Super Bowl XXXVIII featured, you guessed it, the New England Patriots winning another World Championship. Tom Brady was named the game’s Most Valuable Player as the Pats defeated Julius Peppers, Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers, 32-29. However, the highlight of the show came and went like a shooting star during the most memorable halftime performance of all time back in 2004.
Janet Jackson headlined a Super Bowl halftime show filled with star power. Inside Houston’s Reliant Stadium, P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock all made appearances to perform a mixture of their hits alongside Jackson. The show finished with a duet of Rock Your Body with Justin Timberlake. If you missed this moment over last 15 years, I’m glad you’re here to finally see it. Let’s just say, the titillating ending was hard to miss.
Aside from the other sexually suggestive lyrics, the iconic song builds to the final line, “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.”
Well, someone thought it’d be a good idea to put a rip-away piece of leather costume over Janet Jackson’s outer right breast for Timberlake to pull away right at the end. Complete with a sun-shaped nipple shield, the singer’s breast was exposed to more than 100 million people across the United States, and the world simultaneously shouted, “WAIT! WAS THAT…?”
The 2004 Super Bowl halftime show overshadowed the Patriots’ win, and today it is eloquently remembered as Nipplegate.
The show was produced by MTV and CBS Sports and was sponsored by America Online’s TopSpeed dial-up Internet software. Clearly, none of them thought that exposing a woman’s breast during one of the largest television events in history might actually be a bad idea. In the aftermath, Jackson said that a leather cover was supposed to expose a red lace bra underneath and that Timberlake accidentally removed all of Jackson’s costume.
Jackson later apologized for the decision, which she says was decided on after the final rehearsal. CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC for the costume reveal.
Perhaps unfairly, Janet Jackson’s music career largely plummeted following the incident that everyone simply referred to as “a wardrobe malfunction.” Recent reporting even alleges that CBS Chairman Les Moonves worked specifically to ruin Jackson’s career. At the Grammy Awards a few weeks later, Timberlake collected two awards and apologized for what happened. When he performed during Super Bowl LII, it was rumored Jackson would return to make up for last time, but she never took the stage.
Regardless of the show’s nonchalant attitude in the aftermath of Nipplegate, the bare-breasted moment resulted in over 540,000 complaints to the Federal Communications Commission and was called “a classless, crass, and deplorable stunt” by FCC Chairman Michael Powell.
All it took was 9/16 of a second for the world to go completely mad and forever changed the NFL’s Super Bowl halftime show.