“It’s official,” The 20/20 Experience artist said in a tweet on Sunday. He also posted a video of himself and close friend Jimmy Fallon, in which he asked the comedian if he has the time. The bit devolves until it sounds like the two of them saying: “I do Halftime!”
The singer will join a rich tradition that has recently included artists like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and more. However, unlike other past performers, Timberlake’s headlining show could be overshadowed by a controversy from his past. Back in 2004, he performed at the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show, produced by MTV, with Janet Jackson—and infamously tore a piece of her outfit, exposing one of her breasts on live television. The moment instantly sparked a national outcry, with Jackson receiving a disproportionate amount of the backlash. It’s become the most infamous “wardrobe malfunction” in TV history, as well as the incident that popularized that euphemism; half a million people logged complaints to the Federal Communications Commission in response, and Viacom, furious that MTV would no longer be entrusted with future lucrative Halftime shows, immediately blacklisted Jackson’s music from its channels and radio stations. Though she publicly apologized, she was also blacklisted on other stations.
Timberlake, meanwhile, issued an apology of his own: “I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl. It was not intentional and is regrettable.”
Watch Now: Riverdale's Madelaine Petsch Recaps Cheryl Blossom's Backstory in 7 MinutesThough Jackson’s lengthy career was derailed by the incident, Timberlake’s career quickly went back to normal. His second solo album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, released in 2006, was a massive hit, spawning numerous No. 1 singles and scooping up two Grammys. Around that time, he also did an interview with MTV in which he elaborated on his initial apology, reflecting on how the malfunction impacted both himself and Jackson.
“It’s an understatement to say that it was sort of unfair,” he said of the heightened focus on Jackson. “If you consider it 50/50, I probably got 10 percent of the blame. And I think that says something about society. I think that America’s harsher on women and I think that America’s unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”
Timberlake has enjoyed consistent success since then, releasing other hit albums like The 20/20 Experience, starring in films like The Social Network, and becoming a regular face on Saturday Night Live. In February, he opened the Academy Awards with a performance of his Oscar-nominated Trolls song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
Considering recent artists have used the Super Bowl as the ultimate marketing tool, fans should prepare for Timberlake to either announce an album or a tour at some point in the future to tie in with his performance. After joining Coldplay and Bruno Mars in 2016, Beyoncé immediately announced her Formation World Tour. This past February, Lady Gaga did the same, announcing her Joanne World Tour. Ever the showman, Timberlake likely has something up his sleeve as well. Back in March, he tweeted that new music was “on the way.” In June, Pharrell confirmed as much, promising that Timberlake had a new album that was “amazing.”
However, though the Super Bowl performance will usher in a new era for the artist, it could be eclipsed by the full-circle reckoning of one of the most controversial moments of his career. The decision to tap Timberlake has already sparked backlash in some circles, who consider it a clear sign of pop-cultural hypocrisy. If Jackson will effectively never be invited back to the Super Bowl stage, why should Timberlake? That, it seems, will be a question that the N.F.L. will eventually have to answer.