The New York Times has released yet another documentary. They've been on a roll ever since "Framing Britney Spears" came out earlier this year. That documentary reignited a discussion about how Justin Timberlake treated Spears in the media following their breakup. This caused many to bring Janet Jackson into the conversation.
The reason being the "wardrobe malfunction" that took place at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004. Jackson's breast was exposed after Timberlake tore off a piece of her costume at the very end of the performance. There was backlash, however, it mostly got directed at Jackson rather than Timberlake. Timberlake was perceived as deliberately distancing himself from Jackson and the incident. Many felt that he wasn't defending her the way that he should have.
The resurgence of this conversation caused Justin to post a public apology to Spears and Jackson on his social media. However, The New York Times still decided to release a documentary on the halftime show incident. The documentary feels rushed and this is one of the main problems it suffers from. It appears that this was put together merely to capitalize on a trending topic.
The pacing is very quick and leaves out important aspects of the story. For starters, they fail to mention that the story about Jackson wearing a red bra underneath her costume may not have been true. The explanation we initially got from both Jackson and Timberlake's camp claimed a red bra was supposed to be exposed, but Justin tore off too much. Hence, the "wardrobe malfunction."
However, there is a photo which shows a close-up of the piece Justin tore off. In the photo, you can see the back of the piece. It shows that there is red lace attached to the top of the costume to give the illusion that there is a red bra. However, the rest of the piece is just black. Judging from the picture, it looks like Jackson wasn't wearing a bra underneath her costume.
Beth McCarthy-Miller was a producer on the halftime show. She was interviewed for the documentary, but shared a key detail in another interview that was left out of this new film. She claimed Timberlake ripped the piece off too early. Jackson's stylist spoke out after the documentary aired and said the producers were supposed to cut to black when the reveal happened.
It's also important to note that the halftime show producers have insisted they were not told about this change. Janet herself also confirmed this in her apology video. Based on all of these accounts, it certainly looks like Jackson did plan on having her breast come out, but in a way that wouldn't be visible to the audience. The "red bra" story was probably just an easier way to explain it away in the midst of the outrage.
Speaking of the outrage, the one takeaway I got from this documentary was how overblown this whole thing was. It was just a nipple. A body part. That's it. Nobody got injured. Nobody got killed. A part of the human body was shown for a couple seconds on live television. Does that really warrant the level of outrage all the way from the media to congress? I don't think so.
I also understand why some feel Jackson was targeted because of her race and gender. I think there were certainly some who had racist and misogynistic motives with their outrage. But I also think everyone who was speaking about it was coming from a different place. Some were racist, some were sexist, and some were just prudes who would've complained to the FCC no matter who it was.
In addition to the outrage seen in the documentary, I also felt the existence of the documentary itself proved this is a tired topic. Yes, it was wrong for a Black woman's nipple to cause so much outrage. But we're doing Janet no favors by continuing to throw this story in people's faces. I'm even guilty for writing this article, but I feel this point must be made.
I'm sure Janet would love to move on from this incident and have the public focus on her artistry. I'm sure she doesn't want this incident to define her. Yet, for a new generation, this is the first (if not only) thing they know about Janet. And we're partly responsible for that by keeping it in the public consciousness.
I also don't agree with the public flogging of Justin Timberlake. It's almost as if people want revenge. They want Justin to suffer the same kind of public backlash (if not worse) that Britney and Janet experienced. I don't think getting even is the best way to right a wrong. I also think the problem of misogyny and racism in the entertainment business is a lot bigger than Justin Timberlake.
People should be given room to grow and evolve. Yet, it seems like people want to hang Justin Timberlake in the public square before he's even had a chance to prove such an evolution has taken place.
Another key factor the documentary glosses over is the alleged blacklist. While MTV denied a blacklist was taking place at the time, it was clear to anyone paying attention. Jackson's "Damita Jo" album came out the following March and MTV never played any of the videos promoting it. This continued during the "20 Y.O." era as well.
While I don't believe either album would've done significantly well by Jackson's standards, I do think they would've done better without the blacklist. This was before YouTube, so MTV (and TRL specifically) was the place you needed your videos to be played during that time. There was an entire demographic who weren't even aware Jackson had new albums out.
The blacklist finally ended in 2008 during the "Discipline" era. Janet was interviewed for an entire hour of TRL and she performed her hit single, "Feedback." MTV also made Jackson their Artist of the Month for February (the same month the album was released) and she filmed a bunch of commercials spoofing their reality shows.
