Shirtless Usher at Super Bowl 2024 sparks debate 20 years after Janet Jackson’s ‘Nipplegate’

Twenty years after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous “Nipplegate” Super Bowl disaster, Usher’s shirtless performance during Sunday night’s 2024 halftime show is sparking heated fan reactions. 

“When Usher took off his shirt, I yelled at the screen in Janet’s honour,” one fan declared on X, formerly Twitter. 

Another fan criticized the double standard of Usher getting praised for taking off his shirt, while Jackson was condemned.

“This ain’t the time for it. But…At some point we need to talk about patriarchy. Because if #Usher can show his nipples but Janet… nvm.Y’all gonna say I’m doing too much. I’m not wrong tho,” they wrote.

“So Usher can take his shirt off but when Janet Jackson does it she gets banned for life!” another fan slammed, posting a GIF of a man making an unimpressed face. 

Fans pointed out that Usher was allowed to show his nipples at the 2024 Super Bowl. John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock

The fans were all referring to the infamous 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy – in which Timberlake, now 43, and Jackson, now 57, performed onstage together. A “wardrobe malfunction” had Timberlake ripping Jackson’s top, exposing her breast to an estimated 143 million global viewers. 

The incident — often called “Nipplegate” — caused a storm of negative publicity for Jackson, and she has since said that it’s “tough” to talk about.

She was scheduled to perform at the Grammys following the Super Bowl, but she was reportedly blacklisted. 

Janet Jackson (left) was reportedly blacklisted after the “accident.” Wireimage.com

In an interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2006 — in which Winfrey proclaimed that Jackson said this will be the “first and last time that she talks about what happened that day,” