My older brother’s reverie for Janet Jackson placed me in front of the television for the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. I, nor my eldest sibling, liked football, but he knew my love for music would make me a formidable companion for the evening’s events. During Jackson’s performance, he gushed about how Janet moved and how good she looked, but in the final seconds, he was genuinely baffled about what had transpired. I was too distracted by the music to realize what had happened, but the blacklist that Jackson found herself on after the dome faded to black, elucidated that though a “Jackson,” Janet was very much a black woman in America.
From an analytical standpoint, Timberlake, as performing choreography where he is to disrobe black woman revisits a colonial contention. Particularly, this sequence underscores that a black woman disrobed by and for the white gaze is to pay an irretriveable consequence, be it a child, as it was for many of our ancestors, social and systemic shame, or all three. This consequence is to precede a significant gain for the African-Adjacent. Timberlake’s 2004 ordeal with Miss Jackson elucidates an attempt to socially reproduce this cyclical practice, albeit with a notable, and uncommon depature.
I will avoid the urge to turn this post into one of conspiracy that Timberlake’s predictable lack of empathy and pun-like references that refute his actions being accidental point to and state that Jackson’s punishment for being what Timberlake spent the better half of his career appropriating, harbors an imperative message for Africans in America. As Africans in America, we bear the world’s most valuable resources in addition to the consequence of its possession. Thus, when our culture becomes popular, this means that it has shed the consequence of its inaugural color affiliation. Timberlake, a guest in Jackson’s set, elucidates this transition, the pairing geared toward Timberlake’s crossover from one-fifth of NSYNC to solo singer.
This crossover was rooted in Jackson’s exile.
A short time after the incident, Timberlake attended and accepted a musical honor at an award show that disinvited Ms. Jackson. During the speech, I recall him saying: “I know how torn up we are about what happened.” The words, while conveying minimal acknowledgment for a deed to which Jackson paid the maximum professional consequence, proved ironic given he tore Jackson’s costume, revealing her breast to the world. This articulation proved almost ironic as the words Timberlake sang as he exposed Janet: “Imma have you naked by end of this song,” seemed more like an affirmation, or articulation of his ambitions, given the way things transipired,.
Nevertheless, Justin Timberlake’s actions at the 2004 Superbowl cemented hs status as solo star, a status attained as white man who dabbled in components of black culture without the stain of systemic consequence. For this reason, placing Janet in the same sentence as Britney Spears is not only inappropriate, it is inaccurate.
Timberlake’a’s relationship with Spears was a profitable pairing that fueled transient pop culture royalty. His separation from Spears was essential to severing Timberlake from his past, but to also detach Timberlake from overt whiteness into the spaces of R&B and Soul that he would spend the larger half of his career attempting to gentrify. Thus, Timberlake is as sorry about the Janet Jackson scenario as he is about his music not taking him where he wanted to go.
From Timberland to his black choreographers and black duets from Ciara to Jay-Z and Beyonce, Timberlake is a white man who used black people as stairs on a ladder with hopes to culminate his upward climb into the heights of “urban” sound. Janet’s exposition initiated this process, but, in this single deed, Timberlake defiled black pop royalty to pursue a place at a throne that would never award him the crown–just some jewels. Moreover, Timberlake would not achieve the inaugural goal espoused to Jackson’s black female sacrifice.
Furthermore, it goes without saying that Timberlake isn’t sorry for his deeds. Timberlake’s apology surfaces as a hollow, meaningless anti-black performance that defines con temporized whiteness. Simply put, Timberlake is sorry that, like his attempt to assault the African in America’s musical archive, his assault on Jackson’s image did not manifest the desired destiny.