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I was curious as to what the best song of the 90s and 00s would be. To figure this out, I created a massive 256-song tournament, and ran through it with my partner antarris
Our Filled Bracket http://www.d8uv.org/misc/song-tournament-1992-2007-filled-out.png
What the hell is that thing up there
For each year in our tournament, I took the top 16 songs from Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 chart (which measures a song’s overall popularity over the course of the year), and seeded them appropriately (so that the more popular songs have a slight advantage). Then, I took the output of the 16 years, and ran a tournament to find the best song of the 90s, the best song of the 00s, then pitted those two winners in the grand final.
Note: In the filled-out bracket, we were mostly in agreement. When we absolutely couldn’t agree, we had to split. Splits are denoted by slashes; the song on top is d8uv
’s choice, and the song on bottom is antarris
Notes from the tournament
1992—Winner: “Under The Bridge”
- End of the Road - Boyz II Men vs. I'll Be There - Mariah Carey
- Under the Bridge - Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. All 4 Love - Color Me Badd
- Baby-Baby-Baby - TLC vs. To Be with You - Mr. Big
- Save the Best for Last - Vanessa Williams vs. I'm Too Sexy - Right Said Fred
- Tears in Heaven - Eric Clapton vs. I Love Your Smile - Shanice
- Jump - Kris Kross vs. Black or White - Michael Jackson
- My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It) - En Vogue vs. Just Another Day - Jon Secada
- Baby Got Back - Sir Mix-a-Lot vs. Achy Breaky Heart - Billy Ray Cyrus
: Note: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”–you know, the song that changed the entire rock genre—only got up to 32. And yet, “Just Another Day”, a song that you have never heard of, was the 10th most popular song. What the hell was wrong with the people of 1992? antarris
: Not everyone was an angsty white suburban teenager, you know.
1993—Winner: “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang”
- I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston vs. Dazzey Duks - Duice
- Dreamlover - Mariah Carey vs. Rump Shaker - Wreckx-n-Effect
- Freak Me - Silk vs. In the Still of the Nite - Boyz II Men
- That's the Way Love Goes - Janet Jackson vs. Don't Walk Away - Jade
- Weak - SWV vs. Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang - Dr. Dre
- Can't Help Falling in Love - UB40 vs. Knockin' da Boots - H-Town
- If I Ever Fall in Love - Shai vs. Informer - Snow
- Whoomp! (There It Is) - Tag Team vs. Lately - Jodeci
: I don’t even know who like a third of these people even are. “I Will Always Love You” nearly won my bracket.
1994—Winner: d8uv: “Whatta Man”, antarris: “Don’t Turn Around”
- The Sign - Ace of Base vs. Without You / Never Forget You - Mariah Carey
- All for Love - Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting vs. All That She Wants - Ace of Base
- Hero - Mariah Carey vs. Again - Janet Jackson
- The Power of Love - Céline Dion vs. I'll Remember - Madonna
- Stay (I Missed You) - Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories vs. Bump n' Grind - R. Kelly
- I'll Make Love to You - Boyz II Men vs. Whatta Man - Salt-n-Pepa and En Vogue
- Breathe Again - Toni Braxton vs. Don't Turn Around - Ace of Base
- I Swear - All-4-One vs. Wild Night - John Mellencamp feat. Meshell Ndegeocello
: The Sign was the first album I ever owned. I sang “Don’t Turn Around” in the shower through my mid-twenties. Sorry-not-sorry. d8uv
: This was the year of Ace of Base, and as much as I love my trashy eurodance, the sound hasn’t aged particularly well. antarris
: I live for my trashy eurodance. Fight me.
1995—Winner: d8uv: “Waterfalls”, antarris: “Gangsta’s Paradise”
- Gangsta's Paradise - Coolio feat. L.V. vs. Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman? - Bryan Adams
- Take a Bow - Madonna vs. Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days) - Monica
- On Bended Knee - Boyz II Men vs. Water Runs Dry - Boyz II Men
- Kiss from a Rose - Seal vs. Freak Like Me - Adina Howard
- Another Night - Real McCoy vs. I Know - Dionne Farris
- Creep - TLC vs. Run-Around - Blues Traveler
- Fantasy - Mariah Carey vs. This Is How We Do It - Montell Jordan
- Waterfalls - TLC vs. I Can Love You Like That - All-4-One
: “Waterfalls” is just a touch behind for me, probably because my little sister played it incessantly. She was seven. d8uv
: Antarris called “Gangsta’s Paradise” out as “the only rap song every white person knows”. This was meant as a compliment, but I know better.
1996—Winner: d8uv: “Tha Crossroads”, antarris: “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)”
- Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix) - Los del Río vs. Sittin' Up in My Room - Brandy
- I Love You Always Forever - Donna Lewis vs. You're Makin' Me High / Let It Flow - Toni Braxton
- Always Be My Baby - Mariah Carey vs. Missing - Everything but the Girl
- Nobody Knows - The Tony Rich Project vs. Ironic - Alanis Morissette
- Give Me One Reason - Tracy Chapman vs. C'mon N' Ride It (The Train) - Quad City DJ's
- Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion vs. Exhale (Shoop Shoop) - Whitney Houston
- Tha Crossroads - Bone Thugs-n-Harmony vs. Twisted - Keith Sweat
- One Sweet Day - Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men vs. Follow You Down / Til I Hear It from You - Gin Blossoms
: When pressed for comment, all antarris
said was “... it’s a choo-choo train.” antarris
: Pure fucking lyrical genius. “Tha Crossroads” is my second favorite, though. d8uv
: Still, I found myself honestly surprised at how much I liked “Tha Crossroads”.
