Justin Timberlake has apologized to former girlfriend Britney Spears and Super Bowl halftime co-star Janet Jackson in a statement issued following the release of a high-profile documentary about Spears’ life.
Timberlake issued the apology on Friday after the New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears sparked calls for him to do so earlier in the week. The documentary examines Spears’ rise to fame at an early age and critiques her treatment by media and celebrities — including Timberlake.
In his statement, Timberlake, 40, admitted to benefiting from the privilege afforded to white men in the music industry while being ignorant of the challenges facing women and people of colour. He also acknowledged falling “short” at various times in his life, and admitted to remaining silent while benefiting “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,” he said.
Timberlake described the music industry as “flawed” in the statement.
“It sets men, especially white men, up for success,” he wrote. “It’s designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this.”
The Spears documentary has triggered a reckoning with the way the pop star was treated in her early years.
Timberlake and Spears dated for three years before they broke up in 2002. He was 21 and she was 20 at the time their relationship ended.
The documentary suggests that Timberlake used Spears to advance his career, and that he also cut things off for the same reason. It also highlights the way some media reports celebrated Timberlake for potentially having sex with the then-teenaged pop star.
Timberlake and Spears both started their careers as members of the Mickey Mouse Club. Spears started her solo career after that gig, while Timberlake became a teen heartthrob as a member of the boy band ‘NSYNC.
Timberlake launched his solo career in 2002, a few months after his breakup with Spears. Spears’ career began to slip in the following years, culminating with her shaving her head in the midst of a public breakdown from 2007-08.
Timberlake’s solo career took off quickly, but he captured even more attention in 2004, when he played the Super Bowl halftime show alongside Janet Jackson.
Timberlake famously tore off a part of Jackson’s costume during that performance to reveal part of her breast, in a move later characterized as a “wardrobe malfunction.” Jackson faced backlash for the incident but Timberlake emerged largely unscathed, and reprised his appearance at the Super Bowl in 2018.
In his statement, Timberlake says he wants to be part of the “larger conversation” about improving the music industry.
“I want to take accountability for my own missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports,” he wrote. “I care deeply about the wellbeing of the people I love and have loved. I can do better and I will do better.”
As of this writing, Spears has not publicly commented outright about the movie. Neither Spears or Jackson has publicly responded to Timberlake’s apology.