Breakups are messy and Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake are no exception to this misfortune. The power couple split in 2002 but it has now become headlines again over 20 years later.
On Feb. 5, the New York Times released the documentary “Framing Britney Spears” on Hulu, exploring Spears’ rise and fall as a pop diva and addresses her conservatorship with her father.
After the documentary was aired, Spears’ fans took to the internet labeling Justin Timberlake as a misogynist and calling him out for his role in tarnishing Spears and Janet Jackson’s careers. In 2004, Jackson and Timberlake performed at the Superbowl halftime show, with the infamous “Nipplegate” scandal where Timberlake exposed Jackson’s right breast on national television.
In an interview with MTV News, Timberlake addressed the ‘Nipplegate’ scandal and how there was unfair blame placed on Jackson after the incident. While Timberlake did play a major role in what led to Jackson being blackballed, it is unreasonable to place sole blame on him, as the industry chose to blackball Jackson, not Timberlake.
In response to fans’ demands for a public apology, Timberlake issued an apology via his Instagram account to both Spears and Jackson decades later. However, fans don’t feel that his apology is sufficient for the damage already caused.
“Cry me a river Justin,” one user commented.
“It took 15 years, bye Justin,” another commented.
So just how do fans expect Justin to right his wrongs? Let us go back to 2002, where there was no Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Just the news channels and magazines, the only thing people on the outside looking in could do was spectate and make their assumptions. Now, because of social media and the oversharing culture we regularly participate in, we feel that we are entitled to knowing every detail of people’s lives, no matter how personal it is, especially celebrities.
For fans to immediately demand an apology from Timberlake was the finest example of what society has become: Passive and predatorial.
Fans attacked Timberlake because they could not find an easier victim to prey on and when he gave them what they wanted, they demanded more. Many fans felt that Timberlake’s apology was insincere because of the timing, but if he had issued no apology, then fans would be more insatiable for justice. Nothing can satisfy this hunger because Timberlake can only take accountability for the role he played, and he sufficiently took responsibility with his apology.
Timberlake can not and should not be held accountable for the media’s part and fans who expect this are out of touch with the message of the film that resurfaced these controversies.
Director Samantha Stark wanted the film to tell a story about something that happens to all of us, not just celebrities like Spears. The purpose of the film was to provoke reflection about how we treat each other.
“What does the world get out of being mean spirited towards anybody,” Stark said in a video reacting to Timberlake’s apology.
It is reasonable for fans to be angry, but the sole responsibility shouldn’t be placed on one person, especially not Timberlake.
“It’s not just Justin Timberlake who did that, it’s an entire industry who supported this misogyny,” Stark said.
In his apology, Timberlake publicly recognized his role in which he “failed” Jackson and Spears and he owned up to his faults in being complicit in a “system that condones misogyny and racism,” which is more than sufficient. Those who feel that more must be done are spectators who can’t seem to grasp the concept that some things are simply dealt with in private. Timberlake and Spears’ have reportedly settled differences in the past and moved forward.
In April 2020, Spears posted a video to Instagram dancing to Timberlake’s song ‘Filthy’, commenting that he is a “genius” and compliments his work. The demands of fans for a public apology aren’t meant to serve Spears or Jackson justice, it’s to appease the public and their need to be involved in an overshare culture.
Timberlake’s apology is more than sufficient and while he is a classic story of a straight, white man who has benefited from the downfall of women and marginalized people, he still deserves credit for holding himself accountable no matter when he did it or how he did it.