Why The Internet Is Furious With Justin Timberlake Following ‘Framing Britney Spears’ Documentary

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Justin Timberlake Britney Spears

Framing Britney Spears, the most recent episode of the FX documentary series The New York Times Presents, aired on February 5th. 

In the wake of its release, fans of the pop star are demanding an apology from Spears’s ex-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake.

The documentary revisits Britney’s early life and her small-town roots in Kentwood, Alabama, where she grew up.

It follows the start of her career and focuses on media misogyny the singer faced. 

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The documentary also highlights Justin Timberlake’s behavior in the wake of his breakup with Spears in 2002.

As a result, many are claiming that he used her disgrace to jumpstart his solo career.

Spears dated Timberlake from 1998 to 2002, and the relationship received a ton of media attention. 

After the breakup, Timberlake spoke publicly about the relationship, while Spears mostly remained quiet. The documentary includes audio of the male star making raunchy comments about Spears and discussing the former couple’s sex-life on a podcast.

Timberlake embarked on his solo career around the time of the breakup, but his 2002 hit song “Cry Me A River” really skyrocketed the artist to success.

At the time, widespread media speculation marked the song as an exposé on Spears.

The lyrics heavily imply infidelity on the part of Timberlake’s former girlfriend, with lines such as “You don't have to say what you did / I already know, I found out from him.” The music video for the song even featured a Britney Spears look-alike.

In the words of the documentary, Timberlake “took control of the narrative.”

In a 2003 interview, Spears revealed her reaction to Timberlake’s video. 

“I was really shocked,” the star said.

Spears disclosed that the former *NYSNC member had called her before releasing the video.

On the phone, Spears recalled that Timberlake “asked me if it was OK…. and wanted to supposedly get back together or whatever, but behind it was, ‘And by the way, you’re in a video that’s coming out.’ That kind of got slipped in.” 

Spears told an interviewer that Timberlake had downplayed the video, telling her, "‘don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal.’” 

She was given the power to veto the video but allowed it to be released. 

“Then it came out,” Spears continued, “and I said, ‘I should’ve freakin’ said no to this!’”

The pop sensation revealed that she was surprised and confused upon viewing the clip. When she asked her ex why he had done it, Timberlake apparently replied, “'Well, I got a controversial video.'”

“I think it looks like such a desperate attempt, personally,” Spears said. “But that was a great way to sell the record. He’s smart.”

As Framing Britney Spears exposed, the young woman faced extreme scrutiny and slut-shaming in the media following the video’s release and comments by Timberlake.

The male star, on the other hand, remained unscathed.

Many Twitter users commented on this unfair treatment. One wrote, “I watched the Britney doc and unfortunately my takeaway is that our entire society is a humiliating, violently misogynist failure and I'm ashamed of a media culture that, for decades, villainized her for money and sport, conditioning us to think it was funny.”

The documentary revisits a 2003 interview in which Diane Sawyer blamed Spears for the breakup. 

“You broke his heart, you did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering,” Sawyer accused. “What did you do?” 

The interviewer also referenced a statement by Kendel Erlich, the wife of Maryland’s then-governor,  who said she “would shoot” Britney if she could.

Sawyer appeared to defend the statement. “Because of the example to kids and how hard it is to be a parent,” she explained. 

Spears was visibly upset by Sawyer’s comments and shed tears during the interview. 

“The way that people treated her, to be very high school about it, was like she was the school slut and (Timberlake) was the quarterback,” said Journalist Wesley Morris in the documentary.

In the wake of the film’s release, many have recalled another controversy: Justin Timberlake’s performance with Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show

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During the gig, Timberlake tore away part of Jackson’s costume, "accidentally" revealing her breast. 

The female singer bore the brunt of the fallout from the incident. 

Jackson was forced to release public apologies and had her music banned from multiple channels. Meanwhile, Justin joked about the incident, telling Access Hollywood, “We love giving you all something to talk about.”

Jackson was barred from attending that year’s Grammys, while Timberlake performed at the event.

Justin Timberlake spoke about this unfair response in an MTV interview a few years later, admitting, “I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society. I think that America’s harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.” 

“We are sorry Britney” has been trending on Twitter for the past few days, along with the hashtag #freebritney. 

Timberlake has yet to acknowledge his role in Britney’s downfall or the fact that he allegedly profited from it, and as you can see from the tweets above, many social media users are calling for an apology.

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Allie McGlone is a writer who covers a variety of topics for YourTango, including pop culture and entertainment.