It’s now 10 years since 90 million Super Bowl viewers were treated to a peep of Janet Jackson’s right breast – for all of nine-sixteenths of a second.
Apart from being responsible for adding a new phrase to the lexicon – “wardrobe malfunction” – this must rate as the most over-hyped and expensive moment in history.
It occurred during the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show.
Justin Timberlake had joined Janet Jackson on stage to sing “Rock Your Body,”. As he reached the line “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song,” he reached over, grabbed a corner of the dress and tugged it. It came away in his hand and caused Jackson’s breast to be exposed for a fraction of a second.
Apparently he had pulled a little too hard, according to a Jackson spokesperson: “Justin was supposed to pull away the rubber bustier to reveal a red lace bra… The garment collapsed and her breast was accidentally revealed.”
CBS forced Janet Jackson to release a video apology. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received more than 540,000 indecency complaints as a result of Jackson’s accident, and fined CBS $550,000. The fine was cancelled on appeal in 2011.
The incident, later dubbed “Nipplegate,” nearly ruined Jackson’s music career. Perhaps the most astonishing reaction was that of media companies – including Viacom, CBS, MTV, Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel – which blacklisted Jackson’s eighth studio album, Damita Jo, released on March 22, 2004. The record was her lowest-selling album since 1984.
The most apt comment about the incident was made by former FCC chairman Michael Powell who said he thought the Super Bowl controversy had been blown out of proportion.
Powell testified about the wardrobe malfunction more than any other issue in his entire career. “I ended up testifying for nine hours on just this,” he said in disbelief. “On 9/16 of a second.”
Jackson talked about the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show scandal for the first and last time in a 2006 Oprah Winfrey Show interview. She insisted that the incident was accidental. “So much more important things were going on in the world. And the focus was on my breast? That didn’t make any sense to me,” Jackson said.
Strange how standards have changed in 10 years. Miley Cyrus earns money for swinging naked on a wrecking ball, full nudity is everywhere, and Janet Jackson was condemned for a nine-sixteenths of a second accidental flash.