The documentary, which aired on Nov. 19, uncovers how Jackson’s career became severely damaged following her performance at the Super Bowl in February 2004, during which she was joined on stage by fellow artist Justin Timberlake.
In the halftime show, Timberlake ripped away part of Jackson’s costume during their performance, exposing her breast. At the time, and for years that followed, Jackson faced large amounts of public scrutiny and negative press.
Immediately afterward, as the documentary highlights, Timberlake publicly made light of the situation. He told interviewers, “I love giving y’all something to talk about” and “It's every man’s dream,” in reference to the performance. Jackson, on the other hand, couldn’t be found in the moments that followed, but reportedly cried as the stage manager put a blanket around her.
Shortly after the Super Bowl aired, both Timberlake and Jackson issued apologies, after the FCC reportedly received over 500,000 complaints about the broadcast.
In a statement to MTV News on Feb. 1, Timberlake said, “I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl. It was not intentional and is regrettable.”
Jackson said, in her own video statement, “The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime 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. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”
Timberlake agreed to apologize on air, and subsequently not only attended the award show, but performed and won two of his nominations. During his acceptance speech, he laughed while saying, “I know it's been a rough week for everybody. ... What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I completely apologize if you were offended.”
Jackson, on the other hand, was reportedly set to appear during a Luther Vandross tribute, but was ultimately removed in the wake of the Super Bowl controversy. She declined to apologize, per CBS, and therefore did not attend.
And this only marked the very beginning of the damage that Jackson’s career suffered. For example, as the documentary reveals, Jackson’s songs and videos released after the Super Bowl received significantly lower airplay on radio stations than usual, while her album Damita Jo was her lowest-selling since 1984.
Speaking with MTV News in August 2006, Timberlake addressed the fact that most of the negative press had been aimed at Jackson, highlighting the wider issues of gender and race that many had begun to question.
“It's an understatement to say that it was sort of unfair if you consider it 50-50, I probably got 10% of the blame,” he said. “And that says something about society. I think that America's harsher on women, and I think that America's unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”
Back in February this year, Timberlake issued a brief apology toward Jackson in a statement posted on Instagram. He noted that he cares for and respects her, and knows that he “failed” in his response to the Super Bowl incident.
And now, the latest documentary on Jackson’s experience has reignited the conversation around Timberlake’s treatment of her, and of women in Hollywood more broadly.
Over the weekend, many viewers took to Twitter to voice their support for the “All for You” singer — with the hashtag #JusticeForJanet trending shortly after the documentary’s release.
“[Justin Timberlake’s] behavior is disgusting. The lack of empathy, disrespectful behavior and misogny is appalling,” tweeted one user.
“They way they slandered, degraded humiliated and shamed Janet in the media like that and she remained so fucking graceful and peaceful is a testament of the strength,dignity & character of Janet Jackson. #justiceforjanet,” wrote another.
Among the influx of critical tweets that surfaced, a clip of Timberlake performing at Irving Plaza in 2011 began circulating, where he can be seen making light of the incident, and mocking Jackson.
In the short video, Timberlake can be seen pulling his shirt away near his chest and pointing at his nipple, while rapping the lyrics: “Maybe I’m an asshole / Oops, did I take it too far? Super Bowl.”
Many voiced their disgust at the resurfaced clip, calling Timberlake out for “capitalizing” on Jackson's “misfortune.”
“This is why I stopped f*cking with [Timberlake]. He's a culture vulture and left #JanetJackson out on a limb. So happy Ms. Jackson's truth will finally be told #JusticeForJanet,” one person tweeted.
And after several viewers criticized the former NSYNC star, Jackson appeared to enter the conversation herself.
On Sunday, Jackson — who had largely remained silent on social media after the documentary's release — shared a quote to both Twitter and Instagram, in the wake of the controversy.
Jackson wrote: “Not sure if you got the memo. But we’re not competing anymore, we’re appreciating and uplifting each other instead.”
While it’s uncertain whether or not Jackson’s quote was in reference to the documentary and the criticism being shared, eagle-eyed fans noticed that Timberlake liked the post.
However, many also speculated that Jackson’s post might have been referring to the recent spat between Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, which also attracted attention over the weekend.
After Aguilera seemingly avoided a question about Spears’ conservatorship in an interview, the “Toxic” singer called her out on Instagram, which led to fans pitting the two pop stars against each other, rehashing an age-old debate. Along with Timberlake, Aguilera also liked Jackson’s post.
Timberlake’s controversial past is something that came to light earlier this year, following the release of FX and Hulu’s Framing Britney Spears, which reexamined his treatment of his ex-girlfriend as well as her experiences of being scrutinized by the media.
If you didn’t know, Timberlake and Spears’ three-year-long relationship ended in a highly publicized breakup in 2002. Spears was notoriously demonized by the media for being the cause of their split — a narrative that Timberlake has been accused of perpetuating and publicly “weaponizing” to boost his own career.
Many fans noted how Timberlake’s disrespectful remarks about Spears — which he made while laughing — seemed to parallel the way in which he’d publicly mocked Jackson and the Super Bowl performance.
As mentioned, Timberlake addressed the criticism in a statement shared to Instagram in February, in which he apologized to both Spears and Jackson for his actions.
“I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond,” he began. “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.”
“I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism,” he continued.
“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.