- Something About the Way You Look Tonight / Candle in the Wind 1997 - Elton John vs. Nobody - Keith Sweat feat. Athena Cage
- Return of the Mack - Mark Morrison vs. How Do I Live - LeAnn Rimes
- Can't Nobody Hold Me Down - Puff Daddy feat. Mase vs. MMMBop - Hanson
- Un-Break My Heart - Toni Braxton vs. For You I Will - Monica
- I Believe I Can Fly - R. Kelly vs. Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) - Backstreet Boys
- I'll Be Missing You - Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans and 112 vs. You Make Me Wanna... - Usher
- Don't Let Go (Love) - En Vogue vs. Wannabe - Spice Girls
- Foolish Games / You Were Meant for Me - Jewel vs. Bitch - Meredith Brooks
: This—like 1994—was a surprisingly weak year. Every matchup other than the final was super easy, and even the final wasn’t that hard. antarris
: “Semi-Charmed Life” was #17. It would have won my bracket. I probably should’ve bought it instead of recording the video off MTV.
1998—Winner: “How’s It Going To Be”
- Too Close - Next vs. My Way - Usher
- Candle in the Wind 1997 - Elton John vs. Nice & Slow - Usher
- How Do I Live - LeAnn Rimes vs. No, No, No - Destiny's Child
- Truly Madly Deeply - Savage Garden vs. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion
- Together Again - Janet vs. How's It Going to Be - Third Eye Blind
- You're Still the One - Shania Twain vs. Gettin' Jiggy wit It - Will Smith
- All My Life - K-Ci & JoJo vs. I Don't Want to Wait - Paula Cole
- The Boy Is Mine - Brandy and Monica vs. You Make Me Wanna... - Usher
: This year was also surprisingly weak. Lots of “this is my third favorite song from this artist.” d8uv
: Elton John cheated with a mediocre song that made into two years of this tournament.
1999—Winner: “Livin’ la Vida Loca”
- Believe - Cher vs. I'm Your Angel - R. Kelly and Celine Dion
- Every Morning - Sugar Ray vs. Nobody's Supposed to Be Here - Deborah Cox
- ...Baby One More Time - Britney Spears vs. If You Had My Love - Jennifer Lopez
- Heartbreak Hotel - Whitney Houston feat. Faith Evans and Kelly Price vs. Slide - Goo Goo Dolls
- Kiss Me - Sixpence None the Richer vs. Where My Girls At? - 702
- Angel of Mine - Monica vs. Have You Ever? - Brandy
- Genie in a Bottle - Christina Aguilera vs. Livin' la Vida Loca - Ricky Martin
- No Scrubs - TLC vs. I Want It That Way - Backstreet Boys
: This had the hardest matchup in the entire tournament. The seeding was unkind, and forced two songs that would have won the year if they didn’t have to clash. “No Scrubs” vs. “Livin’ la Vida Loca”. But, in the end, Ricky Martin just barely beat TLC. I’m still not sure if this was the right choice. antarris
: If “No Scrubs” had won, it would have made it just as far as “Livin’ La Vida Loca” did. It’s that good. My mom thinks we made the wrong choice, though.
- Breathe - Faith Hill vs. There You Go - Pink
- Amazed - Lonestar vs. Bent - Matchbox Twenty
- Everything You Want - Vertical Horizon vs. Try Again - Aaliyah
- I Wanna Know - Joe vs. Jumpin', Jumpin' - Destiny's Child
- Say My Name - Destiny's Child vs. Higher - Creed
- Maria Maria - Santana feat. The Product G&B vs. Thong Song - Sisqó
- I Knew I Loved You - Savage Garden vs. He Wasn't Man Enough - Toni Braxton
- Smooth - Santana feat. Rob Thomas vs. Kryptonite - 3 Doors Down
: I honestly thought d8uv
would fight me on this one. I remembered him saying he absolutely hated “Smooth”. d8uv
: My dad only listens to Classic Rock. So, when Santana came out with new music, of course he had to Limewire it, and he loved those singles. I heard “Smooth” so many times my teeth fell right out of my head. Turns out, it’s actually a great song. Who knew?
- Hanging by a Moment - Lifehouse vs. Where the Party At - Jagged Edge feat. Nelly
- Thank You - Dido vs. Again - Lenny Kravitz
- I'm Real (Murder Remix) - Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule vs. It Wasn't Me - Shaggy feat. Rikrok
- Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me) - Train vs. Stutter - Joe feat. Mystikal
- If You're Gone - Matchbox Twenty vs. Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) - Blu Cantrell
- All for You - Janet Jackson vs. It's Been Awhile - Staind
- Let Me Blow Ya Mind - Eve feat. Gwen Stefani vs. Independent Women - Destiny's Child
- Fallin' - Alicia Keys vs. U Remind Me - Usher
: A garbage-ass year. I’m pretty sure I rounded third base listening to that Staind song, though. d8uv
: I thought Dido would win, since I love that song and still play it. antarris
: I think you mean “Stan”.
2002—Winner: “In The End”
- How You Remind Me - Nickelback vs. U Don't Have to Call - Usher
- What's Luv? - Fat Joe feat. Ashanti vs. U Got It Bad - Usher
- Wherever You Will Go - The Calling vs. Always on Time - Ja Rule feat. Ashanti
- Dilemma - Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland vs. Ain't It Funny - Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule
- A Thousand Miles - Vanessa Carlton vs. Complicated - Avril Lavigne
- Hot in Herre - Nelly vs. The Middle - Jimmy Eat World
- In the End - Linkin Park vs. Blurry - Puddle of Mudd
- Foolish - Ashanti vs. I Need a Girl (Part One) - P. Diddy feat. Usher and Loon
: Hybrid Theory is the rare album that became better over time. antarris
: Seriously. I hated this in 2002. Love it now.
2003—Winner: “Crazy in Love”
- In Da Club - 50 Cent vs. Beautiful - Christina Aguilera
- Miss You - Aaliyah vs. Picture - Kid Rock feat. Sheryl Crow
- When I'm Gone - 3 Doors Down vs. Baby Boy - Beyoncé feat. Sean Paul
- Crazy in Love - Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z vs. Shake Ya Tailfeather - Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee
- Unwell - Matchbox Twenty vs. Get Low - Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz feat. Ying Yang Twins
- Get Busy - Sean Paul vs. 21 Questions - 50 Cent feat. Nate Dogg
- Right Thurr - Chingy vs. Bring Me to Life - Evanescence feat. Paul McCoy
- Ignition (Remix) - R. Kelly vs. All I Have - Jennifer Lopez feat. LL Cool J
: I had somehow never even heard “Crazy in Love” before. Wow. d8uv
: This did not win because it was novel. Lord knows, these pop charts are filled with random songs that we’ve forgotten. Almost every single one was forgotten for a reason. antarris
: To be fair, I think 2001 made me give up on pop music for like a decade.
