Justin Timberlake (Finally!) Apologizes to Janet Jackson and Britney Spears

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Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, pre-wardrobe malfunction, during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in Houston.
Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, pre-wardrobe malfunction, during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in Houston. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

News that hell froze over arrived on Instagram first thing this morning when Justin Timberlake issued an apology to both Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. Timberlake’s statement landed 19 years years after he blamed Britney Spears for the couple’s breakup (via the “Cry Me A River” video), and 16 years after he left Janet Jackson to fend for herself after that Super Bowl performance.

“I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right,” he wrote. “I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care and respect these women and I know I failed.”

The apologies arrive less than a week after The New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears documentary, which shows how the media subjected Spears to relentless scrutiny for apparently breaking Timberlake’s heart in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, Timberlake contributed to misogynistic discussions around Spears’ virginity. In an interview clip resurfaced in the doc, a radio host asks Timberlake, “Did you f--k Britney Spears?” Timberlake gleefully responds, “Okay, I did it!”

Timberlake’s Instagram began getting bombarded by angry Spears fans as soon as the doc arrived on FX and Hulu on Monday. A Feb. 6 post in which the singer is seen playing football with Tom Brady received comments including: “APOLOGIZE TO THE WOMAN WHO STARTED YOUR SOLO CAREER” and “#FreeBritney.” When one Instagram user named @zeynabbbb__ commented, “Came here to see all the Britney comments,” it was liked almost 9,000 times.

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The comments on Timberlake's Instagram also quickly progressed to include Janet Jackson. “Remember Janet Jackson,” one said. “It’s Janet Jackson Appreciation Day,” read another. Social media has been bombarded with anti-Timberlake posts during every Super Bowl since he was welcomed back to the halftime show with open arms in 2018. By contrast, Jackson has remained persona non grata at the event since 2004.

One 2006 clip of Jackson talking to Oprah Winfrey about how Timberlake treated her after their 2004 “wardrobe malfunction” was in heavy circulation on Twitter this week.

“They did put all the emphasis on me, as opposed to us,” Jackson said at the time. “Friendship is very important to me and certain things you just don’t do to friends,” she continued, adding that she felt Timberlake left her hanging “during that whole fiasco.”

In his apology on Friday, Timberlake acknowledged the privilege that has allowed him to skate through both the Britney and Janet controversies professionally unscathed. “The industry is flawed,” he wrote. “It sets men, especially white men, up for success. It’s designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life.”

Timberlake’s statement was greeted with widespread support on Instagram. However, some commenters remained cautious. “Hope you're reaching out to them too,” @mrshermaberberian wrote, “and not just doing this as a PR stunt.”