15 Years Since Nipplegate
Today marks 15 years since the infamous halftime show performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII. The performance — which featured Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson — was actually a good one, but unfortunately, it will always be remembered for its final milliseconds, where Justin Timberlake ripped off a part of Janet Jackson’s bustier, revealing her bare right breast. And thus Nipplegate was born.
At the time, it was described as a “wardrobe malfunction” — a term that has since taken on a life of its own. All these years later, I still don’t know if I believe it was unintentional (even though this clip does support Janet’s story), but I do know that people overreacted to the sight of a black woman’s breast. CBS — the network that aired the Super Bowl that year — received over 500,000 complaints and the NFL had to refund the $10 million it was paid by the sponsors of the halftime show.
As a way of making peace with America, the NFL went the “safe” route in the subsequent halftime shows. For the next six years after Nipplegate, the performers were all old and male, and with the exception of Prince, white. They were also all rock acts, and generally speaking, their performances were boring as fuck. Prince did okay, but the rest? Trash.
The performance would also change television at large. Congress passed legislation that increased FCC fines for indecency, which led to many networks implementing delays in their live broadcasts.
The most lasting impact, however, was the effect it had on Janet Jackson’s career, and this wasn’t because the music-buying audience suddenly abandoned her; it was because Les Moonves, the then-CEO of Viacom (which owned CBS at the time), made it his business to destroy Janet Jackson. He ordered that she be blacklisted from all Viacom properties across TV, radio and even publishing — it cannot be overstated how damaging this could be to any entertainer’s career. Just pure evil.
Justin Timberlake didn’t help matters by being disloyal. His public apology following Nipplegate essentially put all the blame on Janet Jackson, which is typical. Also, it’s worth noting that a lot of his initial statements following Nipplegate have been scrubbed from the internet, including an interview right after the performance, where he says, “We love giving you something to talk about” (paraphrasing). I remember this clip vividly because it was just hours after the performance and before shit had really hit the fan.
That year, Janet Jackson was disinvited from the Grammys while Justin got to attend and perform TWICE. He has gone from success to success in the years since, while Janet Jackson’s career was effectively put to an end. I am still bitter about it and I will never forgive all those responsible for bringing her down.
I take solace in the fact that Les Moonves went down in flames last year, losing his job as the CEO of CBS following accusations of sexual misconduct. Also, on the day of last year’s Super Bowl (where Justin got halftime show duties), the internet decided to have Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. We will never fully get justice, but in order to make sure this doesn’t happen again, we will always remember.