2004—Winner: “Hey Ya!”
- Yeah! - Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris vs. Slow Jamz - Twista feat. Kanye West and Jamie Foxx
- Hey Ya! - Outkast vs. Goodies - Ciara feat. Petey Pablo
- The Way You Move - Outkast feat. Sleepy Brown vs. Confessions Part II - Usher
- This Love - Maroon 5 vs. Slow Motion - Juvenile feat. Soulja Slim
- The Reason - Hoobastank vs. Tipsy - J-Kwon
- If I Ain't Got You - Alicia Keys vs. Freek-a-Leek - Petey Pablo
- I Don't Wanna Know - Mario Winans feat. Enya and P. Diddy vs. Lean Back - Terror Squad
- Burn - Usher vs. Here Without You - 3 Doors Down
: Outkast was as popular as they deserve, for once. antarris
: I was promised Enya. I got baby Adam Levine instead. What the actual fuck.
2005—Winner: “Gold Digger”
- We Belong Together - Mariah Carey vs. Mr. Brightside - The Killers
- Candy Shop - 50 Cent feat. Olivia vs. Don't Cha - The Pussycat Dolls feat. Busta Rhymes
- 1, 2 Step - Ciara feat. Missy Elliott vs. You and Me - Lifehouse
- Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson vs. Don't Phunk with My Heart - The Black Eyed Peas
- Gold Digger - Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx vs. Disco Inferno - 50 Cent
- Let Me Love You - Mario vs. Lose Control - Missy Elliott feat. Ciara and Fatman Scoop
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Green Day vs. Behind These Hazel Eyes - Kelly Clarkson
- Hollaback Girl - Gwen Stefani vs. Shake It Off - Mariah Carey
: That’s not even the best song named “Shake It Off.” d8uv
: Kanye can be very VERY good when he tries.
- Bad Day - Daniel Powter vs. Run It! - Chris Brown feat. Juelz Santana
- Ridin' - Chamillionaire feat. Krayzie Bone vs. SexyBack - Justin Timberlake feat. Timbaland
- Hips Don't Lie - Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean vs. Grillz - Nelly, Paul Wall and Ali & Gipp
- You're Beautiful - James Blunt vs. Over My Head (Cable Car) - The Fray
- Unwritten - Natasha Bedingfield vs. Be Without You - Mary J. Blige
- Promiscuous - Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland vs. Me & U - Cassie
- Crazy - Gnarls Barkley vs. Check on It - Beyoncé feat. Slim Thug
- Temperature - Sean Paul vs. Buttons - Pussycat Dolls feat. Snoop Dogg
: “Crazy” vs. “Ridin’” was hard for me. I’m still not sure if I made the right call. d8uv
: Are you sure you weren’t thinking of the Weird Al version? antarris
: Yes. Fuck off.
- Irreplaceable - Beyoncé vs. This Is Why I'm Hot - Mims
- I Wanna Love You - Akon feat. Snoop Dogg vs. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado
- Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin') - T-Pain feat. Yung Joc vs. Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne
- Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie vs. Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5
- Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood vs. Don't Matter - Akon
- The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani feat. Akon vs. Party Like a Rockstar - Shop Boyz
- Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's vs. Glamorous - Fergie feat. Ludacris
- Umbrella - Rihanna feat. Jay-Z vs. Smack That - Akon feat. Eminem
: Here it is, the weakest year of the tournament. There’s like one, maybe two good songs in this list.
90s Grand Tournament—Winner: “Under The Bridge” d8uv
: This was harder than the individual years, because we love every single one of these songs. “Under The Bridge” vs. “Nuthin’ but A ‘G’ Thang” was particularly brutal for me. antarris
: We started listening to high-quality versions of the songs here instead of just streaming YouTube. Coolio going over Ace of Base in my bracket surprised me.
00s Grand Tournament—Winner: “In The End” antarris
: “Umbrella” over “Crazy” and “Gold Digger”? Really? It’s like I don’t even know you! d8uv
: Should I pack up and leave? Maybe head to the train station? antarris
: I picked the song about choo-choo tr--oh, I see what you did there. Not cool. d8uv
: This song was always great, it just took a few years for people to forget the stank of nu-metal.
The Grand Final—Winner: “Under The Bridge” d8uv
: They tried so hard, and got so far. But, in the end, it didn’t even matter. antarris
: Afterwards, I looked up some of the history on “Under the Bridge”, and this makes sense. A funk-rock band wrote a song based on a poem and had it produced by Rick Rubin. It’s like catnip to both of us for completely different reasons. d8uv
: The thing that clinched it for me was the realization that this song builds so beautifully. It’s dynamic in a way most pop songs are, but maintains being interesting even during the subdued opening. antarris
: Yeah, I used an orgasm metaphor when I advocated for it. d8uv
: Most of the songs on this list were pop songs that became art. This song felt like art that became a pop song. That’s pretentious to say, so just remember—I almost went with “Umbrella”.
I chose these years because I needed to cut 4 years to get 20 years down to 16. Because of this, I excluded the two lowest-revenue (according to the RIAA, adj. for inflation) years from the 90s (1990 and 1991), and the two lowest-revenue years for the 00s (2008 and 2009). It might have been better to include them, but I didn’t want to.
Because the Billboard year ends in November, if a song is released during the winter, it’s likely that it won’t show up as a smash hit for one year; instead, it will show up as a mediocre hit across two years. Some songs can pull off charting highly in consecutive years, but that’s really rare.
It’s important to remember the wise words of Binary Star: Everything that glitters ain’t gold, and every gold record don’t glitter—that’s for damn sure
. The Hot 100 measures popularity, not cultural relevance or quality. A lot of very good, very important songs didn’t make the cut for this tournament, while a lot of long-forgotten dross did. Ultimately, I’m fine with this. Most of the fun of filling out the bracket was running into songs I don’t remember and going “What the fuck are YOU, song?”
