Being upstaged by a sheet with a picture of Prince on it is poetic justice for ripping off Janet Jackson’s bra at the 2004 halftime show
A lot of people seem very cross with Justin Timberlake this week. Is it 2004 again?
Cheryl, by email
Kinda! Last weekend, Timberlake played the Super Bowl half-time show and exploited a far more talented African-American singer – just like in 2004! But whereas back then this singer was Janet Jackson, whose wardrobe he notoriously malfunctioned, this time it was Prince, with whose image he kinda sorta sang a duet. To show his respect, you see? Indeed, Timberlake has so much respect for Prince that originally he wanted to sing with Prince’s hologram, even though Prince famously referred to the practice of resurrecting dead singers by hologram “demonic”. The mighty Sheila E reportedly put the kibosh on Timbo’s plan but he still sang against what looked like a sheet with Prince on it. And even on a sheet, and dead, Prince still came off a lot better than ol’ Timberlake. Back in 2004, everyone was furious because Timberlake showed the world Jackson’s nipple. A nipple! Can you imagine? The people at the Super Bowl were there to enjoy the wholesome activity of watching grown men giving one another massive head injuries – they did not want to see something as sordid and unnatural as a nipple, OK?
But of course it isn’t 2004. Possibly the surest way to tell is that people are actually angry with Timberlake this time round. Back then, everyone was angry with Jackson, even though – I shout, running to my blackboard like Kevin Costner in JFK to illustrate the workings of a world-shaking conspiracy – it was TIMBERLAKE who ripped Jackson’s bra off, not blameless JACKSON. And yet it was Jackson who got all the kickback while Timberlake sailed blithely on into a sea of global adulation that lasted nearly a decade.
Photograph: David Phillip/AP
Well, Janet, the arc of time bends towards sweet revenge, or something, and last weekend everyone – somewhat belatedly – tweeted their support to Jackson in the runup to Timberlake’s return. But this is not the only reason people have been hating on Justin, and hating they have been. In the New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich described him as “eerily un-self-aware” with “the bleakest stage banter I have ever heard”. Frank Guan on vulture.com did not come to play when he wrote his review: “Prince in his purples looked as if he could never die; with his middle-aged beard and midlife-crisis outfit, Timberlake looked like he had never lived.” Trip to the burns unit for one J Timberlake!
Yes, let’s deal with Timberlake’s outfit, because what was that? I get that he’s now all country and western, meaning, as wits have noted, he has now appropriated both black and white culture in his music. But did he really need to wear, as journalist Gabe Bergado pointed out, the background for Mac OS Sierra across his person? Amazingly, this was designed by Stella McCartney and, as a fashion columnist, I am FURIOUS with Timberlake and McCartney about this. OK, not furious. But definitely bemused.
Timberlake rightly leaned on his back catalogue at the Super Bowl and, with songs such as Sexy Back and Cry Me a River, the hits cannot be denied. What’s infuriating about Timberlake is he just stopped trying, music-wise and fashion-wise, and that was all too apparent at the Super Bowl. It was hard not to gasp at his wrongheadedness in setting up a comparison between his and Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl set. Back then, Prince performed in a rainstorm and, according to those who worked with him, his response to the weather was: “Can you make it rain harder?” JT, far from asking it to rain harder, has the air of a man who looks permanently bemused by the slightest cloud in his sunshine.
He once had it all, and then he disappeared into Weird Rich People Land, lost all judgment, and here he is now, wearing Sierra chic and taking selfies at the Super Bowl with a kid who clearly didn’t know who he was. He had everything – America was even willing to forgive him for a nipple! He was given privileges no female or African-American artist could dream of, and he squandered them. People aren’t really mad at you, Justin. They’re just sad about the waste.
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