath. Yes, I said “accident.” Amid the endless speculation about whether it was planned or not, one fact is always forgotten: the FCC under then-Chair Michael Powell launched a thorough investigation into the incident, prodded by angry members of Congress. The senior MTV executive in charge of the show was forced to turn over her laptop to investigators, who concluded: “The FCC found nothing to suggest they had planned the moment,” as ESPN reported. That finding is consistent with Jackson’s denials that it was planned.

Ten years after Powell pretended to be offended by the split-second nipple flash in a series of TV interviews, he finally admitted the truth to ESPN. “I think we’ve been removed from this long enough for me to tell you that I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on,” he said, while rolling his eyes.

Nevertheless, Jackson was immediately blacklisted by CBS, MTV Networks and mainstream corporate radio. She was disinvited from the Grammy Awards that year, despite being a 26-time nominee and five-time winner. Timberlake was welcomed at the ceremony, accompanied by his mommy. He used the opportunity to apologize, dutifully carrying water for a network — and a conservative Republican administration — at the expense of his one-time friend Jackson.

It was a cruel stab in the back for Jackson, who did so much to advance Timberlake’s career. Before letting him share her Super Bowl stage, Jackson hired Timberlake and his cheesy boyband mates from N*Sync to open for her on 1997’s acclaimed “Velvet Rope” world tour. Many had never heard of Timberlake before that tour.

Timberlake would go on to appropriate Janet and Michael Jackson’s style and moves. Jimmy Fallon once dubbed him the “president of pop.” Luckily, presidents can be impeached. Timberlake is really the “appropriator-in-chief,” stealing liberally from the Jackson playbook and from other black artists over the years. He once even wore his hair in cornrows, an unintentionally hilarious and cringeworthy choice.

When Timberlake was the target of the MTV prank show “Punk’d,” his true personality was revealed. The gag involved IRS agents and a moving truck showing up at Timberlake’s mansion as he’s told he owes $900,000 in unpaid taxes and his belongings are being repossessed. He bursts into tears and again calls mommy for help. When he realizes it’s a gag and that cameras are rolling, he reverts to his phony “bad boy” persona, complete with “yo yo yos.”

Timberlake is a copycat, a cheap imitation of talent. He’s an average-looking Mickey Mouse Club alumnus who rode a wave of ‘90s teeny-bop cheese to undeserved fame and fortune. He is the embodiment of mediocrity. A saccharine, non-threatening, milquetoast pop star for the white bread Orlando suburbs.

And yet, the NFL is reportedly ready to give him the headliner slot at the Super Bowl at a time when the country is finally beginning to engage in a dialogue about systemic racism thanks to athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem. Two steps forward and two steps back.

Virtually no one seems to think Jackson stands a chance of being invited back to the Super Bowl, even though she’s the much bigger star by any measure. Timberlake’s four solo studio albums have sold about 27 million copies worldwide, compared to Jackson’s roughly 160 million records sold. She’s won every music industry award there is — a total of 370, including five Grammys, 33 Billboard Music Awards and 11 AMAs. She even holds nine Guinness World Records, has an Oscar nomination and was named MTV’s inaugural “Icon” award recipient.

The next generation of pop stars have unanimously cited Jackson as a primary influence, including: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Usher, Mya, Lady Gaga, Pink, Tinashe, Aaliyah, Ciara, among many others. Jackson has collaborated with a diverse array of music’s biggest stars, including Elton John, Luther Vandross, Missy Elliott, Carly Simon, Q-Tip, Chuck D, Kathleen Battle, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Nelly, Herb Alpert and Michael Jackson. And her music has been covered by everyone from Whitney Houston and Prince to Buckcherry and most recently Katy Perry.

Outside of music, Jackson starred in three successful sitcoms as a child actor; she’s a New York Times Best-Selling author and four of her five feature films debuted at No.1 at the box office.

And though Timberlake is much younger, Jackson is proving her modern relevance and staying power. While Timberlake’s last album was released in 2013, Jackson’s last outing was 2015’s “Unbreakable,” which debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s albums chart, her seventh compared to three solo No. 1 albums for Timberlake. Jackson is currently on a 56-date “State of the World” tour selling out arenas across the country at age 51 without a new single to plug and without doing any media appearances to promote the tour.

She is inexplicably absent from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite two nominations. Here’s hoping the Rock Hall finally gives Jackson her due next year.