For singles with an A-side and a B-Side (ex: “Follow You Down / Til I Hear It from You - Gin Blossoms”) I chose the first song. This is a little arbitrary, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Some additional caveats (because antarris
is an academic pedant): this obviously has too small and homogenous a viewing audience to be objective truth. While both of us have pretty broad taste in music, there are some genres—mainstream country and slow R&B in particular—that neither of us is super into. This probably skews our results significantly, especially in the 90s bracket.
Also, a better way to determine our sample of songs would be to take a page from Good Mythical Morning
’s cereal tournament and set up a poll for each year. However, getting a survey sample that’s representative of the population at large would be extremely challenging with an internet poll and, let’s face it, we’re not getting grant money for this shit.
If you disagree, you should fill out your own bracket: http://www.d8uv.org/misc/song-tournament-1992-2007.png
If you know anything about the Super Bowl, then you know that this is one of the big ones. The Michael Jackson halftime show was, arguably, the biggest in Super Bowl history, simply because of the impact it had on future halftime shows, allowing for more prolific artists to get the show. That changed the game. However, in terms of its impact on the country, and even the world, there was no halftime show bigger than the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. It had nothing to do with the songs performed, it had nothing to do with how bad or good the show was, and it had nothing to do with the circumstances entering the game. It had everything to do with the most infamous two seconds in the history of the Super Bowl.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is the halftime show where (spoiler alert) Janet Jackson reveals her breast on live television by complete accident (or maybe not, but we’ll get to that later). The aftermath from this halftime show was incredible; lawsuits and fines were handed out, future halftime shows were changed for the next few years to play it incredibly safe, new FCC regulations were created, and even YouTube was created because of it
. That’s right- one of the biggest websites in the world that we all probably go on often was created because Jawed Karim didn’t get a chance to watch the halftime show, and wanted to create a video sharing website with a few friends where people could upload their own content.
This is one of the most catastrophic and controversial moments not just in Super Bowl history, but in the history of American television… and it only occurred for roughly two seconds. Those are the two seconds that everyone remembers about this halftime show, and that’s the legacy that this halftime show has. However, those two seconds were preceded by an entire twelve-minute show produced by MTV including the likes of Jessica Simpson, P Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, and, of course, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. Let’s dive in and take a look at not just the halftime show, but the immediate aftermath of it in all its controversy. Background Information
The Super Bowl XXXVII halftime show didn’t exactly get the greatest reviews. It’s been largely forgotten in Super Bowl history, and it was a pretty boring halftime show. It seemed as though the NFL, which had struggled finding incredible halftime shows, hit a triple and a grand slam with their previous two halftime shows. Super Bowl XXXV was a hit, and Super Bowl XXXVI was, arguably, the greatest halftime show at any sporting event ever. Might as well stick with the formula that works. Obviously, they couldn’t get U2 to perform the halftime show (they tried getting them, alongside some other superstars in a “We Are the World”-type performance, for Super Bowl XXXVII, but couldn’t get it done), but they figured that they could get MTV to produce a second halftime show.
For the NFL, with regards to a lot of the artists that wound up performing this halftime show, the league knew what they were getting (oh, the irony). Janet Jackson was previously booked to do the Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show, but cancelled her entire tour (including the halftime show) after the attacks on September 11. Justin Timberlake had previously done the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show with *NSYNC, and Nelly made a cameo appearance at the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show as well. Combine that with P Diddy, Kid Rock, the University of Houston Marching Band, and Jessica Simpson, and you had seven separate performers (six if you exclude Jessica Simpson, since she doesn’t do a song). That’s the most in any halftime show ever, especially because all six of them perform their own songs at some point in the show. If you thought that Super Bowl XXXV was chaos, then yeah, you’re right. However, Super Bowl XXXVIII was even higher chaos, with the lone difference being that all artists were roughly in the same genre.
Despite all of that, there was one artist that got asked to perform at the Super Bowl and declined the invitation, meaning it could’ve been even more chaotic. That artist was Outkast, which declined the invitation
because Andre 3000 didn’t want to cut the songs, and wanted to do the full length songs. However, when MTV wouldn’t allow the group to do the full length songs (and for good reason; I love “Hey Ya,” but performing full length songs at the Super Bowl is, usually, the kiss of death), the group backed out. Would’ve been interesting to see how that would’ve played out, to say the least.
In an absolutely hilarious bit of irony (and the writer of the article actually had to edit it making an editor’s note after the incident occurred), MTV published an article on January 28, 2004 (just a few days before the Super Bowl; remember that from this point on in Super Bowl history, the game was taking place in February) headlined: “Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Show Promises ‘Shocking Moments.’” No, I can’t make that up, and here’s that article, which looks absolutely ridiculous in hindsight
. The quotes from that article come from Gil Duldulao, Jackson’s choreographer.
“I don’t think the Super Bowl has ever seen a performance like this… She’s more stylized, she’s more feminine, she’s more a woman as she dances this time around. There are some shocking moments in there too.”
There was this article
from MTV about the artists at the halftime show and what the atmosphere was like when they first saw the stage; it’s nothing too great. However, what’s interesting about this article is that Justin Timberlake was never mention. There was this article
, which was a press release from the first announcement made on December 9, 2003 about the halftime show. Paul Tagliabue, the commissioner of the NFL at the time, had this to say during the press release:
“We’re pleased to work again with MTV, the leader in live music production. We’re looking forward to another MTV spectacular this Super Bowl, and with AOL as our halftime show marketing partner, the stage is set for a memorable event.”
He’s not wrong about the memorable event part. This is one of those times where the press release quote is actually halfway accurate. Anyways, these are some pictures from the press conference of the halftime show
. And, there’s an entire Wikipedia entry
on this halftime show, which explains in the background that Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson had, let’s just say, a close relationship beforehand. If you’re looking for an in-depth thing about the halftime show, then there’s this Sports Illustrated article which came out in 2016
about the show.
