Janet Jackson, the famous singer-songwriter’s career, was not a walk in the park. The incident, where accidentally her breasts were flashed on a live TV performance at the Superbowl half-time show, changed her life completely. The audience and the press came after her for the very provocative act, and nobody went easy on her.
But what actually happened?
It was 2004, the Superbowl when Jessica Simpson just announced the beginning of the half-time show. The show started with Janet Jackson, followed by the popular rappers Nelly & P Diddy, famous for their provocative and sexually written lyrical pieces. And then it was time for the finale of the halftime show. Janet Jackson again hit the stage, but this time in the show’s final moments, superstar Justin Timberlake came on the stage. Together, he and Janet performed Timberlake’s one of the most popular songs called ‘Rock Your Body‘. Just when the performance was about to end, Justin Timberlake reaches over and pulls out one of the breast cups from Janet’s dress, exposing her breasts, just for half a second, to the millions of people watching. That moment was a spark that lit a wildfire.
How did it influence YouTube’s creation?
This half a second of exposed breasts became an inflexion point in television and internet history. Over 140 million people were exposed to that scene. That jiff became a topic of conversation among people across nations, especially the United States. Suddenly everybody wanted to talk about it and scrutinize it. Millions of people did watch it, but there were plenty who didn’t. Back in those times, there was no way to re-watch a television programme unless one had taped it. People felt that they missed out on a juicy hot controversy and were desperate to witness it. This stunt led to an increase in the TiVo subscriptions to determine what happened and who was to blame.
The co-founder of YouTube, Jawed Karim, said in one of the interviews that his idea for YouTube sprang from two different events in 2004: Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the Superbowl show and the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Karim didn’t catch any clips of the performance anywhere, so he and his friends decided to work on a code for the site where people could upload their own content and videos on the internet. This site later caught on the name YouTube and was an enormous success. A year later, YouTube successfully caught Google’s eye and was purchased in billions. The platform made a huge impact on the audience, and the rest is history.
Repercussions of ‘Nipplegate’
The media and fans went bonkers over the Janet Jackson accident, which eventually earned it the name ‘Nipplegate’. The massive influx of people searching for Janet led to a crash of one of her fan-made websites. Everybody wanted to have an opinion. This spurred a debate over how families should be able to watch the Superbowl without being exposed to such derogatory provocative content.
The White House issued a statement on the topic. Congress had a hearing about this. The FCC, which regulates the broadcast in the USA, wanted to investigate whether or not CBS, who broadcasted the Superbowl, knew about this.
When Janet was asked in an interview if she had any knowledge about the act that would happen, she fervidly denied it. She said it was a stunt, but it accidentally went too far; she wasn’t supposed to come out like that. She stated that Justin was to pull out the cup from her dress, and her bra was supposed to be shown, but that is not what happened.
“It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended, including audiences, MTV, CBS, & NFL”.Said Janet Jackson
Michael Powell, the then-FCC chairman, stated, “Clearly somebody knew of it. Clearly, it was something that someone planned.”
Later on, FCC fined CBS half a million dollars, which made the CEO of CBS so angry that they became fixated on ruining Janet Jackson’s life. He made sure she was blacklisted from all major music video networks, TV and VH1. Also, her music was not allowed to be played on CBS radio stations. Radio, which now sounds quaint, was the only music airing platforms when Spotify and Apple Music did not exist.
Janet Jackson was cut off from the lifeblood of her career. She was accused of having doomed the country with the sexual and provocative stunt that happened. This is ironic because when we look at the actual clip, it’s Justin Timberlake who actually accomplished the act.
The unfair irony of the entire story
The final question that arises upon the situation is, was it Janet who pulled off the entire ‘sexual’ stunt? It was Justin Timberlake who pulled the breast cup out of Janet’s clothing by the looks of it. Despite this fact, newspapers in that time did not care to mention Justin even once. Out of the 200 articles written regarding the incident, half of them show Justin’s role as passing and ⅓ of them do not even mention his name. The entire media industry portrayed Janet as the provoker and Justin as the innocent person who was lured into the stunt.
“All the emphasis was put on me, not Justin.”Said Janet Jackson on The Oprah Winfrey Show
His career wasn’t at all affected by this, while on the other hand, Janet became the most viral thing on the internet. Not to be hyperbolic but, it is ‘one of the most searched events in the history of the internet’ in a study by Loren Baker.