*Update: This article was written before Timberlake released a statement on his Instagram Friday morning, February 12th.
It’s difficult defending a problematic white man. Especially if he kick-started his solo musical career exposing his ex-girlfriend. Especially when he was involved in a wardrobe malfunction on one of the biggest stages in America, leaving his counterpart, a Black woman, in the dust, making her pay for the consequences. Especially since there were multiple cheating allegations against him with his wife early on in the relationship and again well after they married and had a child. This man that I’ve described is a talented musician with hits including “Cry Me A River” , “What Goes Around Comes Around” and “Mirrors”. He made his mark on Saturday Night Live and dipped his feet in the acting biz. This man, the third love of my love, behind Zac Efron and Joe Jonas, is what I consider an icon. But he is also a prime example of the misogyny that occurs in the music industry. I love Justin Timberlake. Anybody who knows me knows that. But it’s time that JT takes accountability for what he has done and failed to do, especially with Britney Spears and Janet Jackson.
My issue with JT is not so much of what happened, but more so, how he responded to what happened. JT released “Cry Me A River” in 2002 as part of his debut album. It was quite obvious that it was about his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, even inciting that she cheated. The song is a banger and the music video is entertaining. He has every right to express his feelings through art. What is a little troublesome is the response. In a New York interview, JT made jokes about him sleeping with Britney, something that he never should have done. Britney, in turn, got attacked by the media and her career took a turn for the worse. I am not saying that JT caused the derailment of Britney’s career. I am saying that in the same situation, JT, a man, profited and made strides as an artist, while Britney, a woman, received all the hate. JT essentially, got a way with exploiting their past relationship and he paid no consequences.
Janet Jackson and the 2004 Super Bowl. Need I say more? While JT and Janet Jackson were performing his hit, “Rock My Body,” JT ripped off a part of Jackson’s clothing as part of the dance routine, exposing one of Jackson’s breasts on national television. After “Nipple-Gate,” as the incident is called, JT went on having a successful music and acting career, and on the contrary, Jackson’s career derailed and received much criticism and disgust by the media. She was banned from performing at the Super Bowl, while Timberlake performed at the 2018 Super Bowl. See the theme? Timberlake should have publicly apologized and defended Jackson more. Instead, while she was receiving all the backlash, JT remained silent.
As I’ve said with Britney especially, he is not the cause of hers and Jackson’s career difficulties. However, his actions and lack thereof signified how as a white man, he was able to continue to have a successful career and receive little backlash from the media (not so much of fans). He benefits from the misogyny and he has more leeway than a woman to say and do what he pleases. Taylor Swift really encompasses the difference between a male artist and a female artist when she sings in her song, “The Man”: “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/wondering if I’ll get there quicker if I was a man.” Female artists have to work much harder than their male counterparts to be on the same playing field. They, like Taylor Swift, can’t release songs like “Cry Me A River” without media critiquing them. And if they pulled the stunts that JT did with Britney and Jackson, their music career would be over in a heartbreak.
I love Justin Timberlake and will continue to love him barring any mishaps. I will continue jamming out to his hits, watch his interviews and admire him, but I will not go without saying that he needs to acknowledge his role in the music industry. He needs to fully accept blame for the 2004 Super Bowl and acknowledge the harm he has done towards Britney. He is every white man in this society getting away with mistreatment of women, and it’s time that he takes full responsibility.