I’ve been thinking of the truth-in-jest plea, “God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man,” since Justin Timberlake’s ho-hum Super Bowl halftime performance last Sunday night.
There have been many more-spectacular Super Bowl performers, starting with Michael Jackson, whose 1993 appearance permanently changed the halftime show from a snack/drink/bathroom break to a must-see event.
Last year, Lady Gaga approached her halftime act with Jackson’s sense of showmanship, beginning by appearing to jump off the roof of NRG Stadium in Houston and ending it by actually catching a bedazzled football and jumping out of camera range.
Beyoncé always knows how to bring star power to a stadium, as you could see in 2013, when she had her former Destiny’s Child groupmates — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams — burst out of a fiery stage.
Queen Bey returned in 2016 — stealing all the attention from headliners Coldplay — and performed her single, “Formation,” with a fierce attitude and a military-influenced outfit that shocked, SHOCKED!, viewers at home.
Prince’s legendary 2007 performance in pouring rain is considered by some to be the zenith of Super Bowl entertainment.
Even the un-bedazzled Bruce Springsteen created a minor uproar by accidentally sliding into a camera crotch-first in 2009.
Of course, the most scandalous Super Bowl performance was the one in 2004, featuring Kid Rock, Diddy, Nelly … and that notorious finale duet by Janet Jackson and Timberlake. That was the performance that ended with Justin ripping off a piece of Janet’s costume and exposing her bare breast (well, bare except for nipple jewelry) for 9/16 of a second.
That blink-and-you-missed-it moment brought the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” to the masses, but it had other effects that you might not remember. The most mind-blowing one to me is that “Nipplegate” was responsible for the creation of YouTube. Seriously! There’s a straight line from Janet Jackson’s breast to YouTube. The incident also kept a bunch of lawyers busy for eight years. Honest! The Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to levy a $550,000 “indecency” fine on CBS lasted until 2012 when the Supreme Court refused to hear the agency’s final appeal. What a way to spend taxpayer money!
And here’s something that I totally forgot: Janet Jackson, who got stuck taking full responsibility for the flash of flesh, also recorded a solemn apology for television. DAFUQ? People who are responsible for the death and dismemberment of others don’t wind up doing shit like that. Not that the hostage-style video helped. Folks kept shaming Janet for her breast, nipple, nipple jewelry … you name it, she was shamed for it, and she never bounced back to her superstar status.
Meanwhile, Timberlake was unscathed and less repentant, despite the fact that without his participation Janet couldn’t have been exposed, whether down to her bra (as supposedly planned) or otherwise (as actually occurred). Initially, he was in a joking mood, saying, “Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about.” The next day, when it turned out that Nipplegate was a national crisis, Timberlake graduated to a classic “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” statement. After a week, he was back on CBS to perform and accept two awards at the Grammys.
Janet wasn’t there to cheer him on; reportedly, her invitation to the Grammys was either rescinded or she declined it under pressure to do so. (According to the Grammys website, it was Jackson’s choice not to appear.) Her new album, Damita Jo, still dropped the following month as planned. It had strong enough sales to get to No. 2 on Billboard, but everything is relative: Her albums usually debuted at No. 1, so this was seen as a failure. There were suspicions that she had been blacklisted by some radio and music-television outlets.
Timberlake didn’t release his second solo album until 2006, and his FutureSex/LoveSounds did go to No. 1 on Billboard. The following year, in an interview with MTV, he admitted he could have dealt with Nipplegate better. “I probably got 10 percent of the blame, and that says something about society,” he said. “I think that America’s harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”
Imagine what a bold statement it would have been, all these years later, if he had lobbied for Jackson to appear at last week’s Super Bowl with him. Instead, the highlight of the set was the instantly memed Selfie Kid, who entertained the masses by turning to his phone after snapping a photo with Timberlake.
This kid is tweeting "They should have brought back Janet Jackson" right in front of #JustinTimberlake #Superbowl pic.twitter.com/NV28Qp5ckP
— Luisa Haynes (@wokeluisa) February 5, 2018
All’s well that ends well for Justin, though. His new album, Man of the Woods, overcame mixed reviews to hit No. 1, his fourth album to do so. Maybe he’ll even get some more Grammys, despite the Recording Academy’s vow on February 1 to launch an “independent investigation” of gender bias in the music industry. Timberlake can bring sexy back and tear off a woman’s top yet somehow remain wholesome enough for prime time — a fact that’s been reinforced by the Super Bowl — and there’s nothing that Grammys voters like more than a safe, white, male musician.
I warned you that I had more to share about the January 28 Grammys than my fashion commentary! Only one woman won one of the major televised Grammy awards: Alessia Cara was named best new artist. Four women — Pink, Lady Gaga, Kesha, and Kelly Clarkson — were nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance, but the one man in the category, Ed Sheeran, won. We didn’t have to sit through a performance or speech by him though, because he wasn’t at the ceremony to pick up his award.
