Another year, another Justin Timberlake transgression.
In what many are already describing as a massive flop, pop sensation and famed cultural appropriator Justin Timberlake took over the Super Bowl Halftime show with the same tricks. Rocking in a pair of retro Jordans, camouflage pants, a red bandanna, and a shirt that looks like a default Montana laptop cover art, Timberlake hit the stage barely singing a melody of his past hits that were largely inspired by Michael Jackson.
There was subtle shade throughout the spectacle, but nothing more noticeable than his striking of the verse “have you naked by the end of this song” while performing “Rock Your Body.” That omission was purposefully as it would take us back to his last visit on the Super Bowl Halftime show back in 2004 when he uttered such words before ripping off the bra of Janet Jackson and launching Nipplegate in full effect.
As Timberlake strived to do what most white artists attempt to do with their music, this form of revisionist history was hard to ignore. I may have personally played a part in this after asking him to apologize to Ms. Jackson and to stop appropriating Black music as a whole during a now infamous Twitter confrontation during the 2016 BET Awards in which he condescendingly referred to me as a “sweet soul” to belittle my sentiments. The backlash he faced for his ignorance helped revamp conversations on Timberlake’s white privilege, cultural appropriation and disrespect for Black artistry. Janet Jackson isn’t the only Black musician Timberlake has discarded — he was known publicly to insult the late great Prince in his songs and at award shows. Most of the public didn’t seem to care back then until now.
For a halftime show that was lackluster from the start, Timberlake was desperate to give it life. Out of the ashes came a projector of Prince performing, and a god-awful tribute to a legend that Timberlake once tried to challenge on “bringing sexy back.” If you don’t follow Black musicians or care about their thoughts outside of the studio, then you would have known this entire set up was an entire slap in the face of Prince. The Purple One has always condemned the use of holograms and/or similar type stimulations in performances, and even described it as “demonic.” Even though Timberlake did not flat out use a hologram, the stimulation of him singing alongside the now deceased Prince was creepy and disrespectful beyond reason. But Timberlake didn’t care, he just needed to once again use Black art to fuel his mediocrity. Janet Jackson’s body was sexualized to give him the edge he ran with for his next album FutureSex/LoveSounds. His career soared to new heights as hers took an unfair hit.
Now Timberlake has gone to even deeper lows to resurrect dead Black artists to revitalize his next faulty project. History had already told us that Prince and Timberlake weren’t the best of friends — why on earth would he even try to convince us otherwise?
Answer: Because he is a white man who has had more passes than we can all count.
We let him get away with throwing Janet Jackson under the bus, we let him get away with rocking cornrows and acting like his Southern roots entitled him to hijacking our swagger. We let him work with the Neptunes and Timberland to take a great deal of Michael Jackson B-sides to turn himself into this soul R&B crooner he couldn’t be without us. We helped create the culture vulture Timberlake is today that will now discard us to now become a “man of the woods.”
And what did we get in exchange? Not a white poster child to address #BlackLivesMatter or speak out on other racial injustices, but a man who spends more time tweeting passively about his own music projects and celebrity encounters. On his latest flop album, Man of the Woods, Timberlake wrote a song about our Twitter exchange called “Say Something.” In the lyrics, he constantly utters the lyrics, “Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.”
Perhaps when it comes to appropriating Black culture for relevance, the best way to not do it is to actually stop once and for all.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Ernest Owens is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, The Grio, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and ernestowens.com.
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)