But back to Timberlake. The NFL’s embrace of this cad, who so blithely tossed Jackson under the bus, reinforces all the racist, sexist and ageist stereotypes about American popular culture. We can only hope the NFL will do the right thing and reconsider giving such a platform to someone so undeserving. Jackson certainly deserves another shot at that stage, but she doesn’t like to repeat herself and has nothing left to prove. Jackson gracefully endured years of ridicule and boycotts. She’s proved herself the better person and the bigger star, no matter what the NFL decides.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

35 Comments
  • Whatever. Hard to take anything seriously about the audience that watches grown men getting paid millions for throwing a ball around

  • BTW : I’m not a fan of Timberlake, but he does look sort of hot as the 1950’s lifeguard in that upcoming Woody Allen movie

  • Janet Jackson will always be awesome and doesn’t need to appear on the Superbowl to prove it. I can’t think of one Justin Timberlake song but recall so many wonderful Janet Jackson songs! Who would have thought back in the day that the little girl on Good Times would become such a force?!

    She’s in Control! No, her name ain’t baby, it’s miss Jackson cause you’re nasty! Because of Love, all I have to do is think of you and nothing else seems to matter and when you go, diamonds are still a girl’s best friend to name a few verses. Many happy musical memories because of her! Her songs make you want to dance instantly! She’s fierce!

    She also is so poised and soften spoken like a lady. So glad she’s back on tour! She’s an icon!

  • Completely agree with everything in this article!

  • The article is naff. I get that the author doesn’t like Timberlake, but this reconstruction is s t r e t c h e d out.

    • Actually given how long it’s been there’s a whole generation of people who don’t really remember Janet for anything prior to nipplegate… Not only that but most people don’t fully realize the double standard that went into play afterwards or to what level she has been silenced and shunned while he continued unencumbered in his ascent without the slightest tarnish laid at his feet over the incident. To that end and to illustrate even today what a miscarriage of justice this was, Justin is being courted to headline the show while Janet is still banned from even attending games!

      Janet’s status as a musician, dancer, actress, writer, entertainer is iconic. What makes her legendary is that beyond those achievements she has been a quiet force in charity work and in her unmatched and incredibly successful efforts at marrying pop music with timely, relevant messages about often complex social and humanitarian issues. This is something she has done throughout her career not just one single along the way. I can’t think of any other performer to address those problems consistently within their music and on top of that still have that music be so wildly popular and hit making.

      And there in lies the tragedy in all of this. Even if you believe that the Superbowl was on purpose she has MORE than paid the price for it by now, a price that was too big to be fair by a huge margin and one that should have been rested upon 2 sets of shoulders rather than be saddled upon herself alone.

      So please spare the complaints about retelling the truth in what actually happened and raising up protests of Justin being invited to headline the show. After 13 years its about damn time the public heard the how things went down and how Janet graciously and quietly took the hit all alone that should never have even happened to start with.

      • God, get intervention already. The world has moved on and you still whine about something that has been long forgotten or no one has a clue about. Save your emotion for something more worthy , puhleeeease!

        • If either of those points were true Ruby then you wouldnt be reading this article, then reading the comments, then spending your time at 230 in the morning posting your own reply. In doing so you negate your own point and you’ve clearly missed the point that by inviting Justin to perform just reinforces the mysogonistic bigotry that the NFL employed 13 years ago is still standing as the modus operandi today. It’s amazing that I as a man can see that and call it out, yet you as a woman either cant recognize that that is the real issue here, or you choose to ignore it, or you remain complicit in it’s continued embrace by parts of society that should know better. Open your eyes. I don’t need to defend how incredible Janet is. She has all the awards and accolades and chart topping records to maintain that all on it’s own. This isn’t about being a fanboy, though I readily and proudly admit that I am. This is about something much bigger and much more important to you as a woman and if you can’t see that then consider this your intervention.

          • There I fixed that for you, though it absolutely blows my mind that that is what you chose to reply about. Some tiny little detail in the face of what this all stands for. But I guess it answers my question from above on how you as a woman can justify supporting Justin in all of this. Complicity. Whatever talents he does have are overshadowed by his greed and his lack of empathy and the simple ability to do what’s right here and not perform especially given everything that Janet did for him to launch his career. It’s too bad you allow yourself to be ignorant of those realities even after they’ve been explained to you…

          • Which should also tell you …irrelevancy. Yes she chose that! What else is there to REHASH?

      • Sounds like you Naff

    • As a writer myself… agreed. Is this an Op-Editorial or fake news….Well written; however, badly produced. See? How much sense did that just make. You have every right to voice as you did. But, for a country that is searching unity….not helping the cause. I suppose you perhaps never did anything, you’d do different in your teens and 20s?

