Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake

Photo from Wikipedia

What was the accusation?

On February 12, 2021, Timberlake posted on Instagram an apology to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson for his actions nearly two decades ago and regret for the consequences both women have endured. The impetus for the post was the recent release of New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears, in which Timberlake plays a significant role. Spears and Timberlake were successful child actors, turned into music superstars and their relationship was covered intensely by the media. The relationship ended in 2002 with allegations of Spear’s infidelity. Public blame seemed to rest on Spears while publicity from the breakup seemed to help Timberlake with his first solo album after leaving the boyband, NSync. Two year later, Timberlake’s continued success led to a performance with another superstar, Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show. During the performance, Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast on live television. Whether it was planned or not, public outcry was extremely negative and caused a huge controversy for both performers. Like Spears, most of the criticism was levied on Jackson which included being banned from the 2004 Grammy Awards (see our other page: https://publicapologycentral.com/apologia-archive/celebrity-2/janet-jackson/) . Timberlake continued to have an extremely successful career in music and film. In 2021, with a heightened cultural awareness of racism and sexism, the release of the New York Times documentary has led to a reexamination of how Spears was treated by the media and the public. Because Timberlake played a significant role in her life, the documentary is asking questions about Timberlake’s actions toward Spears as well as an exploration of the consequences Janet Jackson endured compared to Timberlake after the 2004 Super Bowl performance. A possible additional motivation for the apology is the fact that Timberlake’s latest project, a film he stars in as an ex-con and football star, was released a month ago on Apple TV+.

Key Apologia Strategies:

 Mortification, Corrective Action, Bolstering




I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond. I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right. I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.

“I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed. I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be a part of and grow from.”

“It’s designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down ever again.”

“I have not been perfect in navigating all of this throughout my career. I know this apology is a first step and doesn’t absolve the past. I want to take accountability for my missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports.”

“I care deeply about the wellbeing of the people I love and have loved. I can do better and will do better.”



Aswad, J. (2021, February 12). Justin Timberlake Apologizes to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson: ‘I Failed’. Retrieved from Variety: https://variety.com/2021/music/news/justin-timberlake-apologizes-britney-spears-janet-jackson-i-failed-1234907138/

Brisco, E. (2021 , February 13). ‘I know I failed’: Justin Timberlake issues an apology to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. Retrieved from USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2021/02/12/justin-timberlake-apologizes-after-framing-britney-spears-backlash/6738766002/

Horton, A. (2021, February 12). ‘I am deeply sorry’: Justin Timberlake apologies to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/feb/12/justin-timberlake-britney-spears-janet-jackson-apology