There seems to be a popular narrative going around that claims Jackson's career never recovered because of the Super Bowl incident. As a long time fan who has closely followed her career, I don't believe it's that simple.
Jackson said in an interview for her "Damita Jo" album that it took 18 months to complete the album. This was the longest it had taken her to finish an album at that time. In a 2011 interview with the BBC, Jimmy Jam claimed that on the first day of recording, Jackson said to Terry Lewis, "You can write the lyrics Terry. I don't feel like I have anything to talk about." Jam responded, "Well, then we shouldn't be making an album."
While I personally enjoyed "Damita Jo," I think Jackson was in a creative dry spell. At the time, she was very happy in her relationship with Jermaine Dupri. Some believe that artists need a bit of sadness to create. Perhaps this is true of Janet. Maybe she was too happy and comfortable with her life. Whatever the reason, it seems clear to me that this wasn't a particularly liberating time creatively.
I also believe Jackson's lack of inspiration is the reason she recruited Dupri to co-produce her next two albums, "20 Y.O." and "Discipline." Based on the output, I think while the two may have had personal chemistry, there was no professional chemistry. Dupri is very talented and has made great music with Mariah Carey, Usher, and many others. But his work with Janet wasn't very good at all.
While there are good songs on both albums, "20 Y.O." suffered from overproduction and repetitiveness. This repetitiveness seemed to be the result of Jackson being fresh out of new ideas. On "Discipline," Jackson and Dupri served as co-executive producers. But there were no songwriting contributions from Jackson this time. If Jackson's lack of inspiration was any more evident, it was now. "Discipline" felt like a reductive attempt to follow the Janet formula. The biggest insult of all was that Janet herself decided to endorse it by singing the songs.
I believe this was also a contributing factor to the albums' commercial performance. Jackson had a chance at a comeback with "Discipline." As previously stated, the blacklist was over and she was back on MTV. "Feedback" was also doing really well as a single. But that was all the album had going for it. Even though it debuted at number one, the album quickly fell off the radar after it was released. This resulted in Jackson herself asking to be let out of her contract with Island Def Jam.
In the two years that followed her brother Michael's death the following year, Janet was very active. She released a greatest hits collection, starred in two Tyler Perry movies, went on tour, and released a self-help book. But there was no new album. There wouldn't be one for another seven years after "Discipline." Jackson released her album "Unbreakable" on her own label, Rhythm Nation Records, in 2015. It saw her reuniting with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It also showed a reignited creative spark in Jackson.
But while Janet went on tour, she didn't heavily promote the album. She also didn't have major label support, as she released this album independently with distribution from BMG. Plus, aside from a collaboration with J. Cole, she didn't go out of her way to reach the younger audience. In fact, prior to her award show speeches and radio interviews in 2018, Janet stayed out of the public eye for a good five years. There were no interviews, hardly any appearances, and barely a post on her social media accounts.
This is another reason Janet isn't discussed as much as her peers today. Artists like Mariah Carey and Madonna go out of their way to put themselves out there. They post on social media and make a lot of public appearances. Carey milks the Christmas market every year and watches "All I Want For Christmas Is You" rightfully hit number one every year. Madonna maintains her outrageous antics and ensures we're all still talking about her.
Janet is very different. Janet is quiet. Janet doesn't feel the need to stay hip and trendy with the younger audience. And it's not just Janet. Artists like Celine Dion and Gloria Estefan were also pretty successful back in Janet's day and they're not discussed very much anymore either. I think her career trajectory has more to do with Janet herself and less to do with the Super Bowl fallout.
Janet's career did suffer during the blacklist when she was promoting "Damita Jo" and "20 Y.O." She could've made a comeback after the Super Bowl fallout in 2008 with "Discipline," since the blacklist ended. But she didn't have the creative spark to deliver quality material that her fans expect from her. And she wouldn't get that spark back until seven years later. And those seven years were spent mostly quiet, with Janet staying out of the public eye. This is why her career never recovered after the Super Bowl.
What I am looking forward to is hearing Janet tell her story herself. One of the frustrating things about the Britney Spears and Janet Jackson documentaries is the absence of both women telling their respective stories. Regardless of the reasons, their voices are the ones who matter the most here. That's why I'm especially looking forward to watching Janet's own documentary. It's going to be a two-part documentary on Lifetime, which premieres in January.
I'm already excited.