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Justin Timberlake's Apology To Britney Spears And Janet Jackson Is Great, But He's About 15 Years Too Late

Photo: Kathy Hutchins & s_bukley / Shutterstock
Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson

The great Justin Bieber once asked: “Is it too late now to say sorry?” and let me tell you, when it comes to the other A-list Justin, it very well may be.

The Framing Britney Spears documentary has been making headlines everywhere since its debut earlier in Feb. 2021, and after the bombshell doc aired, social media users everywhere called on Justin Timberlake to apologize to Britney Spears for the way he talked about her and portrayed her in the media following their high-profile 2002 split.

On top of Britney fans soliciting a long-awaited apology from her former beau, social media users also called on the “Cry Me A River” singer to apologize to Janet Jackson for his role in their controversial 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show, in which he exposed her breast at the end of their performance. 

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Both Spears and Jackson were ridiculed by the media in the early 2000s, and as the Framing Britney Spears doc showed, Timberlake used his relationship with Spears as a punchline, had some choice words about their intimate relationship, and publicly spoke about their relationship and breakup to the media. 

The “Toxic” singer stayed mostly mum during the aftermath of their split.

Diane Sawyer even made Britney Spears sob during a televised interview because of the way Justin portrayed their relationship, telling Spears, “You broke his heart, you did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?”

On Feb. 12, Timberlake broke his silence about the matter via a lengthy Instagram post on his page, which reads:

“I've seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond. 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. 

I understand that I feel short in these moments and many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism. 

I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed.

I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be a part of and grow from.

The industry is flawed. 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 but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again. 

I have not been perfect in navigating all of this throughout my career. I know this apology is a first step and doesn't absolve the past. I want to take accountability for my own missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports. 

I care deeply about the wellbeing [sic] of the people I love and have loved. I can do better and will do better."

That’s all fine and dandy, but JT’s apology is quite frankly, almost two decades too late. 

The apology only comes after the backlash he received thanks to the documentary, and in turn, people looking more closely at his treatment of women in the media in the early 2000s — particularly, his lack of standing up for “the people I’ve loved and have loved.”

Let’s state the obvious here: Britney Spears deserved an apology long before the documentary hit our TV screens.

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Janet Jackson, a Black woman who was repeatedly and consistently criticized for Justin Timberlake exposing HER breast on live, national television, deserved a wholehearted apology the second the media started attacking her — especially considering that her and Timberlake’s stunt was reportedly only supposed to reveal red lace under Jackson’s outfit, not her entire breast. 

In a television interview after their performance, Timberlake seemed to revel in the fact that he gave the world “something to talk about” — all at the expense of Jackson.

“It was fun. It was quick, slick, to the point," he said at the time, to which Access Hollywood host Pat O’Brien replied, "You guys were getting pretty hot and steamy up there.”

"Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about," was Timberlake’s response. 

Meanwhile, Jackson issued a response that was much more serious than her male counterpart did, telling MTV at the time:

“The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”

Shortly after, Jackson was banned from presenting at and attending the 2004 Grammys, while after a “tearful” apology, Timberlake was able to attend and perform at one of the biggest award shows of the year, and even won multiple awards for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album.

In 2006, Timberlake spoke about the incident to MTV and even acknowledged that women — especially Black women and other POC — are met with harsher treatment in the media than their white, male counterparts. 

"If there was something I could have done in her defense that was more than I realized then, I would have," he told MTV at the time. "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."

Perhaps an apology right then and there would’ve been a better move than, say, 17 years after “Nipplegate” happened. 

Although some fans of Timberlake applauded him for his Instagram apology, fans of Jackson weren't so quick to accept Timberlake's decades-late admission of his wrongdoings.

One Twitter user wrote, "janet lost money, deals, the respect from the general public, radios stopped playing her songs, mtv wasn’t showing her music videos anymore, one of the most successful artists of all time disappeared from an ENTIRE generation, her legacy was totally damaged."

Another said, "Janet Jackson was blacklisted after the Super Bowl incident. She was uninvited to the Grammys, her albums received little promotion, and the radio stopped playing her music. Despite the attempts to ruin a legend, she is still known & loved as JANET F****** JACKSON."

Do you think Justin Timberlake’s apology to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson is a little too late? Sound off in the comments below!

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 Olivia Jakiel is an editor and writer who covers celebrity and entertainment news. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her zingers on Twitter