What Happened at Justin Timberlake’s Last Super Bowl Halftime Show—and Why It Matters
Justin Timberlake is returning to the Super Bowl once more. The performer will hit the stage during the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show, just two days after dropping his new album Man of the Woods. But whatever nerves he might have about performing new music in front of millions of people should be calmed by the fact that he’s done this not once but twice before. In fact, he’ll become the first artist to perform during three halftime shows.
Timberlake first performed during the show back in 2001, when his band 'N SYNC took the stage alongside their fellow “Kings of Rock and Pop” including Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly. They opened the show with their hit “Bye Bye Bye,” and went on to sing hits like “It’s Gonna Be Me.”
Timberlake even had a duet with his then-girlfriend Britney Spears, aka the king and queen of pop in the early '00s. The performance went off without a hitch—unlike his second halftime show appearance.
The year was 2004, and Timberlake was a pop star in his own right, no longer tied to a boy band. The singer was invited back to the Super Bowl to take the stage with Janet Jackson for what turned out to be a PR nightmare.
Jackson performed a medley of her hits, including “All for You,” “Rhythm Nation,” and “The Knowledge,” before Timberlake was brought on stage as a surprise to the audience. The two sang a duet of his hit, “Rock Your Body,” and as Timberlake reached the line, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” he ripped off a part of Jackson’s costume, revealing her right breast that was partially covered by nipple jewelry.
The controversial moment resulted in a hefty $550,000 indecency fine for CBS by the FCC. It was ultimately appealed and voided, but the other ramifications to the incident lived on. The choice of Timberlake for the 2018 Super Bowl was contentious, as some fans argue that the former 'N SYNC star was seemingly more easily forgiven for the moment, while Jackson was shamed for it.
In fact, Timberlake’s career skyrocketed from there. His next three solo albums debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, including 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds and both parts of 2013’s The 20/20 Experience. He married Jessica Biel, had an adorable son named Silas, and has seemingly transitioned into the role of a lovable pop icon, the controversy safely behind him.
Avoiding controversy has actually been JT's M.O. as of late. His new single, "Say Something," seemingly addresses his inclination to say quiet, which feels particularly relevant as Timberlake is being called out for working with Woody Allen. (The director's daughter Dylan Farrow has accused Allen of molesting her as a child, a claim he has denied.) The singer has been noticeably silent on the matter, despite calls for him to speak out against the famed director.
"Sometimes, the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all," he sings on the new track.
On the flip side, Jackson's career never quite reached those heights again following the incident. While both parties were arguably equally responsible, she bore most of the blame. And unlike Timberlake, she hasn’t been asked back to perform at the Super Bowl.
So will we see the duet relived on during this year’s Feb. 4 show? Unlikely. Despite calls for Timberlake to bring out Jackson (and even 'N SYNC) as guest stars, the singer told Ellen DeGeneres that his only guests would be his band, The Tennessee Kids.
Ahead of the show, he also reflected on the Jackson incident, saying, “We’re not going to do that again.”
“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,” he said in an interview with Zane Lowe for Beats 1.
So what can we expect to see from this year’s Super Bowl halftime show? Plenty of Timberlake’s smooth dance moves, some of his greatest hits, and maybe some new music too. Considering his new album drops two days before the show, it’s likely he’ll want to bust out one or two of his new songs on the world stage.
“It’s going to be a spectacular spectacular,” he told DeGeneres of the show.
Tune in to Super Bowl LII on Sunday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC.