When Justin Timberlake takes the stage for the 2018 Super Bowl Halftime Show, it will have been fourteen years since the notorious nipplegate event that took place at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. It was the facial expression of shame felt round the world as Timberlake tore off a very key piece of Jackson’s ensemble, coining the term “wardrobe malfunction” firmly enough for it to later gain entry into the dictionary.
Though Jackson and Timberlake also shared the stage with Jessica Simpson, Kid Rock, P. Diddy and Nelly that year, none of those people would be remembered, neither for their performances nor in subsequent years for their musical output. No, 2004’s Super Bowl was the year of Janet Jackson’s free nipple, and, subsequently, the NFL took great pains to keep everything as tame as possible, with Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones succeeding in the following years to appeal to the NFL’s craving for “decency” after CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC over the incident. In fact, Jackson’s nipple also prompted the FCC to up the fine for indecency from $27,000 to $325,000 after the controversy. This uproar over something purported to have been contrived on Jackson’s part is one of the many peaks in U.S. pop culture revealing how uncomfortable with sexuality Americans are, and therefore simultaneously obsessed with it.
Jackson suffered a backlash after the event, with enmeshed corporate conglomerates affiliated with CBS opting to blacklist radio and TV airplay of Jackson’s singles and videos. And what was Timberlake’s punishment? Well, nothing. A slap on the wrist, and now, an invitation to headline the entire show. Yet if the suits in charge had any sense of good taste, they would have extended at least an invitation to Jackson to join Timberlake on the stage in light of how much women have been shouting from the mountaintops about the injustices they suffer at the hands of the patriarchy of late. But no, the NFL instead claims, “There’s no ban. We are not going to comment on any speculation regarding potential guests. There may be no guests… Along with Pepsi, we’re excited to have Justin Timberlake. Like the elite NFL players who can run, catch, and block, Justin can do it all—sing, dance, act, and entertain. He’s the ultimate global superstar who we know will put on an entertaining and unifying show that will appeal to the massive worldwide audience.”
Isn’t that just “terrific,” as white men love to use as a descriptor? Timberlake, who hasn’t even released an album as recently as Janet (his last one was 2013’s The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2), is given the luxury of another shot at the Halftime Show stage after all that puritanical chastising during an era of especial conservatism (the theme for 2004’s show was, incidentally, Choose or Lose, in honor of it being an election year), while Janet merely gets the faux sanction of “there’s no ban.” But one’s guess is that Timberlake will reserve the stage for himself, as that’s been the norm over the past few years with the likes of Lady Gaga flying solo (literally–though JT’s performance has got to be better than her rather rote one). Plus, where else is he going to get so much attention and free publicity now that, to be honest, no one really cares about him the way they did in the mid-00s except Jessica Biel?