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.