A new documentary explores the aftermath of Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl halftime show
And how badly CBS's then-CEO allegedly wanted to destroy her career.
The New York Times’ investigative documentary Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson, which premieres Friday on Hulu and FX, delves into Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during her infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performance with Justin Timberlake.
For people of a certain age, the image of Jackson clutching her pierced nipple in shock after Timberlake ripped a part of her outfit off is burned into our memories. We all know what happened on stage, but the documentary sheds light on the dark aftermath of “nipplegate.” One of the startling allegations is Jackson was not allowed to appear at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards, which aired on CBS a week after the Super Bowl XXXVIII, likely because she refused to personally apologize to Les Moonves, the network’s then-CEO.
According to the doc, Moonves originally banned both Timberlake and Jackson from appearing at the award show but was open to changing his mind if the singers apologized to him in person. At the time, CBS said Timberlake and Jackson wouldn’t be able to appear on the Grammys unless they agreed to apologize during the live show, which Timberlake did and Jackson did not. After watching the doc, we discover that was, at best, a distortion of the truth, as Jackson refusing to give Moonves an in-person apology was likely the real reason she didn’t appear on the Grammy telecast for her planned participation in a tribute to Luther Vandross.
Not only did Jackson release an apology video two days after the incident, she shouldered most of the blame by saying “the decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after the final rehearsal.” She also clarified CBS had no prior knowledge of the change. But Moonves didn’t feel the apology was sufficient, according to sources speaking with The Huffington Post in 2018. Even seven years after the halftime performance, Moonves was allegedly furious CBS-owned publisher Simon & Schuster gave Jackson a book deal for True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself. Sources also told Huffington Post the enraged executive was determined to enact consequences for a CBS-owned entity working with someone he disliked.
Moonves attempted to ruin the career of one of the most celebrated female artists ever, not because she didn’t apologize to the tens of millions of people who watched her wardrobe malfunction, which she did, but allegedly because she didn’t apologize how he desired. He should be the one to grovel at Jackson’s feet hoping for her forgiveness, especially knowing how his power trips have damaged other women’s lives. Moonves ignominiously resigned as CEO of CBS in 2018 after a dozen women accused him of various acts of sexual misconduct. The allegations painted a pattern of power-hungry exploitation that might help explain his obsession with damaging Jackson’s career.
Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb said Moonves forced her to perform oral sex on him, exposed himself, and physically threw her against a wall when they worked together at television production company Lorimar-Telepictures in the 1980s. After Golden-Gottlieb’s persistent refusals and Moonves’s sexual advances, she believes he sought retaliation against her. “He absolutely ruined my career,” she told the New Yorker. “He was the head of CBS. No one was going to take me.” His former assistant Jessica Pallingston said she had a similar experience, telling the New Yorker Moonves offered to help her career if she engaged in oral sex with him, had loud phone sex in front of her, and once became so enraged with her he threw a pillow at her to get her attention. She believes her experiences with Moonves not only inspired her to abandon a full-time career in television, but worsened the depression and anxiety she had been struggling with for years. His power trips not only ruined careers — they likely ruined lives.
Who knows what else he would’ve asked from Jackson if she met with him privately to apologize. What is clear is he needs to apologize for the revenge tour he waged against her. But Jackson, who has had 2 albums reach the top 2 spots on Billboard 200 since the Super Bowl fiasco and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, doesn't need his apology the way his ego once needed hers.
And honestly, I hope she never forgives him.