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How “Nipplegate” Ruined Janet Jackson’s Career

Nipplegate at 10: How Justin Won Superbowl XXXVIII, and How Janet Lost

Jackson bore the brunt of the blame, while Timberlake weaseled out of accountability. As early as February 4, 2004—three days after the Super Bowl—People was referring to Timberlake as "the teflon man" (keep in mind this all happened over two years before his quadruple platinum magnum opus FutureSex/LoveSounds). Jackson was effectively barred from the Grammys, which took place a week after the Super Bowl and were broadcast on the same network, CBS.

According to People, Jackson was being pressured to bow out of the music awards ceremony or risk being disinvited; she was initially supposed to be an award presenter, but that offer was revoked. Meanwhile, Timberlake showed up, won two awards (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album), and during an acceptance speech, made amends over the horrible incident that had happened one week prior:

"Listen, I know it's been a rough week on everybody," he said, his earnestness breaking when the audience responded with laughter to his melodrama. "What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended." This was, though, just the most recent version of the story, which would change several times through the years, starting with Timberlake's drastically different reaction on Access Hollywood recorded the night of the Super Bowl. I couldn't find footage of this online, but there's a transcript in Frederick S. Lane's book The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture:

He cheerfully described the show for co-hosts Pat O'Brien and Nancy O'Dell: "It was fun. It was quick, slick, to the point." "You guys were getting pretty hot and steamy up there," O'Brien pointed out to Timberlake. "Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about," Timberlake laughed.

By 11:47 pm that night, Timberlake's tone had shifted: "I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl," he said. "It was not intentional and is regrettable."

A few more days later, in an interview with Los Angeles' KCBS that was also broadcast on Entertainment Tonight, Timberlake described himself as "shocked and appalled."

At what, though? The answer should have been himself, if we're taking his narrative at face value.

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