The New York Times Hulu documentary exploring the 2004 Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" is now out — and Justin's role in everything is being critically reexamined.
In short, during the halftime show, Justin ripped off some fabric from Janet's outfit, and exposed her breast. It was a huge deal, severely damaging Janet's career in the aftermath — while Justin's experience was remarkably different.
For one, the documentary highlights how even before the Super Bowl — when Janet was presented the inaugural MTV Icon Award in 2001 — Justin only talked about Janet’s looks.
Then, the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl is explored — with Justin telling interviewers, "I love giving y'all something to talk about" and "It's every man's dream" in reference to the performance that night. Janet could not be found afterward, but was reportedly crying as the stage manager put a blanket around her.
Of course, Justin's words changed tone in the days that followed. His statement apologizing for the incident was released before Janet's, saying, "I apologize if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl. It was not intentional and it was regrettable" — catapulting the term "wardrobe malfunction" into the popular lexicon.
Janet then issued the first of many apologies, saying in a statement, "It was not my intention that it go as far as it is. I apologize to anyone offended, including the audience, MTV, CBS, and the NFL."
Then, footage of Justin giving an interview is shown where he seems to distance himself from the incident, saying, "I was under the impression that what was going to be revealed in the costume reveal was a red brassiere...When what happened happened, all I could say was, 'Oh my god, oh my god.' I don't feel like I need publicity like this, and I wouldn't want to be involved with a stunt — especially something of this magnitude."
Enter Les Moonves, the former head of CBS — who left the company after multiple accusations of sexual harassment came to light in 2018. Moonves reportedly wanted in-person apologies from both Janet and Justin, which she did not give and he did — allegedly in tears.
Janet didn’t attend the Grammys the following week, after CBS wanted both Janet and Justin to make formal apologies on the show, while Justin won an award and said, "I know it's been a rough week on everybody...what occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I completely apologize if you were offended" — while laughing.
Janet's music and movie career suffers, in part likely driven by a degree of industry sabotage and boycotts. The difference in approach from brands was telling — Disney removed a Rhythm Nation statue from its park while a McDonald's brand deal with Justin stayed in place.
And — after the release of the documentary this weekend on Hulu — some viewers took to Twitter to voice their support for Janet:
Earlier this year, Justin's role in the Super Bowl incident was reexamined by many following the NYT documentary Framing Britney Spears — which highlighted the way Justin's career profited from his breakup with Britney.
Justin subsequently released an apology this past February: "To Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed."
Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson is now available on Hulu.