The Timberlake Backlash Has Been a Long Time Coming

Justin Timberlake Getty Golf 2.jpg
Justin Timberlake Getty Golf 2.jpg

Last week, the New York Times and FX released Malfunction: Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe, a documentary that aimed to rethink Jackson’s infamous 2004 Super Bowl performance that stopped his career. The pioneering artist and one of the best-selling solo artists of all time became a media outcast after her chest was exposed during the halftime concert, a moment that was forever cemented in cultural history. pop like the ‘wardrobe malfunction’. This documentary, part of a recent trend of reevaluations of embarrassed and misunderstood women, has long been needed. Janet Jackson, although her status as the despised villain of this event has been much discussed by cultural critics and fans online. Following the incorporation of the #FreeBritney movement and the recent legal move to abandon guardianship that has kept Britney Spears restricted for more than 13 years, all eyes fell on the shared adversary between these two women: Justin Timberlake.

Timberlake already took to Twitter several months ago to offer a half-hearted and unspecific apology to both Spears and Jackson, a move few people took as sincere. We couldn’t blame anyone for thinking that Timberlake’s attempt to rectify some mistakes seemed disrespectful and late. After all, this was the man who spent many years bragging about how he came to have sex with Spears as she faced endless slutty contempt and shame. While Timberlake’s career flourished after the Super Bowl performance once he offered an apology for the incident, Jackson was blacklisted by former CBS president Les Moonves and uniquely positioned as the culprit for the entire evening. Timberlake would playfully re-enact the nipple reveal on stage as Jackson became persona non grata. Starred SNL parodies taunting Spears as the paparazzi lay on the ground to snap pictures of her without her underwear on. Malfunction It wasn’t a shocking exposition of new details, and Timberlake isn’t even painted as the piece’s main villain – that honor falls to Moonves, but rather the reminder of his Smithers-style humiliation and Teflon-like ability to avoid responsibility while women suffered inspired much anger.

November 2004 triggered a kind of revealing culture war that will reverberate in 2021. A black woman became the lightning rod of anger over sexuality in entertainment, while the white man who used black music to become a global hit continued adhering to an unjust and outdated hierarchy of power. Furthermore, Timberlake gradually came to embody many puzzling and revealing ideas of privilege and pop culture that generated more discourse as the years passed. Conversations about the appropriation of black culture in music grew louder. We examined how the virgin-whore complex permeated art of all kinds and who benefited those narratives.

Timberlake has always been a man of great ambition, a former boy band member who wanted to mold himself into a Sinatra-style Jack of all trades, leaping effortlessly from music to film to brands and more. there. What he lacked in scope, he made up for in sheer drive, as well as helpful and well-funded support from an industry that saw profitable opportunities with a handsome white boy who can dance and sing on his ass. He was always trying hard, and that made people want him to open the right doors, ever since his regular appearances on Saturday night live and parodies with Jimmy Fallon in his ESPY Awards presentation to his relentless awards campaign for the song by Trolls an Oscar nomination. He was the showman in the limelight, doing anything and everything the camera demanded of him. He is certainly not lacking in talent. He’s got some bops, he knows how to dance, he’s great in some movies, and that cocky comedy charisma is easy to sell. Also, his skill set was flexible to trends.

A lot of this makes sense when you remember that Timberlake is a former child star who grew up under the overwhelming control of Disney and Lou Perlman, the latter of whom Timberlake and his * NSYNC band members had to take to court to free themselves. of a surprisingly exploitative contract. This is a star who has been a part of the system longer than he has, with the training of the media and the awareness of the demands of the industry that all this entails. He was lifted out of nowhere to stardom and that means a lot of people invested in him for the long haul.

He was prepared for this and, unlike his contemporaries, he was not constrained by misogynistic double standards that practically guaranteed a backlash. The sexy white boy who sings R&B breakup songs might be sincere about sleeping with his girlfriend while she faces contempt for the same thing. He could position himself as a victim in the songs while implicitly making Spears the villain and then projecting self-awareness onto this rampage in comedy skits with Andy Samberg. When she danced provocatively in the videos, she wasn’t faced with endless musings about whether she was setting men back fifty years or not.

Timberlake isn’t at the top right now, and that A-List slippage happened long before our collective reexamination of his issues. His latest album, Forest man, was released in February 2018 to a lot of mixed reviews. An attempt to reinvent himself as a more folkloric figure by keeping one foot firmly planted on the Timberland beats that made him famous failed among critics and fans alike. That album eventually went platinum, but at a breakneck rate and it didn’t work as a sign of Timberlake’s reach. Instead, it seemed like a transparent chase of trends, as well as a retreat to whiteness, flannel shirts and all. Frankly, it wasn’t very interesting either (there’s a song on the album called ‘Sauce’ and the lead single ‘Filthy’ is perhaps the worst song he’s ever released). That same year, he worked on a Woody Allen movie and later attended the Golden Globes with a Time’s Up pin on his jacket. They caught him holding the hand of a woman who was not his wife. At a time when the face of men in pop had shifted to focus on the likes of BTS, Harry Styles, and Ed Sheeran, Timberlake felt out of place, a relic from a near but distant past. When you stop being high, the shields that enclose you are suddenly impenetrable.

Obviously, Timberlake will be fine. All you have to do is throw in some undeniable bops and sales will increase. You may need to tone down some of his nastier boasts (God, remember your People Cover for your wedding?) But the moral of this story has always been that certain privileged individuals will always have more opportunities than others, regardless of their talent or merit. Maybe give an interview where you say things that sound good and stop smiling long enough to make you look genuine. There is something infinitely malleable about Timberlake and its kind of celebrity that ensures a kind of professional durability. The qualities that made him so marketable before may not fly now, but it’s a blank enough slate to ensure there will be a new phase in his career. Will always be Trolls 3.

But there’s a big ‘yes’ on the way for him: Another Janet Jackson-centric documentary will air in January on Lifetime and A&E. different to Malfunction, this one will feature Jackson telling his own story. Whether you dive deep into the Timberlake incident or ignore it entirely, it will be remarkable. Timberlake has better hopes for the latter, but personally I don’t see him returning to the limelight with a completely clean slate.


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Kayleigh is a writer and article editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to his podcast, The Hollywood Read.


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