janet jackson and justin timberlake210221

How performativity and fear of being cancelled led to Justin Timberlake’s apology

2021 is proving itself to be full of surprises.

After 17 years, Justin Timberlake has issued a long overdue apology to Janet Jackson – and the motive behind his apology is something I can’t quite get passed.

For those that can remember, the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show was supposed to be about Janet Jackson performing her greatest hits at the time, with a guest performance from Timberlake. 

However, her moment to shine was tarnished by the now infamous ‘Nipplegate’ after Timberlake accidentally exposed Jackson’s breast on live television – a moment which was broadcast to over 140 million viewers in the United States and led to Jackson’s blacklisting. 

A moment that was meant to celebrate the legacy of one of America’s truly biggest talents turned into her downfall as Jackson’s singles and music videos were blocked from radio stations and music channels.

While Timberlake’s career continued to flourish, a dark cloud hung over Jackson’s for years – something which often happens to Black women in the entertainment industry who come under scrutiny.

At the time, the ‘Like I Love You’ singer didn’t come to her defence. He profited from a platform she gave him while her reputation was torn to pieces – and now it seems Timberlake is beginning to pay the price for his negligence. 

The long-awaited apology from JT came days after the world watched the newly-released documentary Framing Britney Spears, which acknowledged how he once again benefited from the public scrutiny of another woman.

The documentary showed how Timberlake’s actions, including gaslighting a young Spears, contributed to the tainting of her image. 

In his apology, Timberlake said that he’d seen all the “messages, tags and comments” regarding his behaviour to both Spears and Jackson and made several references to his privileged position saying: “This industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success.”. 

This statement couldn’t be more true – but it is hard to believe the singer was not already aware of that. 

The use of common ally buzzwords like “ignorance” and “accountability” were also sprinkled throughout his apology, which unfortunately fell flat due to the damage already caused to Jackson’s career. 

Timberlake’s decision to address this issue almost 20 years later may be commendable to some, but it’s hard to decipher whether his apology was genuine or if it was merely fear of being cancelled by the masses.

I feel authenticity is important to consider when celebrities like Timberlake are quick to issue apologies after something is brought to light, instead of apologising prior to facing scrutiny.

After journalist Ernest Owens recently called out JT, as he recalled the singer dismissed his tweet asking him to apologise to Jackson five years ago, I can’t help but question the timing and the reliability behind it.

Since the documentary’s release, old videos have unearthed on Twitter showcasing Timberlake’s penchant for cultural appropriation over the years, from rocking durags and cornrows to years later poking fun at what he now considers a “wardrobe malfunction”. 

These videos serve as another reminder of how little his career had been affected by any wrongdoings he may have done and while an apology was deserved for both Spears and Jackson, it is changed behaviour that will reveal his true remorse in the next phase of his career.

While donning cornrows may have been ‘cool’ in the early 2000s, performative allyship shouldn’t be the next bandwagon that Timberlake jumps on. 

Let’s hope that his actions align with his apology going forward.

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