It seemed like the Framing Britney Spears documentary (opens in new tab) was all anybody could talk about this past week, and it seems the talk has finally reached Spears's former boyfriend, Justin Timberlake (opens in new tab).
Along with bringing up questions of media exploitation and culpability, mental health awareness (opens in new tab), and prompting everyone to look up the definition of conservatorship, the New York Times' documentary on Hulu raised eyebrows in its portrayal of Timberlake following his 2002 breakup with the heavily scrutinized pop princess.
In kicking off his post-NSYNC solo career, Timberlake routinely disparaged Spears in the years after the much-publicized breakup, as shown in the doc. He used a Britney lookalike in his Cry Me a River music video, boasted about their sexual relationship on Saturday Night Live (opens in new tab) and in interviews, and publicized rumors that she was unfaithful to him, all while Spears was reportedly struggling with a mental health crisis.
Backlash against Timberlake from documentary viewers and Spears fans was swift on social media following the movie's release. One Twitter user wrote (opens in new tab): "Mercury retrograde in Aquarius exposing Diane Sawyer and Justin Timberlake in the Britney documentary is so on brand. What goes around definitely comes around." Another held nothing back, posting: "With the Britney documentary and the Super Bowl halftime show happening this weekend, it’s a good time to remember what a piece of garbage Justin Timberlake is."
- This is how you can watch the viral Britney Spears documentary (opens in new tab) in the UK
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The blowback prompted the boy bander to release an official response on his Instagram today (opens in new tab), writing to his 60 million followers: “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.”
Timberlake said that he "specifically" wanted to extend apologies to both Spears and Janet Jackson. The latter performer became entangled with the documentary discourse and Timberlake's treatment of women because the Framing Britney Spears movie hit screens the same weekend as Super Bowl LV. Timberlake and Jackson famously sparked controversy with their "Nipplegate" halftime performance (opens in new tab) at the 2004 Super Bowl, for which Jackson was publicly vilified while Timberlake walked away from comparatively unscathed.
The "Mirrors" singer wrote on Instagram: “I care for and respect these women and I know I failed." Timberlake said that the backlash is part of a "larger conversation" about how the music industry is inherently flawed and deeply misogynistic. "It sets men, especially white men, up for success. 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.”
Whether Spears, Jackson or their fans accept Timberlake's apology is to be seen.
Christina Izzo is the Deputy Editor of My Imperfect Life.
More generally, she is a writer-editor covering food and drink, travel, lifestyle and culture in New York City. She was previously the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York.
When she’s not doing all that, she can probably be found eating cheese somewhere.
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