The last time Houston hosted the Super Bowl, there was no YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. The Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots convened at what was then known as Reliant Stadium. But the game took a back seat to what transpired at the halftime show.
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On Feb. 1, 2004, Justin Timberlake caused a media and political firestorm when he ripped Janet Jackson’s breast cup off her bustier and her right breast spilled out of her corset at the end of their “Rock Your Body” performance. For a fraction of a second, 71,000 fans in the stands and 11 million people at home saw her bare breast.
Timberlake stood beside Jackson stoically, while Jackson hastily covered herself with her left hand. The camera went wide, fireworks were released and pandemonium ensued.
MTV had been contracted by the NFL to produce the show. Salli Frattini, an executive producer, was the leader of the halftime performance, which ran for 12 minutes. She actually missed the “wardrobe malfunction,” as Timberlake famously referred to it, but was quickly made aware of what happened by NFL special events head Jim Steeg. The NFL’s head of officiating had access to TiVo and replayed the conclusion of the performance for Steeg.
Singer Janet Jackson covers her breast as Justin Timberlake holds part of her costume after her outfit came undone during a number during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, in this Feb. 1, 2004 file photo. On Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004, the Federal Communications Commission fined CBS a record $550,000 for Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” which exposed the singer’s breast during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.
AP Photo/Elise Amendola
MTV was permanently banned from working on future NFL halftime shows.
In an interview with ESPN The Magazine Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said that during his tenure the commission had only dealt with “a handful of indecency complaints a year. It received 540,000 about Janet Jackson’s breast.”
A bipartisan bill was passed that raised the maximum fine for incidents of indecency tenfold from $32,500 to $325,000.
Some significant cultural changes occurred as a result of the Jackson-Timberlake fallout, including the creation of sites such as YouTube. Creator Jawed Karim wanted “to make it easier to find the Jackson clip and other in-demand videos.” Besides that, ” ‘Janet Jackson’ became the most searched term and image in Internet history.”
Jackson’s career suffered greatly in the immediate aftermath of “Nipplegate”: Her album, Damita Jo, was her lowest-selling album in 20 years, had low play counts, and she was forced to withdraw from the Grammys.
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Timberlake, on the other hand, saw his career take off exponentially, including album sales. He performed at the Grammys and received two awards. Powell recognized the gender discrimination he believed had occurred.
“I personally thought that was really unfair,” Powell told ESPN The Magazine’s Marin Cogan. “It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it’s Justin ripping off her breastplate.”
Timberlake acknowledged the discriminatory treatment to MTV.
“I probably got 10 percent of the blame. I think America’s probably harsher on women, and I think America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”