  • Just another white boy Emulating black Artists. PERIOD

  • This is a very high and mighty opinion that essentially trumpets the commercial sanctity of a sport which is idolized for its violence and aggression. If you feel so comfortable about terming Timberlake “a cheap imitation of talent,” why not turn your aim at the millions of dollars of worth thrown at athletes while educators have no money for classroom equipment. People starve in this country and you soapbox that some star isn’t getting their glory.

    • I think his main point was about racism and sexism, whether or not one agrees with his premise. That’s what he was addressing. I agree with you 100% about the pointlessness and decadence of the actual event (though are you saying that money is diverted to the NFL that would otherwise go to education? I don’t think football is taxpayer funded…). And there are indeed more pressing issues in the world, but one tends to read the Atlantic or Harper’s or even the NYTimes for in-depth analyses of those. This is a lighter publication…

    • Actually, some of us might find violence and aggression acceptable, even useful, in it’s place. (I know that’s endlessly debatable). But what I find illogical about professional football (or most pro team sports) is the fans’ determination for one team to win over another. Why the preference? A team can’t represent a city, because the players are from all over the place. And next year the players can change anyway. Is it just…the team mascot ? That seems farfetched. If teams were divided into race, religion, political party, etc., then I could see some logic to rooting for a team, but……as it is, no sports fan has ever been able to give me an answer to this.

  • Kevin, Thank you for a brilliantly written and thoughtfully expressed article. I agree with this article and the statements made 210%.

    But the question if we were Janet Jackson and have won every award imaginable, was looked upon by our peers as an Legend and Icon and have inspired the careers of many, would we really give 2 f*cks about being invited back to perform at the Super Bowl? I think not. Janet Jackson is and will ALWAYS BE an Icon in the music industry and does not need the the problematic NFL to tell her otherwise.

    As for Justin Timberlake, he actually needs that appearance on the Super Bowl to help his career. He is where he is today in his career due Janet, Michael, Brian McKnight and other Black Artists helping him. Nevertheless, I will not be tuning in to watch him imitate blackness and be a fraud.

  • Half Time at the Super Bowl is not a lifetime achievement award. And Janet’s been off the radar for years. Record sales-wise, Timberlake is monumentally bigger than she is. (No judgment on her talent, just numbers)

    Also, the NFL doesn’t pay artists to perform— there’s allegations the musicians have to pay the NFL for the “privilege” to play. So most who do have a new album or something to promote. Why would Janet do it?

    I think this is a reach.

    • That’s exactly the point. She’s been off the radar for years because of the blacklisting by the NFL, MTV(Viacom is their parent company that also put on the halftime show) and corporate mainstream radio all punitively put upon her alone for the decade afterwards. No one’s arguing for Janet to do the show again, it’s already shown itself to be far beneath someone who champions equality on the regular like Janet does, in the way they treated her which is clearly not in step with equality. This isn’t about Janet getting her due, she’s running a sold out stadium tour right now without even releasing a new album, she’s doing just fine, trust! But by asking him to perform again while she is still banned just shows yet again white male priveledge is alive and well 13 years later in the NFL. Which is really just pathetic and old and the last thing that it needs right now since it just reinforces the same thing so many players have been protesting. Plain old straight up bigotry available in both racial and misogynistic flavors. Or if you’re a black woman like Janet they serve you up a swirl. Enjoy!

      • Poor Janet must be scrubbing floors somewhere now.

      • I think she’s been off the radar because she married a rich Arab guy and moved to Dubai and he wouldnt let her perform. Also, her last few efforts havent done well. I dont think there’s a blacklisting. Maybe for a year or two after the incident she was a little too controversial, but that was nearly 20 years ago.

    • Very very well said

  • LOL. This is what you’re outraged about? How much time did you waste on this nonsense article?

  • Janet Jackson is like the Nelson Mandela of pop music. The years of pain, heartache and abuse she has endured have no end in sight. I don’t know how she goes on. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed it to go on. And now this. Justin Timberlake, a white guy, who is arguably the most popular solo artist in the world is getting to play halftime at the SuperBowl. Is there no justice in this world? Is there no limit to the pain Janet Jackson must continue to endure. We are all complicit in this tragedy. There’s boob on all of our hands.

  • At least he wasn’t feminine when he ripped that breast plate off…..arrghhh..

  • I love Janet Jackson. But this article is clearly meant to bash on Justin Timberlake.

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