In the days since the release of the NYT documentary Framing Britney Spears, and as we’re all confronting and meditating on our complicity (the media, the public, everyone) with how Britney was treated, one name has come up more often than others: Justin Timberlake. He only shows up for a few minutes in the film but you don’t need any more than that to understand his role in shaping Britney’s reputation at the time. And besides, if you’ve been visiting this site over the years, you’re likely familiar with our take here on Justin and his f-cksh-t.
Today JT directly addressed the criticism and offered an apology:
As far as Justin Timberlake apologies go, I don’t totally hate this. But I wonder if that’s a low bar. Last year he apologised on social media when he embarrassed himself and his family after getting photographed drunk and holding hands with a co-star; the apology, if you can call it that, ended with JT promoting the movie he was shooting at the time. This apology, then, compared to that apology, is an obvious improvement. And, I guess, a good start? Does that mean it’s actually good though?
JT’s apology does hit some key points that he’s never addressed as directly until now. It is short though and it’s not super specific. But …look… it’s not like I’m not always down to drag Justin Timberlake for his f-cksh-t and yet, in this case, as mentioned earlier, and in my post from earlier this week, and in my posts from over the last year especially, there was an entire culture that was responsible for what happened to Britney. JT was a big part of that culture, sure, but he wasn’t the only player. Absolutely he exploited a set of conditions that consistently elevates white men over women and women of colour in particular; there were five members of NSYNC and there’s a reason why he became the biggest one to emerge from the band: Britney Spears; she’s also the reason he was able to get so big so fast when he went solo – by trading on his association with her. BUT. He was also enabled pretty much by an entire ecosystem. Which means that if we’re really going to reckon with it, the entire ecosystem should participate in this conversation.
So what I’m more interested in where JT’s apology is concerned is whether or not it’s the start of something. Apologies don’t have to be one and done. They can be a beginning – and he says himself at the end of this post that he wants to continue the conversation. Which means people should be able to ask him about it. And he should be willing to talk about it. What would undermine this gesture is if he went back to his usual f-ckery and waved it all away all like, I already said I was sorry and I’m ready to move on, a classic celebrity move. Britney certainly wasn’t afforded that privilege. Britney repeatedly had to answer questions about “what she did to JT” (as Diane Sawyer demanded of her) so… shouldn’t JT be willing to do the same?
Justin Timberlake declined to be interviewed for Framing Britney Spears, not surprisingly. He probably was not expecting, however, that the reaction to Framing Britney Spears would blow back on him this hard. While it’s too late now to put him in the doc though, the filmmakers are still around. The New York Times is still around. And it would be great if the follow-up from this apology appetiser, which certainly feels incomplete, could be a longer conversation with the New York Times or the filmmakers, about how his perspective has changed, what he’s learned over the years, how he’s now thinking about his rise, his career, his success, with respect to Britney and Janet Jackson. I’m not saying he has to submit to an interrogation (as satisfying as that would be) but the fact that he took action today indicates that he’s aware of the hit that he’s been taking since the documentary came out and wanted to mitigate the damage. There are going to be skeptics then who will think, given his history, that this is about self-preservation, and that’s fair. So if this isn’t about self-preservation and actually about being part of the conversation, as he says, stay for the conversation. Stick around. Get uncomfortable. Face the tough questions. And if I were advising him, I would tell him not be afraid of them. What would it cost him, after all, now that he’s been exposed to this extent for his shortcomings, the biggest callout so far in his career, to actually be honest about how he, as he said, “failed”. It’s not like nobody knows. And it’s not like so many others aren’t doing the same. So at this point, there’s no downside to actually getting in there and doing the work.
The question is… will he? Will Justin Timberlake actually build off of this apology and “wholeheartedly” participate in this conversation?