When Justin Timberlake sang the closing lyrics of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” with Janet Jackson, what he did next became the most infamous moment in Super Bowl history.
Justin Timberlake ripped off an article of clothing to expose Janet Jackson’s right breast during the halftime show, and the backlash was overwhelming.
The embarrassment Jackson showed during interviews thereafter was clearly evident, yet she was the one to garner most of the blame. Even though Timberlake was the one who ripped off part of her top. The story was that Jackson was supposed to have something blocking her breast.
The CBS broadcast allowed MTV to produce the halftime show, and the fallout between the networks and Jackson showed after the event. Jackson’s music videos no longer aired on MTV or other Viacom platforms (this is back when those channels still played music videos). This led to many other corporate sponsors were quick to deny involvement in the production of the show.
When Timberlake did not take responsibility for the infamous incident, the public turned to ridicule Jackson. This showed the true difference of the social climate towards women, as if something like that were to happen today, the public surely would come to more of a defense of Jackson quicker than they did 14 years ago. Following the performance, Timberlake did not come to Jackson’s defense and did not want to take any of the blame. Recently, Timberlake said he regrets the way he handled the aftermath, letting Jackson out to dry.
Despite his involvement in the incident, the NFL controversially chose Timberlake to perform during this year’s Super Bowl.
Due to the live nature of halftime performances, the NFL was unable to censor the slip-up. The FCC attempted to hand down a number of indecency fines for the malfunction, but the Supreme Court ruled that those fines were unwarranted because of the lack of explanation from the FCC of what was prohibited. The incident became ingrained in the political rhetoric of an election year, wanting to clean-up the airwaves.
Nonetheless, the NFL grew much more wary when picking halftime show performers after this incident. The league handpicked classic rock stars like Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney instead of racy pop-stars.
To avoid controversy from the public and further possible fines from the FCC, sports broadcasters became much more stringent to the FCC censorship guidelines.