Is Justin Timberlake’s Apology Enough?

Justin Timberlake
Photo by Christopher Polk via Getty Images

Jamie Spears is far from the only public villain to emerge from Framing Britney Spears, the New York Times documentary that’s been everywhere since last weekend’s release. There are the obvious targets of ire—insensitive interviewers like Diane Sawyer and invasive paparazzi among them. And to many viewers, there’s another that we previously had yet to consider: Justin Timberlake, who arguably used the fallout from their 2002 breakup to elevate his own reputation and tarnish that of Spears.

Timberlake already would have been subject to scrutiny at the time of the doc’s release. For the past two decades, the Super Bowl has marked an occasion to revisit Timberlake’s treatment of his fellow halftime show headliner Janet Jackson. Timberlake has previously apologized for the incident crudely known as “Nipplegate,” though many have doubted his sincerity. (His 2004 mea culpa was a condition upon which CBS allowed him to attend the Grammy Awards.)

Faced with a combination of two separate decades-old scandals, on Friday, Timberlake lazily lumped his latest apologies into one big vague one. “I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond,” Timberlake wrote on Instagram, waiting until the next paragraph to name Jackson and Spears. “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.”

“I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually,” the joint statement continued, “because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed. I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be part of and grow from.”

On that last note, Timberlake does appear to be sincere. “The industry is flawed. 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.” His “ignorance,” Timberlake promised, is now in the past: “I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again.”

“I have not been perfect in navigating all of this throughout my career,” Timberlake concluded, promising that he can and will do better. “I know this apology is a first step and doesn’t absolve the past.” It also may be the first of many apologies. That weekend alone saw enough digging into Timberlake’s past for Buzzfeed to publish a listicle: “20 Times Justin Timberlake Was Problematic But Wasn’t Called Out On It.”

Related: Britney Spears Responds To the “Framing” Documentary