As news broke Sunday night that Justin Timberlake will perform at the Super Bowl LII halftime show this February, a backlash to the booking erupted on social media.
Using the #JusticeForJanet hashtag, critics condemned the NFL for booking Timberlake, considering his role in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” with Janet Jackson. In receiving an invitation to perform while Jackson appeared persona non grata to the NFL, posters suggested, Timberlake was enjoying “white male privilege.”
The NFL has now taken steps to defuse the tensions surrounding Timberlake’s booking. “There’s no ban” on a possible Jackson appearance, an NFL spokesperson wrote in a statement to EW. “We are not going to comment on any speculation regarding potential guests. There may be no guests.”
The statement continued: “Along with Pepsi, we’re excited to have Justin Timberlake. Like the elite NFL players who can run, catch, and block, Justin can do it all — sing, dance, act, and entertain. He’s the ultimate global superstar who we know will put on an entertaining and unifying show that will appeal to the massive worldwide audience.”
The spokesperson’s comment about the possibility of no guests has some credibility — in her halftime performance earlier this year, Lady Gaga didn’t perform with any other buzzy musicians. But cameos have generally been a defining feature of the production, from Bruno Mars and Beyoncé at Coldplay’s gig in 2016 to M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, and Cee Lo Green at Madonna’s performance in 2012.
Timberlake and Jackson performed together in 2004, alongside P. Diddy, Jessica Simpson, Nelly, and Kid Rock. Timberlake’s appearance preceded arguably the most fruitful phase of his career: Since 2004, he’s notched four No. 1 singles as a solo artist and appeared on numerous other hits.