Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show Controversy

Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show Controversy

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Updated Jan 18, 2018 at 03:52PM EST by Matt.

Added Jan 18, 2018 at 02:59PM EST by Matt.

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Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show Controversy, or Nipplegate, refers to the reaction and response to singer and recording artist Justin Timberlake exposing singer and recording artist Janet Jackson's breast and nipple during a halftime show performance. While the incident was blamed on a "warddrobe malfunction," the moment became a watershed moment in American society, raising questions about free speech and censorship, resulting in multiple fines for the networks involved as well as the blacklisting of Janet Jackson in American media.


On February 1st, 2004, Justin Timberlake joined Janet Jackson on stage at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show to perform the song "Rock Your Body." At the end of the song, Timberlake reached his hand across Jackson's breast and tore her outfit, revealing her right breast and nipple.[1]


Artist Reaction

Jackson maintains that the incident was caused by a "wardrobe malfunction." In a statement, she said, "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."[4]

She released a video apology (shown below), in the weeks that followed the incident.

A representative for Janet Jackson said, ""Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra. The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed."[3]

Justin Timberlake made a similar statement. In written statement, he 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."

The statement coined the phrase "wardrobe malfunction." The American Dialect Society nominated it for the "2004 Word of the Year."[5]

In 2006, Timberlake discussed the incident in an interview with MTV.

"I’m a part of a community that consider themselves artists,” Timberlake said. “And if there’s something that I could have done in her defense, that was more, that I could have realized, then I would have."[6][8]

Network Reaction

Following the event, Viacom, which owns MTV and CBS, blacklisted Jackson's singles and music videos on their channels, hurting the chart performance of her 2004 album Damita Jo.

CBS said in a statement, "We attended all rehearsals throughout the week and there was no indication that any such thing would happen The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended."[6]

NFL executive vice president Joe Browne said, "We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show. They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show. It’s unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime."

MTV made a similar statement. They said, "The tearing of Janet Jackson's costume was unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance. MTV regrets this incident occurred and we apologize to anyone who was offended by it."[7]

FCC Reacation

Immediately following the incident, CBS cameras cut to an ariel view of the stadium, hoping to prevent further FCC violations for showing a breast. However, it is likely that an estimated 143 million people saw the moment.

The FCC fined CBS $550,000, prompting a legal case that lasted nearly a decade. In 2011, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals voided the fine.[2]

Online Reaction

In the year that followed the incident, Janet Jackson topped the most searched person and term on the Internet of 2004 and 2005.

At the time, Aaron Schatz of the Lycos Top 50 wrote:

"Janet Jackson exposing her breast during the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday night has proved to be the most-searched event in the history of the Internet.

"On Monday, Janet Jackson and the halftime show received 60 times as many searches as the Paris Hilton sex tape and 80 times as many searches as Britney Spears. Jackson was searched 50 times for every request for the topic that normally dominates on the day after the game, Super Bowl commercials. She also received 275 times as many searches as the streaker who ran on the field before the second half, and 350 times as many searches as Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady.

"Janet Jackson wasn’t the only person involved in the stunt, of course. Justin Timberlake received 40 times as many searches as he does on a normal day."

Super Bowl LII

In October 2017, The NFL announced that Justin Timberlake would perform at the Super Bowl halftime show for the first time since the incident. Following the announcement, the NFL made a statement about the rumored ban on Janet Jackson from the Super Bowl.[10] They said, "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."

A source close to Jackson said, "The door is wide open. If Justin or his team did reach out, Janet would perform with him again in a minute."

Ahead of the performance, Timberlake made more comments about the aftermath of the incident and his thoughts on the event, particularly because Jackson was blacklisted, while Timberlake was not.

"I stumbled through it," he said. "It's just something that you have to look back on and go, 'OK, you can't change what's happened, but you can move forward and learn from it.'"

Online, people reacted negative to Timberlake saying the he and Jackson had made peace over the situation. On Twitter, people posted gifs and images of people rolling their eyes to express their reaction to Timberlake's assertion.

Justin Timberlake: Janet and I have absolutely made peace since the Super Bowl. The rest of the World: GUE GIF 2X Justin Timberlake: "Janet Jackson and I have made peace with what happened at SuperBowl 2004" ReactionGIF org GIF I need to hear this from Janet. And it will be delicious if she is equally silent in her support of him as he was of her. Delicious. USA TODAY Life@usatodaylife Justin Timberlake: I have 'absolutely' made peace with Janet Jackson after Super Bowl incident via @usatoday

Search Interest

External References

[1] Wikipedia – Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy

[2] New York Times – Court Rules Against F.C.C. Fine in Janet Jackson Case

[3] E News – FIRST LOOK: The News in Brief, February 3, 2004

[4] CNN – Apologetic Jackson says 'costume reveal' went awry

[5] American Dialect Society – Word of the Year

[6] The Washington Post – Everything you forgot about Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s 2004 Super Bowl controversy


[8] YouTube – Justin Timberlake Looking Back At The Super Bowl Incident

[9] Search Engine Journal – Janet Jackson Tops Internet Search Terms

[10] Entertainment Tonight – Janet Jackson Open to Performing at Super Bowl With Justin Timberlake -- If He Asks, Source Says

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