Why the world is fixated on the Super Bowl 'Nipplegate' scandal, 14 years on.

Almost 14 years after the 2004 Super Bowl half-time performance, the internet is abuzz with chatter about what was once the “most searched item in Internet history” – Nipplegate – and Justin Timberlake’s role in it.

To recap the event that signalled the end of Janet Jackson’s mainstream career: While performing ‘Rock Your Body’ alongside the female pop icon, singer and pop star Timberlake sang the last line, “I’ll have you naked by the end of this song”, and instead of pulling off Janet’s corset to reveal a red lace garment underneath, ripped off the right breast piece entirely, exposing Jackson’s bare nipple to 140 million live viewers.

It became the most recorded and replayed moment in TiVo history.

Of the incident – which saw the now 51-year-old rush onto a flight home before the end of the game – Jackson commented: “I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention … MTV, CBS, the NFL had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.” Meanwhile, Timberlake’s team jotted Nipplegate down as a “wardrobe malfunction”.

The moment prior to this became the most recorded and replayed moment in TiVo history. Image via Getty.

The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) called it a "a classless, crass, and deplorable stunt", event sponsor AOL asked the NFL for a refund, and immediately after the performance CBS rescinded Jackson's invite to present a Luther Vandross tribute at the 2004 Grammy's.

In contrast, Timberlake was still allowed to attend, won two awards, and then used his acceptance speech to apologise for any offence caused.

"Listen, I know it's best a rough week on everybody," Timberlake said at the awards ceremony. "What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologise if you guys were offended."

One event, one fleeting moment, effectively tarnished a woman's brand, career and reputation. And while Timberlake's star and celebrity soared to new dizzying heights, there was never a public apology to the woman he accidentally bruised and discarded.

Accident or not, a woman's bare breast was exposed to the world through no fault of her own.

So, why is Nipplegate back in the news now?

Timberlake being named as one of the main performers at the upcoming 2018 Super Bowl half-time show has left a funny taste in the mouths of fans post-Weinstein and #metoo.

The 36-year-old's interview this week with music journalist Zane Lowe on Beats 1, where he addressed Nipplegate for the first time in years, did little to quieten the noise.

"I stumbled through it," he said about the 2004 incident.

“I had my wires crossed, and it’s just something that you have to look back on and go, like, 'OK, well, you know, you can’t change what’s happened, but you can move forward and learn from it.'”


To simply move on, though, was not an option for Janet Jackson.

And in 2018, maybe we're beginning to expect more from the men whose mistakes have such a profound impact on the lives of women.

Listen: Tracey Spicer joins Holly Wainwright and Rachel Corbett to deep dive on why the #metoo movement has kick-started a new way of thinking worldwide.

While Timberlake is clearly keen to be seen as an ally of women - his latest music video for the song 'Supplies' makes commentary on all things social justice from #metoo and Black Lives Matter, and he donned a Time's UP pin at the Golden Globes - but perhaps his message would be better heard in action.

Particularly when the world has just seen him promote his latest movie Wonder Wheel — directed by Woody Allen - the Hollywood director accused of alleged sexual abuse. Allen's own adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, who is vocal about the abuse she claims she endured as a child, recently blasted Timberlake for working with the director.

The past year has been a monumental year for women's rights - the effects of which are still being felt now.

The conversation has shifted and prominent men in the media are being analysed for their actions when it comes to their current and past treatment of women.

While there was a sense of truth when Timberlake said that "you can’t change what’s happened," if we've learnt anything in recent months it's that we can't move forward until we look back at our actions and take responsibility for them.

And in the case of Janet Jackson, you could say Justin Timberlake still owes an apology.