What Really Happened After Janet Jackson's Super Bowl Wardrobe Malfunction

Most musicians who sing at the Super Bowl halftime show see a nice bump in attention and record sales after the gig. It's kind of the only reason to do the show, considering how much Super Bowl halftime performers actually make. However, the reaction to pop legend Janet Jackson's performance — yes, that one — in 2004 was not so beneficial to her career. The backlash to the incident of Justin Timberlake exposing her breast on stage and live TV hit her hard in both the short- and long-term.

According to Esquire, the incident did not please CBS CEO Les Moonves, who ordered Janet and Justin to give him a formal, in-person apology. Timberlake agreed and reportedly "kissed the ring," perhaps literally, but Jackson did not. Meanwhile, a racist and misogynistic America was stomping mad that this woman — a Black woman — forced it to see her pierced nipple for a split second, and people and institutions responded with hysterical overreactions. Radio stations refused to play her new album. Her appearance at the Grammy Awards a week after the show was held hostage from her. Moonves demanded that she give him an apology, she again refused, and so he blocked her from appearing. But that night at the Super Bowl would go on to negatively affect Jackson's career for years after everyone lost interest and moved on.

Janet Jackson was stigmatized for the halftime show wardrobe malfunction

While Justin Timberlake received very little flak for the wardrobe malfunction incident, Janet Jackson's career suffered for a long time afterward. According to IndieWire, Jackson was stigmatized from that moment on. While Timberlake has gone on to win several Grammys since 2004, Jackson's Grammy wins stopped at 2001.

And although she didn't feel like she had anything to be sorry for, Jackson ended up having to organize a whole tour just to apologize for the incident. The public did not easily welcome her words. People accused them of not being enough to absolve her of her sin against the country's Puritanical ideals. A biopic of her life that was in the works at the time was unfortunately canceled, and she had to deal with being the focal point of a Congressional debate about indecency on TV. What most likely hits the hardest, however, is the fact that many of the men who judged her or determined the fate of her career were later accused of sexual harassment when the #MeToo movement took off. Jackson received what would be viewed as a consolation prize by the music industry when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, but that honor could not bring back all the opportunities she unjustly lost simply because we all saw her nipple on TV one night in 2004.