However, despite all of this background information, I couldn’t find a single thing regarding a review of the show, since all of the articles in the aftermath focused on you-know-what. In fact, reviews of this halftime show from the time, aside from the ones placing it on best of or worse of lists (and I don’t count those as reviews, because those are, at most, three sentences long; I’m talking about full length reviews), are almost non-existent. How bad is it? If you type in “Super Bowl 38 Halftime Show Review” into Google, this article
pops up on the first page. Yes, my Halftime of History article from Super Bowl XX pops up on the first page. While I could find a lot of meaningful stuff in the aftermath of the event from 2004 webpages (and I’m saving that for a different section; I’m not putting it in the background information like I normally do for a reason), I couldn’t find any reviews whatsoever.
Before taking a look at the show, remember what era we are in at this point in halftime show history. We are in the Poly-Performer Era, which ends after this Super Bowl. Remember that in this era, multiple performers were the headlining act at every halftime show (with the exception of U2), and a common theme was that at least one artist would perform with another artist on a song at the end of the show, even though it was not a song by one of the artists (ex: everyone at the end of Super Bowl XXXV performing “Walk This Way,” No Doubt performing “Message In a Bottle” with Sting, etc.). After this halftime show, this era would end, and we would enter the sixth era in halftime show history- the Classic Rock Era, which would last from Super Bowl XXXIX up until Super Bowl XLIV. Today, we are in the seventh era, just to give you an idea of where we are in halftime show history in comparison to today.
We all know what happens at the end of the show, but what about the first twelve minutes? How does this now infamous halftime show hold up? Was the backlash that came afterwards really deserved? The Show Full Show
Amazingly enough, this is one of two halftime shows that I’m reviewing that you can’t find anywhere on YouTube. This link takes you to Dailymotion; for some reason, even though YouTube was created because of what happened at Super Bowl XXXVIII, you can’t find the halftime show on YouTube (or, at the very least, the twelve-minute version of it). The new sponsor for this halftime show is AOL, and the introductions go through who is performing at the halftime show. I’ve got a major problem with the introductions- there’s so much text, and everything flies by so quickly, that you can’t tell what it’s saying. Part of it is the quality of the upload (not the greatest, but it’s the best I could find), but how are you supposed to read all of the information on the cards in half a second?
We then get to one of the worst moments in the history of any halftime show, and that is the first two minutes of this one. Everything about the first two minutes of this halftime show is a perfect example of what not
to do (even though the final five seconds of the halftime show are also a perfect example of what not to do, especially on live television). It starts off with a video, with the theme being “Choose to Vote.” Keep in mind that the “Choose to Vote” video has nothing to do with the halftime show whatsoever; if you didn’t like the pregame video at Super Bowl XXXV, at least that was entertaining and had to do with the actual performance. This is boring, it’s pointless, and has nothing to do with anything that you’re about to see at the actual halftime show.
The background music for this is “Where The Streets Have No Name,” which doesn’t work for a few reasons. Number one, it’s not music from any of the performers. At least make it somewhat relevant. Number two, it’s a song from an Irish band, and you’re talking to an American audience. And, number three (and most importantly), YOU JUST DID THIS SONG TWO YEARS AGO AT THE HALFTIME SHOW. We don’t need to hear this guitar riff again. Couldn’t you get a guitar riff or some instrumental from an artist that didn’t do the halftime show before? You really had to repeat the same song?
On top of that, the video itself isn’t that good. There are some weird parts where you hear overlap when there’s no need. The “choose to pursue your dreams” part then has a second vocal track on it for some weird reason. No need for that. Why was the line “to be different” repeated twice? Then, we hear everyone say “Choose to Vote” and “Choose to get involved.” There’s another weird overdubbing on the line “to get involved” that makes no sense, and we get a shot of the American flag. If you want to see another American flag later in this halftime show, you’re going to… in one of the more tasteless ways possible.
That pointless video is done, so what happens next? Jessica Simpson comes onto the stage dressed as the marching band leader, and screams, “Houston, choose to party!” I didn’t like the fact that they advertised Lenny Kravitz at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show like crazy, because he only ended up performing one song that wasn’t even his. But they actually advertised Jessica Simpson at the halftime show and promoted her appearance… for that? SHE GOT FOUR WORDS OF DIALOGUE. She doesn’t perform a song. She doesn’t do anything else besides obnoxiously saying those lines. And that’s how you’re going to tie the “Choose to Vote” video in? With “choose to party”? I thought the connections at Super Bowl XX’s halftime show with Up with People were bad, and while they’re bad, this one is a good second place nominee.
If that was the connection, and you actually just wasted an entire minute for those four words of dialogue by Jessica Simpson, then talk about an awful decision. Who approved that and thought it was a good idea? I complain about artists performing full-length songs at the Super Bowl (and rightfully so), but I’ll give them credit- at least they’re doing something. At least they’re entertaining, or trying to, at the very least. You just spent an entire minute talking about the importance of voting, and you’re connecting it to the importance of partying. This is so poorly done. The bigger controversy in the aftermath of all of this is that people thought they were getting Jessica Simpson, a very good singer, at the halftime show, and got ripped off because all she was doing was saying four words.
Then, we see the University of Houston Marching Band come out. As a quick side note, this is the first time in the new millennium that a marching band has performed with a pop act at the halftime show, so credit MTV for bringing that back into the equation (since it was gone for a while). It would be replicated at Super Bowl XLI with Prince and Florida A&M, Super Bowl XLV with the Black Eyed Peas and Prairie View A&M, and Super Bowl XLVI with Madonna and some high school drum-lines.
The difference? All three of those were better than this, once again, POINTLESS appearance by the University of Houston. I’m all for marching bands performing alongside artists at halftime of the Super Bowl, but this one is pretty bad. They do “The Way You Move” by Outkast, and it doesn’t work. For one, they don’t sound very good. The trumpets sound off pitch at times, and that final note is a bit shaky. Number two, the song choice does nothing. It’s just wasting time. Why couldn’t you choose an artist that was performing at the actual halftime show and do their song? Did you really have to stick it in Outkast’s face that they didn’t want to perform at the halftime show and you just really wanted to get an Outkast song in there? They stand in place the entire time, so they’re not exactly doing anything interested while playing. And, this is just wasting an incredible amount of time.
