Amid a growing chorus of calls for an apology and after years of criticism, Justin Timberlake has said he is sorry to Britney Spears, his former girlfriend, and pop icon Janet Jackson for his behavior in the aftermath of years-old scandals involving both women.
“I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond,” Timberlake wrote on his Instagram account on Friday. “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 up for what was right.”
The calls for his apology came on the heels of the Feb. 5 release of “Framing Britney,” which explores how Spears became a pop culture object, often at the expense of her personhood. While the documentary questions the fairness of the conservatorship under which she was placed in 2008 amid a mental health crisis and the perceived mistreatment of the star by the media, it also dives into the misogyny she was beset with throughout her career.
The filmmakers point out that the former N*SYNC singer framed himself as a victim following his 2002 breakup with Spears after their three-year relationship, which resulted in the crumbling of her reputation. Meanwhile, Timberlake’s career thrived. The documentary questions whether he took advantage of entrenched misogyny and the tendency of society to tear women down while lifting up white men.
The film also points to the controversy surrounding his 2004 Superbowl halftime performance with Jackson. Timberlake infamously tore off part of Jackson's dress at the end of their performance, revealing her breast, which was covered with a piece of nipple jewelry. The controversial moment was later called a “wardrobe malfunction.” While Jackson’s career deeply suffered as a result of the controversy, Timberlake emerged relatively unscathed.
“I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism,” he wrote in his apology. “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.”
For years, fans have criticized Timberlake’s treatment of Spears. A 2018 Cosmopolitan piece, entitled “I’ll Never Forgive Justin Timberlake For How He Treated Britney Spears,” points out that the public mistreatment of Spears stretched on for years after their breakup, and that this coincided with her apparent mental health crises in 2006 and 2007. In this period, she was widely deemed as unstable and the tabloid media seemed to delight in her pain.
Timberlake went on to say, “the industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success. It’s designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again.”
Spears, 39, has now been under a controversial conservatorship for 13 years, with her father Jamie Spears primarily overseeing her finances. She put out an apparent response to the documentary earlier this week.
“I’ll always love being on stage .... but I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person ..... I love simply enjoying the basics of every day life !!!!” she tweeted on Tuesday, and also included the perceived subtweet: “Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories !!!! We all have so many different bright beautiful lives!!! Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person's life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens."
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