In a statement on Instagram, the singer issued an apology to both Spears and Janet Jackson.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”
Timberlake said he chose to speak out because “everyone involved deserves better” and that it’s a “larger conversation” he wants to be “part of and grow from.”
The 40-year-old was widely criticized after the recent “Framing Britney Spears” documentary was released, specifically for the misogyny against Spears he helped perpetuate.
Spears and Timberlake dated for four years before breaking up in 2002. In the wake of their breakup, Timberlake talked openly about their sex life and, as the documentary suggests, weaponized the breakup to catapult his own career. In the documentary, Timberlake is seen joking about Spears in bed and using her likeness in one of his music videos to further a narrative he created about her allegedly cheating on him.
Additionally, Timberlake has long been the subject of ire due to his 2004 Super Bowl performance with Janet Jackson. A “costume reveal” that exposed Jackson’s breast during the halftime show led to both Timberlake and Jackson having to apologize publicly after, though Jackson’s career suffered far more fallout from the incident than Timberlake’s.
As CNN noted in its report on the backlash against Timberlake, he was invited to attend the 2004 Grammy Awards after the Super Bowl incident, while Jackson was not. Les Moonves, the CEO and chairman of CBS, had developed a vendetta of sorts against Jackson because he didn’t feel her apology was as heartfelt as Timberlake’s and was the reason for her being barred from the show.
Moonves even ordered Viacom properties VH1 and MTV, and all Viacom-owned radio stations, to stop playing Jackson’s songs and music videos, which as HuffPost reported in 2018, “had a huge impact on sales of her album ‘Damita Jo,’ which was released in March 2004, just a month after the Super Bowl.”
“The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success,” Timberlake’s statement continued. “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 again.”
He goes on to say that this apology is a “first step” and that he wants to take “accountability” for his own missteps.
“I can do better and I will be better,” he concluded.