Two minutes into the halftime show, and it’s garbage… and we haven’t even gotten to any vocals yet or actual performances. We get a pointless introduction video, then a pointless cameo by Jessica Simpson that has nothing to do with the video, and then a pointless performance by a marching band. Two minutes in, and this is a prime example of what not to do at halftime, simply in terms of time wasting and poorly connecting ideas together. The first vocal performance from Super Bowl XXXV came BEFORE the first vocal performance from this halftime show, and Super Bowl XXXV had a 90-second introduction video. That’s how much time was wasted at this Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.
Finally, after all of that nonsense, we’re able to get on with the actual show (which should’ve just been the show to begin with). Janet Jackson starts off with “All for You,” as she enters the stage by being lowered to the ground off of a platform. I love the song choice here, and the choreography is incredibly tight. You see the fans on the field in one of the shots, which is the fourth straight year of this trend occurring (it occurs for every halftime show of the 2000s from 2001-on; it’s been on and off in the 2010s). While I don’t like the lip-synching by any means (which is weird, because during the final number, she ends up singing live, so I don’t know why she couldn’t have just been live the entire time), I like the composition of the song, as well as the song choice itself. The pauses in the music during the verse are really well done, so props for that. It’s a good opening, and has some very good pacing; not the best (because of the mimed vocals, which are painfully obvious), but it’s infinitely better than the first two minutes of this halftime show.
Unfortunately, it’s downhill from here. P Diddy comes on in his fur coat and sings “Bad Boy for Life,” which makes no sense at all, seeing how the single did horrible on the charts. It’s an example of not necessarily playing a brand new song at the Super Bowl, but playing an unknown song at the game. The transition between Janet Jackson and P Diddy is also weird and doesn’t really connect; I know that MTV can create good transitions, because they somehow made it work between *NSYNC and Aerosmith. They didn’t do it here. He’s got a discography that he could do another song, like the opening to “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” Instead, he does this really poor song with no energy attached to it whatsoever.
The one notable thing about this performance, though, is that it is the first time in the history of the halftime show that a stage has a movable platform horizontally. This is also the only time that there’s been a movable platform at halftime. While I criticize a lot of this halftime show, the stage design here is unbelievable; it’s a larger-than-life stage, and I feel as though the stage takes up the entirety of the field, which is pretty remarkable. All of the different platforms, how everything connects, and the words projected onto the wall during “Rhythm Nation” are incredible. It’s one of the most complex, and even one of the best stages at any Super Bowl ever. The design is unbelievable.
After Diddy is done with his song, Nelly and P Diddy just randomly dance to “Mickey” by Toni Basel with some reworked lyrics. You’ve got five different artists at this halftime show that can do things, and instead, you decide to waste time with a video, a marching band appearance, and a cover version of a song that seems horribly forced and poorly planned out. They’re not even singing or performing during this; they’re just standing there, dancing around to absolutely nothing. I have no idea what the point of the song is, or what the cheerleaders are supposed to be doing (second straight halftime show with cheerleaders, by the way), since they don’t really do anything and have no good choreography.
Once that horrible cover song is done, Nelly performs “Hot in Herre,” a song that I like, but I’d like a whole lot better if it was actually performed live. It’s another lip-synched performance (either that, or he’s singing over pre-recorded vocals). While this is happening, P Diddy is just pumping up the crowd and dancing with the ladies. He serves no purpose. The music stops at points in the chorus, and Nelly doesn’t even make an attempt to lip-sync over. He’s just standing there. At least other artists have tried to cover up their lip-synching skills; this isn’t even an attempt. He’s just standing there alongside Diddy while the cheerleaders are circling around them.
There’s a nice transition into “Mo Money Mo Problems,” which, once again, is lip-synched. While it’s happening, the two artists are just pointing at the crowd. The song only goes on for fifteen seconds, so just to recap- P. Diddy performed an unknown song, then stood around with Nelly, and then performed fifteen seconds of his song while lip-synching the entire thing. What was the point of having him at the halftime show in the first place? It’s just a waste of time, something you’ll find that this halftime show knows how to do. Six minutes into the show, and the most authentic vocals came from Jessica Simpson, who had four words of spoken dialogue. Nelly performed live at Super Bowl XXXV, so why not here? Artists performed live at this halftime show later on, so why not here? The first six minutes of this halftime show, with the exception of a few things in Janet Jackson’s first number, are some of the worst six minutes of any halftime show ever; that’s saying something, considering everything that I’ve had to sit through over the past month writing out these reviews.
But, somehow, it manages to get even worse. Kid Rock then enters the stage and starts off performing “Bawitdaba.” As he steps onto the stage, he removes his cowboy jacket and reveals what he is wearing, which happens to be an American flag poncho. If you’re on the “this is incredibly tasteless” bandwagon, I don’t blame you one bit. This, in my opinion, is where the real controversy should’ve come in, and as I’ll point out a bit later, this is the moment where Paul Tagliabue was furious about the halftime show. He saw this, immediately said that he never wanted MTV doing another halftime show, and was furious at Kid Rock for this. It was only when someone from the league office pointed out the Janet Jackson incident that Tagliabue realized what had happened there; Tagliabue was more furious about Kid Rock than Janet Jackson.
Can I even call this a performance? He’s literally just screaming into the microphone to the point where you can’t even understand a word that he’s saying. It’s literally just screaming, and at the start, when he’s waving his hat around and screams “My name is Kid,” it’s almost unbearable. Once the verse verse of “Bawitdaba” is done, he performs “Cowboy,” where his hype man performs more and says more than Kid Rock actually does. When he actually has to sing, he’s incredibly off pitch, and his vocals when singing, oddly enough, are drowned out by the backing instruments. Just when you thought the American flag thing couldn’t get any more tasteless, two girls that look like cheerleaders that are standing behind Kid Rock are just waving American flags around.
