In the early noughties, Janet Jackson was at the peak of her career. MTV called her “Queen Of Radio”, her song “All For You” topped the US charts and her tour was covered by HBO. But in 2004 everything changed. During a live Super Bowl performance, Justin Timberlake revealed her chest, allegedly by accident – Jackson’s career took a knock. Arte is now broadcasting a documentary about the incident.

    The documentary aims to explain why a “supposedly harmless gesture by one of the most successful pop musicians in history became fatal”. To understand that, one must examine which civil rights and cultural movements clashed on the Super Bowl concert stage in 2004, they say. Among others, the former commissioner of the National Football League, the MTV executives responsible for the production as well as politicians who tried to keep the escalating debate in check at the time have their say.

    Jackson as a target

    “Nipplegate” has been the subject of endless discussion in the American media. Late-night hosts like David Letterman joked, TV stations reported with voyeuristic lust, even the Supreme Court got involved. The incident exploded on the Internet, Janet Jackson was the most wanted person in 2004 and 2005. The pressure on her was enormous. In a video message, the singer had to apologize.

    Timberlake’s role was largely ignored by the media. He shared the stage with Jackson and was ultimately responsible for the incident, but that didn’t seem to matter. Gossip magazine E! Online wrote “Of course the woman takes the blame even though the man undressed her”. In 2009, Timberlake finally apologized. Not having defended Jackson was his biggest regret.

    Everything just fake?

    A mystery remains: How did this incident cause such a big scandal? “It was just the perfect timing to divert people’s focus from other things,” Jackson speculated in an interview. As a reminder, the Iraq war started just before, in response to 9/11. Some suspect that they wanted to draw attention to something else.

    Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate: The Story of a Scandal will premiere on Arte on July 8 at 9:45pm. The documentary will be repeated on July 17th and August 6th and will be available online from July 1st to December 4th.