There’s a bit of a double standard going on this week… and no, I’m not referring to the fact that pop singer Justin Timberlake was offered (and accepted without hesitation) the halftime performance at the next Super Bowl in February 2018 (although that is about as glaring a double standard as one could ever imagine).
No, I’m referring to the reaction from fans – particularly Janet Jackson’s fans, and more specifically her black ones – who are up in arms and demanding that she should be given an opportunity to perform at the game fourteen years after the best days of her career came to a screeching halt following the “wardrobe malfunction” that led to the infamous “Nipplegate” controversy.
Many of those same fans who expressed outrage that Justin – not Janet – was invited back by the NFL when he should at least share equal blame for the 2004 breast-exposure incident are forgetting that, just weeks ago, they were demanding that blacks should boycott the NFL for its treatment of ostracized former quarterback Colin Kaepernick who exercised his Constitutional right by protesting the treatment of blacks in this country during the National Anthem.
Last I checked, Janet is still black, and as such – based on conventional wisdom – she shouldn’t even be gunning for a halftime appearance at the maligned sport. In fact, if there’s ANY artist who should be boycotting the NFL, it’s Janet Jackson.
Janet was made to publicly apologize for her role in the 2004 incident (which she later rescinded), while equally complicit Justin Timberlake got by on vague acknowledgements of his role in it. In the years since, Jackson’s albums have successively sold fewer copies while Timberlake’s career continued to soar. In that time, JT has scored five No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 – including four that happened within three years of Nipplegate. Janet has reached the top 40 just twice since ‘04 (none peaking higher than 19).
This next Super Bowl performance would give Timberlake the most halftime shows of any artist (aside from Up With People who did five games before it mattered).
Jackson is in the middle of a moderately successful (by her earlier standards) “State of the World” comeback tour following a brief hiatus while becoming a mother for the first time at age 50 earlier this year. She’s making good on a promise she made to fans when she had to abruptly end her “Unbreakable” tour as news of her pregnancy first broke in early 2016.
The last thing she needs now is to compromise herself by showing up – much less performing – for a venue that largely shunned her after the much overblown incident and sent her career spiraling downward.
Oh, and it’s not that Jackson couldn’t pull it off.
I saw her “Unbreakable” concert in Chicago almost two years ago (November 4, 2015) and Jackson can certainly still deliver the goods. With the addition of all the theatrics and spectacle that comes with a Super Bowl performance that can instantly make a good stage performance seem grand, there’s no doubt that Jackson’s performance could easily rank among the ten or fifteen best if given the chance.
And don’t go calling Jackson too “old” for the occasion. Diana Ross was 51 when she performed at one of the earliest “spectacular” era shows in 1996. Madonna was 53 when she did it just six Super Bowls ago in 2012.
And countless men who are referred to as “heritage” acts (rock guys over 50 but who are still relevant because, well, see the above description of “double-standard”) have done the show, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, the late Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney…and that’s just in the 14 years since Janet last did it.
Jackson will be 52 on her next birthday, and is arguably still among the most energetic of performers at any age.
So, while the NFL continues to navigate its way through the social issues that have polarized Americans on either side of the Kaepernick issue – and which, ironically, have had BOTH sides “protesting” the institution, although obviously for different reasons, Janet should take comfort in the fact that her fans – as well as “woke” people in general – recognize the double-standard that is at play here.
It’s both an ethnic one and a gender one – and it has continued long after Nipplegate. Just two years ago, Beyoncé was maligned by political figures for making a statement during her performance at Super Bowl 50, most likely by the same people who elected a president who made it known he likes to grab strange women by their private parts.
Heck, the NFL is likely actually “hoping” that Timberlake does the unthinkable and invites Janet onstage during his show, whether to apologize or to give her a chance to shine like he has so often in the wake of Nipplegate. Certainly they don’t believe that JT – who hasn’t released an album in over four years, but also who doesn’t qualify for “heritage” status – can hold a Super Bowl-sized audience on his own. Adding Janet would be like Coldplay adding Beyoncé in 2016 – a much-needed shot in the arm for a show likely not going anywhere otherwise.
Janet has proven to be a survivor – despite the odds stacked against her. Her tour is doing fine, she’s a liberated new mother and her entertainment legacy is intact.
The last thing she needs is the Super Bowl Halftime performance, and her fans above anyone’s should recognize that.
Unless, of course, it’s to receive that long overdue formal public apology from Justin Timberlake.
But then there’s still the matter of the NFL, who stated that Janet Jackson is not “banned” from it.
Maybe not, but the damage is done. And it’s now Janet who should do the banning.