My stance on the entire American flag thing- it’s completely tasteless to use it as a prop. I’m fine with using the flag as a message or as a symbol. Notice how I never criticized the American flags at halftime of Super Bowl XXV, even though that halftime show is, in my opinion, the worst halftime show of all-time. While the patriotism was incredibly overkill, I never criticized how they used and handled the flags. At Super Bowl XXXVI, Bono’s revealing of the American flag from his jacket was incredibly tasteful. He used it as a way to sympathize with Americans and as a way to honor those that died in 9/11. Here? Every American flag at this halftime show is a prop. From the poncho that Kid Rock was wearing that was just waving around, to the cheerleaders waving flags while dancing and circling Kid Rock, those entire two minutes were completely tasteless. The only good thing I can say about their flag etiquette is that the flags never touched the ground, but when that’s the most that this part of this halftime show has going for it, you know it’s pretty bad.
Fortunately, it can only go uphill from here, because after a weird five-minute break, Janet Jackson comes back onto the stage. The transition into “Rhythm Nation” takes way too long. I don’t like the robot voice, and the fact that this takes more than thirty seconds to develop; there’s not even dancing during this, but rather, it’s just people dangling from structures. Once her vocals actually start after a minute of just waiting (again, more time wasting), it actually gets better… somewhat. I like the musical composition, but I don’t get the point of the marching band, since they’re not playing anything. This also takes a long time; two verses and two choruses of the song, combined with that long intro, means that you’re listening to more than three minutes of this song. This show has an incredibly weird mix in terms of pacing- you get fifteen seconds of a P Diddy song, but more than three minutes of the same Janet Jackson song. I just don’t understand this halftime show.
Again, this part is lip-synched, which is weird, because in the final song, she sings live. In the very next section, she’s speaking live. WHY COULDN’T SHE BE LIVE THE ENTIRE TIME? The next section is another pointless moment, and the only good thing from it is the setup of the stage, where the words are being projected onto the screen. When the stage setup is the highlight of this halftime show for now (obviously, there’s a highlight coming up at the end), that’s a telling sign of how poor this halftime show actually is.
That next section is Janet Jackson performing part of “The Knowledge.” It has nothing to do with anything; the song wasn’t even released as a single (and considering how successful Rhythm Nation 1814 turned out to be, that’s a telling sign of, once again, why performing an unknown song at the Super Bowl never works… except for one exception, which I’ll get to when we cross that bridge). It’s just Janet Jackson shouting words like “ignorance,” “bigotry,” and “illiteracy,” with everyone else just responding “no.” There’s no purpose to it, seeing how “Rhythm Nation” stops, and then there’s a transition into this part. It’s not even like there was a flow between the two songs.
After that shouting of words by Janet, we get to the grand finale, where Justin Timberlake comes out and performs “Rock Your Body” alongside Janet Jackson. Turns out, they saved the best for last, and I’m not talking about the wardrobe malfunction. This is the only part about the halftime show that I actually really like, and it has nothing to do with the final two seconds. The song choice is great. The pacing of the song is great. Justin Timberlake brings an authentic energy to the show while still putting on a good show. The composition of the song in terms of when the pauses occur and the beat-boxing is brilliant. The chemistry between Janet and Justin is good. He’s actually singing live at times, which is more than I can say about 90% of the show. This part is really well done… except for those final two seconds.
The entire uproar about the halftime show came not from anything that I mentioned earlier about my intense criticisms for the show. It didn’t even come from the pointless repetition of the “Choose to Vote” campaign at the very end of the halftime show after the incident (which had nothing to do with anything, but it was worth repeating… because logic, I guess). It came from an incident that took nine-sixteenths of a second. During the line, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” it turns out that Justin Timberlake wasn’t kidding. He actually did get Janet Jackson somewhat naked by the end of the song, and the aftermath of that (which I’ll get to later) is about what you’d expect. For what I thought of the moment, I turn to the voice of reason- Dr. Robert Thompson, who said a quote regarding the legacy of the Up with People halftime shows in this ESPN article
. He says this about the entire incident:
“All those people [were] complaining, ‘Oh, Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed for half a second! It destroyed all the children!” Thompson said. “Whatever made them think that the rest of what went on during the Super Bowl was really good for children?”
“Fourteen beer commercials associating beer with happy times and all those [erectile dysfunction] commercials and the violence of the sport? They made it sound like Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during the playing of It’s a Wonderful Life. The Super Bowl is not that.”
Hit the nail on the head. My reaction to all of this is the same- so what? You’re telling me that this is worse and more disgusting than those GoDaddy commercials involving Danica Patrick and the office worker kissing intensely? You’re telling me that this is worse than some of your highly questionable advertising tactics? You’re telling me that people that are watching this violent sport and are old enough to comprehend what was going on would’ve been scarred by a breast that you had to be paying incredibly close attention to to even notice? Seriously? I’m not saying that the halftime show was improved by the reveal (it wasn’t; it didn’t make a difference), but I don’t care. I analyze every minute detail about the halftime show and why certain decisions are awful, and even I don’t care about Janet Jackson’s accidental exposure for less than a second. So. What. A lot of this show didn’t work and was really poorly done, but I don’t care about that final second. Doesn’t make a difference to me. My Fix
So, how would I fix this halftime show? Remember that I can’t just do whatever I want and get any name that I want, such as Evanescence or Simple Plan, just as hypotheticals. I have to stick with at least one thing that I’ve got, and I can add reasonable artists while, at the same time, removing any artists that I want from the original show. Based on how this review went, you can pretty much imagine what I’m going to do with this halftime show- strip it down (no pun intended… sort of) to just two artists. Less is more. Jessica Simpson is gone. The University of Houston Marching Band is gone. Kid Rock is gone. P Diddy and Nelly are gone. I’m keeping Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, centering this halftime show around Janet. The good news is that this halftime show was thirteen minutes long, so I have some extra time to play with.
