In The New York Times’ documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” airing on FX and Hulu, Justin Timberlake is painted as the catalyst for her downfall. Social media has been flooded with Justin Timberlake take-downs. And it feels unfair.
First of all, no one person has that much power over someone else’s career. Secondly, if you watch the documentary, you’ll see that Britney’s problems had started long before their breakup even happened. Does Britney need help? Absolutely. But none of her issues are Justin’s fault.
Still, folks are quick to blame him for a lot.
They split up in 2002, when they were around 21 years old. Britney had just released her third album, “Britney” and had starred in her first movie, “Crossroads.” Justin was just embarking on his post-*NSYNC solo career. He had everything to prove, and she was already established as America’s (controversial) sweetheart.
In the doc, we see an interviewer (likely not American) ask Britney if she’s a virgin, and she says yes, adding that she wants to stay a virgin until marriage. In another clip, we see an interview Britney did with Diane Sawyer, who asks her if she did in fact, break Justin’s heart. Britney doesn’t answer, of course. Next, we see a radio interview Justin did where he admits the two had sex. Hello! Of course they did. They were young adults and super hot; no one actually believed they weren’t boning. People will say he slut shamed her, but let’s not forget, Britney Spears has been the victim of slut shaming since she danced in that schoolgirl outfit. Justin telling what is likely the truth might be in poor taste, but it does not equate to slut shaming.
After their breakup, Justin released his debut solo album, “Justified,” which includes the hit song “Cry Me a River.” Both the song and the music video insinuate that Spears cheated on him. We don’t know if this is true; both of them have stayed mum about it. A lot of people call misogyny because Justin painted Britney as the reason the relationship failed. But if the roles were reversed and Britney was the one who released an album first, do we think she wouldn’t have addressed the breakup in a song? She absolutely would have. Her record label would have pushed for it.
And if Britney made it seem like Justin was the one who broke her heart, we would have accepted it. How is it that Justin Timberlake is the bad guy when he does what all songwriters do? He didn’t even conceive the video concept; director Francis Lawrence admits that he came up with it.
“[Justin and I] had a conversation on the phone and all he said was he wanted to have some dancing in it, but to do my thing. He told me what the song was about, but in a [general way] as well. He just said it was a kiss-off song and so I came up with this idea and he went for it,” Lawrence told MTV News.
Pop stars in the early ‘00s did not have much control over their careers. They had very little autonomy over their images and career moves. Their record labels, management teams and publicity had a hand in everything from their clothes to their music to their carefully-scripted statements. If you think they weren’t coached on what to say in interviews, you’re insane. These are media professionals. And even though Justin was coming off of the success of *NSYNC, he still had a lot to prove to the world. We all know that it’s hard for boy band members to establish themselves successfully as solo artists.
To say that Justin Timberlake built his career on the back of Britney Spears is asinine. It honestly makes no sense. It erases the work that he put in to establish himself as a musician. Yes, his solo career has been incredibly successful. But he put in five solid years as a member of one of the most influential boy bands of all time. It isn’t like he was plucked out of the cabbage patch and became a star. He wrote several top ten singles for *NSYNC before he went solo. From the release of “Like I Love You,” Justin made it clear that he has incredible talent. Critics say “Cry Me a River” is his best track, but it’s not because it’s about Britney — it’s because it’s a damn good song.
It’s true that in the years after they broke up, his solo career did take off. So it’s no surprise that in 2004, Janet Jackson wanted him to be a part of her halftime show for the Super Bowl that year. People claim that Justin threw Jackson under the bus for the sake of his own career. But here’s the thing a lot of people fail to remember: Janet Jackson was the headliner of the show. That means that she was the responsible party if something went wrong. She was celebrating her 20 years as a pop singer. Justin Timberlake was in year six of his career; year two as a solo artist. He was forced to apologize as a way to accept the Grammy awards he knew he needed to truly establish himself. How can you blame a 23-year-old for wanting to protect something that had barely started?
Justin Timberlake didn’t have the power to single-handedly ruin a woman’s career. Especially not someone as established as Janet freaking Jackson. She was singing “Control” before Justin’s testicles dropped. So how in the world could he ruin her? Remember, young pop stars don’t have control over their careers. This is a prime example of that. Do you really think that his record label and management team were going to let him be the fall guy, after everything they had done to establish his career? GTFOH. By having him issue that apology, they were protecting their investment, which is their job.
Not to mention, we still aren’t clear whether the whole thing was planned or not. So.
As a result of “Nipplegate,” the NFL dropped Justin Timberlake’s former *NSYNC bandmate JC Chasez as a performer for the 2004 Pro-Bowl. The cancellation of that performance, to some, is the sole reason Chasez’s solo career never took off. And while that may be true, you have to remember what the single JC released was. Lest you forget, the song is “Some Girls (Dance with Women).” It’s an ode to women in a club who dance suggestively with other women to get the attention of men. The lyrics include:
“Some girls dance with women
Knowing that it gets them attention
I wanna get in with them
So pass me a drink and let’s roll”
It’s not Justin’s fault that JC’s song was about being a horny dude at a club. And that performance’s cancellation isn’t the sole reason JC’s solo career never took off. Despite being the best singer in *NSYNC, (or any boy band for that matter) his solo album was all over the place. And most of the songs that are even potentially radio-worthy are horny AF. This was 2004, many years before you could have a song like “W.A.P.” playing on mainstream radio. Maybe J.C. was just ahead of his time, or maybe his managers got it wrong. Or both.
Look, if you want to get your woke points and make Justin Timberlake out to be a villain, that’s on you. But it’s absolutely ridiculous to give one man so much credit for “ruining” three separate people’s careers. Even now, he doesn’t have that much power. It may be cool and hip to scapegoat him, but it’s wild to actually believe any of this is solely his fault.