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Janet Jackson: The Naked Truth

John Antonucci | January 25, 2022

Janet Jackson’s career had been the golden standard up until one very famous performance, with another very famous singer, during the most famous sporting event of the year.

Nipplegate

The year was 2004. Janet Jackson was selected as the headline performer for the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. The world knew to expect a show like no other by a performer like no other, and that’s exactly what they got.

As Jackson cascaded onto the stage during her “All For You” opener, the show was nothing more than the Janet Jackson concert everyone had tuned in to see. After a quick costume change, Jackson reappeared from the stage in an all-black, leather-donned getup – much reminiscent of her looks during the late 80’s. Assisted by her legion of backup dancers, they broke into chorus of her 1989 anthem, “Rhythm Nation.” Like many halftime shows, surprise guests weren’t really surprising, as much as they were expected. P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Jessica Simpson were actually all part of this halftime series, but practically forgotten about by anyone and everyone who watched. Why, you might ask? Because of Justin Timberlake and nine-sixteenths of a second.

The former *NSYNC band member joined Jackson onstage for the closing number of his solo hit, “Rock Your Body.” A poorly underdressed Timberlake bumped and gyrated with Jackson, as football fans and halftime-only devotees gazed over the two’s steamy chemistry. In what had become perhaps the most famous pop culture event to happen on live television by that point (or ever), the very, very last second of their performance would change the history of television and the future of Janet Jackson’s career.

As Timberlake recited the last lines to his song – “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song” – he tore away Jackson’s bustier piece, in an attempt to reveal the red-lace bra that was nestled underneath. But instead, he revealed a sunburst-deco nipple ring and nothing but pure flesh. Janet Jackson’s breast had now been exposed to millions and millions of eyes. Everywhere… for only nine-sixteenths of a second, that is.

A firestorm ensued. Labeled as a “wardrobe malfunction,” within a matter of practical seconds after the show’s ending, the NFL announced that MTV (the halftime show’s producer) would no longer be involved in any halftime shows from thereon. MTV claimed to have had no knowledge of this assumed stunt, while the NFL practically claimed to have nothing to do with Janet Jackson in the first place (you know, after they hired her to perform at the game). All the blame, emphasis and attack was on Jackson – while Timberlake was able to swerve any liability with a slick, “Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about.” His career went on to exceed, while hers plummeted.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was flooded with complaints, and would later impose a $550,000 fine against Jackson and the CBS network for their airing of the game. Though, in 2011, the courts would later rule that the FCC’s fine was unjust. The damage, however, had already been done. Jackson had been blacklisted from all Viacom subsidiaries, resulting in her music videos being pulled from MTV and VH1, and her songs be banned from radio stations. Janet Jackson’s invitation to present at the year’s 46th Annual Grammy Awards was retrieved, while Timberlake was not only present at the ceremony, but took home the award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album. The incident had been referred to as “nipplegate” by the press, and Janet Jackson was the target of everyone’s aim.

In an attempt to ease tensions, Jackson released a public apology. “Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end,” she explained. “I am really sorry if I offended anyone, that was truly not my intention.” In a 2006 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Jackson expressed her not wanting to make the video apology, being it was only an accident. But, considering her eighth studio album was set be released only a month after the Super Bowl wreckage, Jackson’s team felt it was a smart choice. Damita Jo, taken from Jackson’s middle name, was released in March 2004, to a slump in sales and a mixed response from critics who felt the album’s excessive sexual nature was only adding salt to the wound. Sure, Damita Jo might be Jackson’s most provocative work to date – as tracks like “Warmth” and “Moist” will prove – it’s surely become a fan favorite over the years among Jackson’s supporters.

Not everyone was ready to welcome Janet Jackson back with open arms. Her fans stood by her side, but the general public was ashamed by what they presumed to be a publicity stunt gone too far. It was at that moment that the legacy Janet Jackson had built for herself was completely ruined, all because of… a boob? The only logical explanation for the overdramatizing of the situation was that 2004 was still a time when censorship on television was not quite as progressed as it is today. Sex and raunch are staples of showbusiness these days, and are much more tolerated as “artistic” than taboo. The same network (CBS) that cried victim to Jackson’s breast, is the same network that allowed Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion to dry-hump, twerk and pole dance during their performance at last year’s Grammy Awards. Thanks to the halftime show blunder, though, all live television programs must operate on a five-second delay and YouTube (yes, YouTube) was created.