Scrap the entire introduction video. Simply just start off with “All For You,” then transition from that song into “Miss You Much,” doing a verse and a chorus of that. Go from that into “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” and close the first part with “Black Cat.” Once that song is done, we get two and a half minutes of Justin Timberlake. Start off with “Like I Love You,” doing a verse and chorus of that, then move into “Rock Your Body,” doing the exact same thing from the original show, minus the wardrobe malfunction.
Timberlake leaves the stage, leaving Janet Jackson to perform “Rhythm Nation,” with a verse and chorus of that song. She then transitions into “Escapade,” and closes off the entire show with “Together Again.” That’s how you do a halftime show in terms of pacing and not having too much go on. Obviously, my fix may or may not have prevented the wardrobe malfunction, but at least it’s a quality show, nevertheless. It’s better than having just an entire mix of artists that lip-sync and just stand around girls. Aftermath
Obviously, we know that the final second or so of this halftime show is the legacy of it. If you look up Google images of the halftime show, the first images that pop up are of that moment. Let’s just say that the aftermath for this halftime show was bad… really bad. We’ve seen the power that the Super Bowl halftime show can have in terms of the good; according to a Forbes report, Bruno Mars ticket prices went up from an average of $150 to an average of $500 the day after Super Bowl XLVIII. It made Missy Elliott relevant again, and it increases the sales of almost every artist. However, it also has the power to destroy. Janet Jackson, literally overnight, went from one of the most successful female recording artists of all-time to irrelevant. It killed her career. For a modern-day comparison, replace Janet Jackson with Taylor Swift, and now imagine Taylor Swift’s career being destroyed in one day. That’s what that moment was like for Janet Jackson.
You had the apology by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake for the incident
, but it didn’t just stop there. There was this CNN article
which talked more about the incident, and how many people didn’t think it was an accident (considering the fact that the final line of the song was “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of the song,” I can’t exactly blame those people who think that; most halftime shows go according to plan, so it must be a mistake when something doesn’t). There’s this USA Today
article, where CBS and the NFL apologized for the incident, claiming they had no idea that the wardrobe malfunction was supposed to happen. And again, you’ve got this CBS News report
which asks whether or not the halftime show was a PR stunt.
There was this article by TIME
, which asked the nation what they thought of the halftime show. Some people didn’t care, some thought that punishment should be handed to the artists but not the networks, and some thought that this set a bad precedent. I was also able to find this People Magazine
article from 2004 about the incident and the fallout two weeks after. This San Francisco Gate
article jokingly said that because of this, they’re going back to Up with People for Super Bowl XXXIX.
That was the immediate aftermath of the event. What about after the game? A few weeks after, Len Short, who worked for AOL, actually stepped down because of the halftime show
; remember that AOL was a sponsor for the event. In September, the FCC issued a $550,000 fine
to CBS; the reaction for the fine was mixed. Some said that it’s too much, and that it’s no big deal, while others said that it’s too little, because it can be paid back with seven seconds of Super Bowl advertising (nowadays, CBS could pay that fine with three seconds of advertising for Super Bowl 50). Because of the halftime show, there was now a delay on live television for events to prevent things like this (which wouldn’t stop another incident from happening at Super Bowl XLVI).
It didn’t just stop there, though. The Pro Bowl was played next week, and the halftime show for that was originally supposed to be done by JC Chasez. However, because of what happened at this halftime show, the NFL took no chances and decided to cancel Chasez’s halftime show performance
. While Justin Timberlake’s career didn’t take a hit, Janet Jackson got blacklisted from almost everything afterwards, and she hasn’t had a hit song since after releasing hit after hit after hit for more than fifteen years in a row from the mid-80s to the early 2000s; Janet Jackson’s appearance on the Grammys that year was cancelled because of it. And, as mentioned earlier, YouTube was created because of what happened in this halftime show.
Finally, there was this article from Sports Illustrated
released earlier this year that I linked beforehand. If you want tons of background information about what happened after this halftime show, this article goes into great detail as to what happened. Paul Tagliabue said days after the game, “I didn’t like anything I saw. I didn’t like the flag thrashing. [The entire halftime show was] an outrage. It was way off the mark in terms of what we were expecting.” Remember that I mentioned earlier that Tagliabue, at the time, was more annoyed and angry with the way the flag was handled during Kid Rock’s halftime set than he was with the wardrobe malfunction.
As for what happened with future halftime shows, it took a very long time for the league to go back to modern day artists to avoid any possible risk. The next six halftime shows (the Classic Rock Era, the sixth of seven eras) were performed by older artists, who, most of the time, were safer picks that would cause absolutely no controversy. You may have to worry about Janet Jackson doing something, but you would never have to worry about Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, or The Who doing anything stupid or risky. This halftime show impacted not just future Super Bowl halftime shows, though, but the entire world. The aftermath from this halftime show was more than you may have expected; it introduced new regulations and standards for covering events, it created an entire new website that is now one of the most visited websites in the world, and it destroyed the career of a very talented artist. Conclusion
The final two seconds of this halftime show were, simply put, disastrous on all levels. Can’t deny that one bit, and even though I had absolutely no issue with it (it made no difference on my opinion of the halftime show), one accidental exposure changed the world as we know it, especially the halftime show. However, the actual show was a disaster in itself. MTV dropped the ball hard with this halftime show; whereas I loved their first halftime show, this one was a mess. The artist combinations didn’t make sense, a lot of the choices made no sense, and only the staging was good. From Kid Rock’s disrespect of the flag to Nelly and P Diddy just standing there and dancing around women to the pointless cameo by Jessica Simpson to the pacing of certain songs to the “Choose to Vote” campaign being force-fed and shoved down our throats, even though it had nothing to do with the actual halftime show… it was a colossal mess. Only the ending, from a quality perspective, was good. This is one of the worst halftime shows of the 2000s.
After the awful halftime show and the aftermath from it, the NFL knew that they had to play it safe with the next one. They couldn’t afford to take any chances whatsoever. To make sure that they had the safest possible halftime show, they booked Paul McCartney, which is about as safe as you can get. How did that halftime show hold up, and how did he kick off a brand new era in halftime show history? Tune in tomorrow to find out.
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