Rock The Vote
Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)
There's a whole lot about this show that got lost in Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" (P.S. Can we please kick this term out of the lexicon?).
First off, check out the show's title. This was, ostensibly, MTV and AOL's way of mustering up the youth vote and getting them to the polls for the presidential race between incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic hopeful John Kerry. Hey, it worked during the race between Bill Clinton and Bush's dad in 1992, why not now?
That brings us to our second point: The lineup. Janet Jackson and renowned fabric tearer Justin Timberlake weren't the only folks on this bill. After Janet opened with All For You off her 2001 album of the same name, Sean Combs let everyone know he would be going by "Diddy" in the near future by letting a bunch of cheerleaders turn Toni Basil's Mickey into an ode to his latest nickname. He was followed up by Nelly, who actually got to perform Hot In Herre after being relegated to a largely incoherent verse during the 2001 Aerosmith/NSync/Britney Spears halftime show.
That still didn't bring us to JT, as viewers had to contend with then rap-rocker Kid Rock. Not quite crossed over to country yet, Kid Rock blazed through Bawitdaba and Cowboy while getting more full songs on the setlist than anyone but Jackson. That's how big Kid Rock was a decade ago.
Finally, that brings us to Timberlake and Jackson's infamous version of Timberlake's Rock Your Body. By tearing into Jackson's wardrobe and revealing to the world less than a second of her nipple shield (no, it wasn't a pasty, but a piercing that surrounds the nipple and covers the areo ... wait, why are we explaining this?), Timberlake unleashed a wave of fines, censorship and moralization that didn't ebb until nearly a decade later. Clear Channel began editing songs, networks toned down soap operas and the Federal Communications Commission fined CBS, only to be overturned in a court battle that wasn't settled until 2011. AOL asked for its $7.5 million back, MTV parent Viacom paid out millions to settle lawsuits from disgruntled viewers and the vote was rocked by morally outraged portions of the U.S. audience that had no problem watching hours of players concussing themselves, but somehow developed keen enough vision to both sport Jackson's less than a second of nipple and be offended by it.
MTV didn't get its youth vote, and Super Bowl halftime watchers didn't get anything resembling youth for the better part of a decade. From 2005 through 2012, the average age of a Super Bowl halftime performer clocked in at 52. That included nobody under 30 and seven headliners over the AARP cutoff age of 55: Paul McCartney in 2005 (62), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 2006 (each 62), Tom Petty in 2008 (57), Bruce Springsteen in 2009 (59) and The Who's Roger Daltrey (65) and Pete Townshend (64) in 2010. Even when the show decided to go "young" with Beyonce in 2013, she was 31 and 16 years removed from her major-label debut with Destiny's Child.
In January, former FCC chairman Michael Powell finally told ESPN The Magazine that the controversy, fines and reaction to the incident were all a bit much. He also defended Janet Jackson, saying she didn't deserve the scolding and ensuing blacklisting she'd received and noted that it was "unfair" that Timberlake didn't get the same treatment or worse.
Well, Mike, after eight years of fogey halftimes, the near decimation of one of the greatest musicians of the last generation, the birth of the unfortunate term "wardrobe malfunction" and the censoring of everything from Steve Miller's Jet Airliner to network airings of Saving Private Ryan, it's safe to say your little mea culpa came way too late. This incident helped give us YouTube and Vevo, but it removed any hope of escape from the cycle of false outrage we've been mired in since.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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