Everything was going pretty well during 2004′s Super Bowl XXXVIII, until the quite lovely and talented Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake took the stage for the halftime show, performing a medley of both of their recent releases. During the performance, Justin tore at Janet’s outfit, and for less than a second, exposed her breast – which was covered by a nipple shield (which is a piece of jewelry that camouflages a majority of what needs to be covered – but not all of it.) While it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the fact that an act of indecency happened on such a widely watched program on a major network made it become huge news.
Even worse, the tear happened shortly after Justin’s lyrics of ”I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song”, from “Rock Your Body”, were sung. After the world saw the boob that’d make headlines for the rest of the year, the CBS broadcast cut to an aerial view of Reliant Stadium for damage control. Unfortunately, it was too late. The moment became known as (and I cringe as I write this) “Nipplegate”, mimicking Watergate from the ’70s.
Some debated that the incident was a sign of decreasing morality in the national culture - The FCC even increased the fine per “indecency violation” from $27,500 to $325,000 right after it happened. Despite signs pointing to the tear being intentional (see: lyrics above), the incident was soon blamed on a “wardrobe malfunction” by Justin’s PR team. Perhaps this was to soften the blow from the Parents Television Conference, who stated that their members would file indecency complaints with the FCC, and proudly stood by the FCC for investigating the halftime show. The FCC received well over 540,000 complaints from viewers.
Terri Carlin, a banker residing in Tennessee, launched a class action lawsuit against Timberlake and Jackson on behalf of “all American citizens who watched the outrageous conduct.” It was later dropped, but wasn’t the only court case based on the show; America Online, who sponsored the halftime show, demanded a refund of the approximately $7.5 million that they spent on advertising.
Many took this out on Justin – after all, he did the ripping. In an interview released soon after, he said he was appalled by the entire thing, saying the following to CBS affiliate KCBS:
“I do understand that there were a lot of people that were completely offended by what happened, including my own family… I think that’s probably the part that’s frustrating the most for me and it’s completely, completely, completely, regrettable… The fact of the matter is, I’ve had a good year, a really good year, especially with my music, even me personally. I don’t feel like I need publicity like this… And I wouldn’t want to be involved with a stunt, especially of this magnitude. I immediately looked at her, they brought a towel up onstage, I immediately covered her up. I was completely embarrassed, just walked off the stage as quick as I could.”
Sources from Janet swore that there was supposed to be another piece of material underneath – and Justin agreed, saying that he thought a red bustier would be covering Janet during the end of the act. Janet also released a video which stated that the costume-ripping ending to the performance was added after the final rehearsal and that CBS, the NFL and MTV — which produced the halftime show — were unaware that it’d be happening.
Both Timberlake and Jackson were scheduled to be at the Grammys shortly after the Super Bowl, which was also going to be airing on CBS. Based on what happened earlier, they decided to use an even longer delay in case a repeat performance took place.
Here’s an interesting fact: YouTube, which launched in 2005, was inspired by the event after founder Jawed Karim couldn’t easily find a video clip of the incident online, which led to the idea of a video sharing site. And yes – the show was still heavily discussed in 2005, a full year later.
Do you remember watching the controversial halftime show? Do you think the outrage was necessary? What do you think the reaction would be if the same incident happened today?
Image Credit: footballnation.com (featured)