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Britney Spears Referenced Justin Timberlake On Instagram For The First Time Since He Said He Was "Deeply Sorry" For His Past Treatment Of Her After A Documentary Caused Huge Backlash

Spears referenced Timberlake in an Instagram caption for the first time since he extended an apology for his treatment of her following their 2002 breakup.

Posted on August 18, 2021, at 10:47 a.m. ET

Britney Spears has shocked fans by publicly referring to her ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake for the first time since he apologized for his past treatment of her six months ago.

Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images

The couple dated for three years before a highly publicized breakup in 2002, which was documented earlier this year in the critically acclaimed film Framing Britney Spears.

Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The documentary, which was released in February, followed the singer’s rise to fame, highlighting the misogyny and paparazzi intrusion that defined much of her career, before moving on to detail the current #FreeBritney movement.

A person holding a flag reading "#FreeBritney" with the Washington Monument in the background
Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The film attracted huge amounts of public attention and is partly responsible for the recent upsurge of the #FreeBritney movement centralizing around Spears’s highly controversial conservatorship, which has seen her life and finances under the control of her father and his legal team since 2008.

Charriau / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

However, one of the most talked about elements of the documentary was the coverage of the breakdown of Spears’s and Timberlake’s relationship, which at the time saw her demonized by the media for being the cause of the split.

Lucy Nicholson / AFP via Getty Images

The documentary highlighted the most pivotal points of the breakup, shedding new light on the way that Timberlake treated Spears during that time, and accused him of publicly “weaponizing” the narrative of the split to boost his own career.

Jeffrey Mayer / WireImage

Fans were reminded of the music video for Justin’s hit song “Cry Me a River,” which at the time bolstered claims that Spears had been unfaithful during their relationship and fueled the criticism she was receiving from the media.

A frame from the "Cry Me a River" music video showing Justin Timberlake and a female actor
Jive Records

“Cry Me a River” — released amid the breakup in 2002 — included a ton of cryptic lyrics about infidelity, and the music video also included an actor who fans felt looked strikingly similar to Spears.

Lyrics from "Cry Me a River"
Genius / Jive Records / Justin Timberlake

“He essentially weaponizes the video for one of his singles to incriminate her in the demise of their relationship,” Wesley Morris, a New York Times critic at large, said of the “Cry Me a River” music video during the documentary.

Kmazur / WireImage

What’s more, Framing Britney Spears also highlighted multiple clips taken from the period of time following the breakup where Timberlake talked very publicly about his and Spears’s sexual relationship.

Steve Granitz / WireImage

Perhaps one of the most problematic instances was when Timberlake bragged on live radio about having sex with Spears. In response to the question “Did you fuck Britney Spears?” Timberlake laughed before stating, “OK, I did it.”

Hulu / FX

Subsequently, in an interview with Barbara Walters, Timberlake burst into laughter when asked if Spears had “kept her promise to wait until marriage” to have sex.

Picture Alliance / dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, once the documentary was released, Timberlake found himself at the receiving end of a ton of backlash over his past treatment of Spears — almost 20 years after the couple split.

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

Fans swarmed Timberlake’s Instagram comments, demanding that he publicly apologize to Spears for the way he treated her following their breakup.

Instagram / @justintimberlake

Well, several days later, on February 12, Timberlake shared a statement on his Instagram, telling followers that he had seen the public outcry for him to apologize and that he was “deeply sorry.”

The apology was directed at not only Britney Spears but also Janet Jackson — whom he infamously humiliated when he performed alongside her at the Super Bowl in 2004. He ripped her costume and exposed her breast to millions of viewers, which effectively ended her career while his exploded.

Frank Micelotta / Getty Images

“I have seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond,” the singer wrote on his Instagram account. “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.”

Vera Anderson / WireImage

“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,” he added.

Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images

Neither Spears nor Jackson had directly acknowledged Timberlake since he posted the statement six months ago — that is, until now.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

On Tuesday evening, Spears shared a post on Instagram which appeared to make reference to some of Timberlake’s song lyrics.

Axelle / FilmMagic

Beneath a photograph of an unusually large cat, she wrote: “As JT would say...haters gonna say it’s fake!!!!!” — referencing the lyrics from the 2018 song “Filthy.”

This marks the first time that Spears has publicly acknowledged Timberlake since his apology in February, and inevitably, the mention of her ex has left some fans confused.

Instagram / @britneyspears

“JT? As in Justin Timberlake?” several fans commented on the post.

Instagram / @britneyspears

Others speculated that she might even be teasing a musical collaboration between the former couple.

Instagram / @britneyspears

Despite their troubled past, this isn’t the first time that Spears has come out in support of Timberlake’s music in recent years.

Picture Alliance / picture alliance via Getty Images

In a since-deleted Instagram post from April 2020, Spears danced along to the same song, “Filthy,” and appeared to pretty explicitly address their breakup in the caption.

“PS I know we had one of the world’s biggest breakups 20 years ago,” she wrote. “But hey the man is a genius!!!! Great song JT!!!!”

Instagram / @britneyspears / @commentsbycelebs

At the time, Justin responded in the comments with a series of emojis.

Instagram / @justintimberlake / @commentsbycelebs

And more recently, Timberlake spoke out in support of his ex as she continues to battle the terms of her conservatorship, which has been in place for 13 years.

Denise Truscello / WireImage

Following her devastating court testimony in June, in which she described the conservatorship as “abusive,” likened it to sex trafficking, and claimed she'd been prevented from getting her IUD removed, Timberlake took to Twitter to express his support and concern.

Gabe Ginsberg / FilmMagic

“After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time,” he tweeted. “Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was…what’s happening to her is just not right. No woman should ever be restricted from making decisions about her own body.”

After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time. Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was… what’s happening to her is just not right. No woman should ever be restricted from making decisions about her own body.

“No one should EVER be held against their will…or ever have to ask permission to access everything they’ve worked so hard for,” he added. “We hope the courts, and her family make this right and let her live however she wants to live.”

No one should EVER be held against their will… or ever have to ask permission to access everything they’ve worked so hard for.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.