Time has since passed, and more and more people have agreed on the general exaggeration of the wardrobe mishap. Of those people was former FCC Chairman, Michael Powell, who even issued an apology (of sorts) to Jackson ten years after the incident, stating “I personally thought that was really unfair. It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it’s Justin ripping off her breastplate.”

It’s also worth pointing out that Les Moonves – the former chairman and CEO of the CBS Corporation – set out to make Jackson’s life a living hell after the debacle. But, his bitterness would only get him so far. In 2018, he was forced to step down as chairman after a series of sexual allegations were pressed against him. That same year, it was announced that Janet Jackson would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Oh, and by the way, in case anyone even cares to remember, the New England Patriots won the 2004 Super Bowl.

Love & Marriage

Janet Jackson’s career hasn’t been the only subject of chaos. Her notoriously private personal life has had its fair share of ups and downs. And controversies. At 18, fresh off of Jackson’s newly found freedom, she married R&B singer James DeBarge. Another child of musical roots, James was a member of the family singing group, DeBarge – best known for their 1985 hit, “Rhythm of the Night.” The two eloped in September 1984, but were annulled in November 1985.

In 1991, Jackson secretly married dancer and director René Elizondo, Jr. The two managed to keep their marriage a secret for almost a decade, only revealing their nuptials to the public when it was announced that were they separating in 1999. They were divorced the following year. Their split would be the cause of both grief and turmoil for Jackson, after Elizondo filed an estimated $10-25 million lawsuit against his former wife. It would take a total of three years before a settlement would be reached between the two.

In 2002, Jackson began a very public relationship with music producer Jermaine Dupri. The Atlanta-born rapper served as the founder and owner of So So Def Recordings, working with the likes of many R&B/hip-hop artists. His most popular musical contributions include Usher’s Confessions (2004) and Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi (2005). Though rumored to have been engaged, the two never married. After an eight year-long romance, the couple called it quits in 2009.

Jackson would find love again in 2010, when she met Qatari businessman Wissam Al Mana. Their relationship blossomed shortly after, and the two were married during a private ceremony at their home, in 2012. Following their pairing, Jackson stepped away from the spotlight and seemingly divided her time between the Middle East and London, leading to a storm of speculation about Jackson’s whereabouts and questions of her music career ever returning. One concerned fan even created a mock missing-persons flyer for the absent star, which surprisingly got a response from Jackson on Twitter – “Too funny, too sweet.” In 2016, months after the start of her Unbreakable Tour comeback, Jackson announced she and Al Mana were expecting their first child together. At 50-years-old, Jackson welcomed their son, Eissa Al Mana, on January 3, 2017. Only three months after the birth of their miracle baby, it was announced that Jackson and Al Mana would be divorcing.

Reports claim their separation was in part due to Al Mana’s dominance over Jackson’s new image and lifestyle. Fans were quick to notice how conservatively dressed the star had gotten since the two began their courtship, and Al Mana’s religious beliefs were a far cry from Jackson’s Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. Like times before, though, Jackson had sought for control – not of anyone else, but for herself. This time was no different.

After the Storm

The calming of the Super Bowl fury took a while to soothe. Though Jackson continued to make new music, her being completely ostracized greatly impacted its exposure and overall success. In 2006, she released her ninth studio album, 20 Y.O. The album was set to commemorate 20 years since the release of Control, but failed to impress. Despite its lack of commercial performance, the album still managed to peak at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. And, for what it’s worth, the ear-candy single, “So Excited,” deserved better. The following year, she starred in the Tyler Perry film, Why Did I Get Married? Earning praise for her role as psychologist Patricia Agnew, the film became Jackson’s third consecutive film to open at the number-one spot at the box office.

After signing with Island Records in 2008, she released Discipline. The album became her first to top the Billboard 200 since 2001’s All For You. Though still blacklisted from radio formats, the album’s lead single, “Feedback,” managed to peak at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. Jackson then launched the Rock Witchu Tour in September 2008, performing a mix of old and new favorites, and even some forgotten dust collectors from her first two studio albums. Jackson then left Island Records after then-CEO L.A. Reid’s mishandling of the album’s promotion.

The frenzy that followed Jackson’s career by that point was about to take a devastating turn, as tragedy was about to strike.

Be sure to check back in next week for the next part of our series, Janet Jackson: Then, Now & All the In-Between!

Written by John Antonucci