Lorde was the only woman nominated in the album of the year category, and, reportedly, the only nominee in that category who was not offered a solo spot for her own material. According to Variety, she was instead asked to take part in a Tom Petty tribute, which she declined. Maybe the show’s producers weren’t thinking straight, because they were preoccupied with begging Jay-Z, one of Lorde’s fellow nominees, to hit the stage. Jay-Z said no, and you’d figure that if they had time for him — and didn’t get him — they would have had time for Lorde. Right? Wrong. Instead of a musical statement, Lorde wound up making a fashion statement by sewing a poem by artist Jenny Holzer to the back of her Valentino gown.
The Grammys’ pattern of favoring men — especially white men, and especially the blandest white men — is nothing new: See Christopher Cross winning over Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, and Pink Floyd in 1981. Women aren’t the only people missing from the Grammys; black people are too. As I mentioned last year, through 2017, just 10 black artists had won album of the year 12 times since the category was introduced in 1959. (Stevie Wonder won three times.) When black artists do win, we get Lionel Richie’s 1985 win for Can’t Slow Down, which beat out Prince’s edgier, sexier Purple Rain. While this year’s Best Album winner, Bruno Mars’s 24K Magic, is vastly superior to Christopher Cross in terms of quality, the artist himself is a “safer,” more mass-appeal, paler-complexioned choice than the three black male nominees, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Jay-Z. An awards-show history like that can cast a shadow over the winners that’s hard to escape, though I don’t predict Mars’s reputation collapsing like Macklemore’s did after his undeserved 2014 win for best rap album over Kendrick Lamar. (Macklemore dug the hole much deeper by sharing on social media the “you were robbed by me!” text he sent Lamar. Awkward!) It’s a tougher situation for the talented Alessia Cara, who is feeling the heat for winning best new artist for her 2015 work at an awards ceremony that was intended to celebrate 2017 work.
to address the apparent backlash regarding winning something I had no control over: I didn’t log onto grammy.com and submit myself. that’s not how it works. I didn’t ask to be submitted either because there are other artists that deserve the acknowledgment. but I was nominated and won and I am not going to be upset about something I’ve wanted since I was a kid, not to mention have worked really hard for. I meant everything I said about everyone deserving the same shot. there is a big issue in the industry that perpetuates the idea that an artist’s talent and hard work should take a back seat to popularity and numbers. and I’m aware that my music wasn’t released yesterday, I’m aware that, yes, my music has become fairly popular in the last year. but I’m trying very hard to use the platform I’ve been given to talk about these things and bring light to issues that aren’t fair, all while trying to make the most of the weird, amazing success I’ve been lucky enough to have. I will not let everything I’ve worked for be diminished by people taking offence to my accomplishments and feeling the need to tell me how much I suck. here’s something fun! I’ve been thinking I suck since I was old enough to know what sucking meant. I’ve beat u to it. And that’s why this means a lot to me. despite my 183625 insecurities, I’ve been shown that what I’ve created is worth something and that people actually give a shit. all of the years feeling like I wasn’t good at anything or that I was naive for dreaming about something improbable have paid off in a way that I have yet to process. I know it sounds cheesy and dumb but it’s the honest truth. thanks to everyone who’s shown me kindness and support along the way. I’ll stop talking now.
The Cara backlash centers on SZA, a breakout star who had five nominations related to her critically praised 2017 album Ctrl. SZA was the most nominated woman of this year’s Grammys, but walked away with nothing. At least the show producers let her perform.
While I’m on the subject of who got to perform, I’m still confused by 2017 rap sensation Cardi B doing her remix of “Finesse” with Bruno Mars at the Grammys, but not her big solo hit, “Bodak Yellow.” The Mars collab is great, don’t get me wrong, but the only song to top “Bodak Yellow” in terms of ubiquity last year was “Despacito,” an undeniably catchy megahit by Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee. (When I say “megahit” I mean that “Despacito” has 4.8 billion — billion with a b — YouTube views now, making it the most viewed YouTube video ever.) “Despacito” lost in the best pop duo/group performance category to Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still,” which is a groovy tune, but no diamond-selling record-setter. However, “Despacito” is in Spanish, performed by Puerto Rican artists, and was written by a woman, while “Feel It Still” is none of those things, so that’s the Grammys for you.
With complaints about gender bias circulating while the 2018 Grammys show was still on the air, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said immediately after that women need to “step up” if they want to win. (He apologized four days later.) This is the same Neil Portnow, who, in response to complaints about the white-skewing 2017 show, said, “No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all.” And, guess what? It was Neil Portnow who, according to the Grammys website, “forcefully led The Academy through some tense moments with the network following the Super Bowl controversy” in 2004. I’ve got a tip for the folks doing that new, independent gender-bias investigation for the Recording Academy: Start with Neil Portnow. You’re welcome!