A journalist asked Justin Timberlake to apologize to Janet Jackson 5 years ago, and the singer dismissed him with a tweet that said 'bye'

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Kim Renfro
·8 min read
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Justin Timberlake Getty Images
  • Justin Timberlake recently apologized to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson for his actions years ago.

  • A reporter, Ernest Owens, is calling attention to the different way Timberlake reacted in 2016.

  • "These weren't 'missteps,' but deliberate actions that caused real harm," Owens wrote.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In the wake of Justin Timberlake's recent public apology to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, one journalist is calling foul and recounting how Timberlake refused to apologize to Jackson five years ago.

In a new Daily Beast op-ed article, the journalist Ernest Owens recalled how he tweeted at Timberlake in 2016, accusing the singer of appropriating Black music and telling him to "apologize to Janet, too."

Owens, a Black queer journalist, was retweeting Timberlake's praise of the actor Jesse Williams' 2016 BET Awards speech, in which Williams condemned police brutality as well as the entertainment industry's "gentrification" of Black culture.

In a since-deleted tweet, a screenshot of which you can find in Owens' new article, Timberlake replied: "Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye."

For the past 15 years, Timberlake has responded to criticisms of his actions mostly with vague, circular answers.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake superbowl
Janet Jackson and Timberlake performing at halftime at Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium on February 1, 2004, in Houston. JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

The 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance, in which a "wardrobe malfunction" led to Jackson's breast being exposed for a fraction of a second on live TV, has been one of the most controversial touchstones in Timberlake's career.

The Viacom-owned station CBS broadcast the show, while MTV (another Viacom property) produced the halftime show. The then-CEO of Viacom said "Janet Jackson engineered" the incident. He offered no proof of this claim, nor did he acknowledge that Timberlake was the one who actually ripped her costume.

Jackson was then barred from a planned Grammys performance.

"Meanwhile, Timberlake was still allowed to perform at that same event - the only stipulation having been a requirement to issue a public apology onstage," Insider's Janaki Jitchotvisut reported. "After the incident, Viacom blacklisted Jackson from all of its considerable TV and radio properties."

In 2006, Timberlake sat down for an interview with MTV. Timberlake feigned ignorance when "the Super Bowl incident" was first mentioned and then laughed.

"You kind of have to have a sense of humor about all of this, because like you said everybody takes this so seriously," he said then. "Like, it's not that serious. The Middle East is the situation. That's serious."

Later in the interview, he said his "mistake" during that event had more to do with "the aftermath."

"I probably got 10% of the blame, and that says something about society," Timberlake said at the time. "I think that America's harsher on women, and I think that America's unfairly harsh on ethnic people."

Jackson spoke about Timberlake's post-Super Bowl actions during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2006, hinting that she was disappointed.

When Winfrey asked whether she thought Timberlake had left her hanging, the singer said: "I think they did put all the emphasis on me, as opposed to us. And I have to let people know that Justin has reached out - we haven't spoken - but he has reached out to speak with me."

"Friendship is very important to me, and certain things you just don't do to friends," Jackson said, after adding that she considered Timberlake a friend. "In my own time, I'll give him a call."

By 2016, people were demanding more direct action and responsibility from white celebrities like Timberlake. Instead, Timberlake wrote a song about how hard it is to 'say something.'

Fast-forward to 2016, and people were asking for more accountability and a public apology from Timberlake. That was when the Twitter exchange between Owens and Timberlake took place.

After Timberlake deleted his "bye" tweet, he said he felt misunderstood.

As Owens recalls now, "In pure Timberlake fashion, he immediately made himself out to be the victim."

"The media outlets began covering the exchange, with many framing me as being too hard on Timberlake or questioning whether or not it was fair to accuse him of cultural appropriation," he continued.

Insider reached out to Timberlake's representatives regarding Owens' op-ed article.

By 2018, Timberlake had written a song with Chris Stapleton titled "Say Something."

He told the interviewer Zane Lowe that the song was inspired by how "the train goes off the tracks" when he tries to "speak up."

"I feel like there's a lot going on in the world. I feel like there's always misunderstandings and I really want to speak up and I want to say something, but I just don't want to get caught in the rhythm of something," Timberlake said. "Because if the rhythm goes off, the train goes off the tracks."

(Lowe and Timberlake begin discussing "Say Something" at about the 23:45 mark.)

Lowe mentioned "the Jesse Williams thing" in response, and Timberlake said: "I felt terrible. You feel terrible. Like: 'Oh man, that is not what I meant. Why did I do that?'"

"But that is exactly what he meant," Owens replied in his new Daily Beast article. "Timberlake was showing myself and the rest of the world exactly who he was to women like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson who had to endure his horrible press conferences and television interviews wherein he disrespected their legacy over and over again."

"These weren't 'missteps,' but deliberate actions that caused real harm," he continued. "They were intentional, they were spiteful. Timberlake was a rank opportunist that the industry let prosper at the expense of others' misfortune."

Earlier in the interview, Lowe brought up the 2004 Super Bowl and the way Timberlake handled the fallout.

Justin Timberlake
Jackson and Timberlake perform during their Super Bowl halftime performance. Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

"I stumbled through it, to be quite honest," Timberlake said. "I had my wires crossed. It's just something you have to look back on and be like: 'Well OK, you can't change what's happened, but you can move forward and learn from it.'"

"And you and Janet took some time do that after the fact, like you kind of resolved the situation and were able to make peace with the whole thing?" Lowe replied.

"Absolutely," Timberlake said. "And I don't know that a lot of people know that. I mean I don't think it's my job to do that because you value the relationship that you do have with people."

It took the new Britney Spears-focused documentary for Timberlake to publicly apologize to Janet Jackson, but for some it's not enough.

This month, following a huge public outcry after a New York Times documentary episode highlighted the abuses his ex-girlfriend Spears endured, Timberlake issued a new statement.

"I've seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns, and I want to respond," he said. "I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak for what was right."

He continued: "I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism. I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed."

The second page of the statement addressed how "the industry is flawed."

"It sets men, especially white men, up for success," he wrote. "It's designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this."

The statement continued still: "I have not been perfect in navigating all of this throughout my career. I know this apology is a first step and doesn't absolve the past. I want to take accountability for my own missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports."

Justin Timberlake
Timberlake. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Some of the top-liked comments on Timberlake's Instagram-apology are from people unsatisfied with the statement.

"It's just so painfully obvious that the only reason this apology is here is because of the documentary," one person wrote in a comment more than 22,000 people favorited. "Where have you been for 17 years?"

"I find apologies more genuine when they are the result of self reflection not pressure as a result of negative feedback from a documentary that called you out," another comment, this time with 15,000 likes, said.

"Britney and Janet had to wait nearly two decades for a half-assed, two-for-one apology," Owens wrote at the end of his Daily Beast article. "I'm still left wondering: if Britney's bombshell documentary was never released, would Janet have even been given an apology? Because five years ago, the answer was a resounding no."

Read the original article on Insider