Following the breakout success of Framing Britney Spears, The New York Times Presents is debuting a new documentary on FX/Hulu on November 19 called Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson. We’ve seen a spate of documentaries focused on famous women of the aughts, from Britney to Brittany Murphy (What Happened, Brittany Murphy?), and now we’re going to take a second look at “nipplegate” and the fallout focused on the harm done to Janet’s career. The film will “examine the racial and cultural currents that collided on the Super Bowl stage” and will apparently include then-head of CBS Les Moonves’ involvement in the industry backlash against Janet. GOOD. DRAG HIM. We talk a lot about how Justin Timberlake left Janet Jackson high and dry in the aftermath of that halftime show, but we don’t talk nearly enough about Les Moonves’ weirdly personal scorched-earth policy against her.
Speaking of Justin Timberlake, though, he walked away from the event unscathed and left Ms. Jackson to flounder on her own amidst the (retrograde Puritanical) public reaction. After Framing Britney Spears, Timberlake offered an Insta-apology that included Janet Jackson as one of the women he wronged in that era, and promised to “do better”. Will that be enough to stave off another round of criticism when we reopen the Super Bowl can of worms? Probably not. An apology nearly twenty years later isn’t worth the pixels it takes up on our screens, and I don’t know what “do better” looks like, because he hasn’t done anything.
We absolutely should reassess that moment, and the way the media and public outrage were weaponized against a successful Black woman, and we should especially examine the role powerful white men played in the fallout. Les Moonves had the power to crush Janet Jackson, and he certainly did try to, and Justin Timberlake ran away from the controversy so fast, it was like people entirely forgot it took two people to make the wardrobe malfunction happen. Justin Timberlake is in that infamous still image, too, but somehow, people only see Janet Jackson.
Anyway, JC Chasez was and is the superior N*SYNC’er.
Live long and gossip,