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What happened during Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2004?

It’s been 20 years since the pair of pop stars shocked football fans with a now infamous Super Bowl Halftime Show. This is a look back.

It’s been 20 years since the pair of pop stars shocked football fans with a now infamous Super Bowl halftime show. This is a look back.
Frank MicelottaGetty Images

Even casual football fans will remember, the fiasco that was the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show involving popstars Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. In a moment that will likely live on in infamy for many years to come, we were all introduced to the terms “wardrobe malfunction,” as well as “Nipplegate.”

What did Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake do in the Super Bowl Halftime Show?

2004′s Super Bowl Halftime Show was largely in keeping with the trend that the NFL had established in the years preceding it. That’s to say, a performance that involved notable artists of the day in a high energy production that is televised across the world. Yet, there is one moment that clearly stood out and in truth, is talked about to this very day.

As the act came to its climax, Justin Timberlake approached Janet Jackson and proceeded to pull off a part of her costume, which led to her right breast being briefly exposed to a TV audience of more than 140 million viewers. As one can imagine, most were shocked, but there were also those who wondered whether they had just witnessed a moment that was planned, rather than accidental. Trevor Reilly, a Patriots linebacker at the time, asked the question directly. “Let me ask you this,” he said, “Was that whole thing planned or not? What’s the consensus?” To be clear, there has never been any official admission from either artist, that the controversial moment was staged. One must also consider, that the level of scrutiny that both artists received in the wake of the scandal, doesn’t seem to paint a picture wherein there was any benefit to be gained for either one.

The tailor’s account of Janet Jackson’s outfit

When it comes to conspiratorial thinking, there are a number of factors that make it implausible in this situation. Firstly, we have the comments of the tailor who designed Jackson’s outfit, Marcello Garzon. An Ecuadorian native, Garzon disclosed that Jackson did in fact request alterations to her outfit, however, he declined to go in to detail about what those changes were, citing a confidentiality agreement that he was required to sign when working with Jackson. “No, sir. That’s confidential,” he said before emphasizing the point. “That’s really confidential. How do I say that? I signed papers with Mrs. Jackson to not release anything at all.” The tailor’s testimony doesn’t confirm that Jackson intended to have her nipple exposed, but it certainly doesn’t confirm the opposite.

What did the NFL say?

What’s interesting to note from the point of view of the league, is that by all accounts it was definitely not something they were aware of beforehand. Speaking about the situation at the time, NFL executive Jim Steeg admitted he didn’t see the moment itself, but was shocked to see the images in a video replay moments after it occurred when Mike Pereira - NFL vice president at the time - Showed it to him. “Pereira said to me, ‘Hey, did you just see what happened?’” Steeg recalled. “I said, ‘No.’ Then he played it back on the TiVo that we were using for instant replay.”

According to Steeg, his response was to immediately call Salli Frattini, then a producer for MTV, the company responsible for producing the Halftime Show. “You could hear in the (MTV production) truck they were all kind of giving each other high fives and celebrating the fact the Show was over and they did a good job,” said Steeg. “It didn’t take but a minute or so when Salli called back and...” Needless to say, any celebration on MTV’s part quickly came to an end as the process of damage control begin in earnest. “I was upset and I’m still upset about it,” said Steeg at the time. “The thing that bothered me the most about it is I didn’t think the institution was respected. I thought the Super Bowl was kind of the pinnacle for everybody, and I didn’t think it was respected as an institution.”

Janet Jackson criticized for her role in “Nipplegate”

As the first woman to produce a Super Bowl Halftime Show, the above mention Frattini, came in for some degree of criticism following the incident. Interestingly, she believes that it was Janet Jackson who dropped the ball. “I believe he kind of manned up and talked about it all and I’m not sure she really did, you know?” Frattini said in reference to the difference between Timberlake and Jackson’s reactions. “I’m glad his career has continued to flourish. I’m still a supporter and I have no regrets and disregard for Justin.”

Where Jackson was concerned on the other hand, Frattini admitted she doesn’t understand what she believes was a choice. “I don’t believe she handled the situation as well as he did,” Frattini said. “I’m still not quite sure why anybody thought that (nudity) would be a good idea to do in the first place. If somebody could get me the answer to that, that would be the golden prize.”

Is there a smoking gun in the “Nipplegate” scandal

While it still remains a mysterious “he said, she said” situation, there are a few elements to the whole scenario that do seem to indicate that Jackson and Timberlake had some kind of plan between them. Frattini herself referenced a rehearsal, in which a form of reveal was choreographed by the pair, that would see Timberlake ripping off an item of Jackson’s clothing as his ‘Rock Your Body’ song reach the lyric, “gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” Incidentally, Frattini also disclosed that the move was axed from the act, but she gave no reason as to why, before adding that the idea in principle came from Jackson’s stylist in her dressing room just prior to the actual performance.

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“There was a meeting right prior to the Halftime (Show),” Frattini said. “The idea was pitched to Justin. Janet’s stylist or whoever else was in the room. (Timberlake) went along with it and the mistake happened. “There wasn’t supposed to be any reveal. There should not even have been an action moment or anything ever ripped off her body.” Yet, that’s indeed what happened and perhaps the one piece of ‘evidence’ which suggests it was in fact a plan, are the comments from the stylist himself, Wayne Scot Lukas. After purchasing the sunburst nipple shield for Jackson in a Houston based piercing shop, one of the establishments body piercers admitted that Lukas let drop a curious detail. “At the end of it, while we were talking, he was like, ‘OK, watch the Halftime Show. There’s going to be a surprise at the end,’” said Byriah Dailey of Taurian Piercing and Metal Shop.

What’s the conclusion about “Nipplegate?”

Ultimately, despite many investigations the debate rages on to this day, as to whether or not the plan was made in an office or between the artists themselves. According to then FCC Chairman, Michael Powell, the latter is not quite accurate. “To this day, despite some ambiguity about who knew what, I think we were relatively convinced that somehow those producing the Show knew what was going to happen,” he said. “Their story to this day was that they had absolutely no idea on how the artists just did this up on their own. That’s plausible, but didn’t seem to us where the evidence pointed.”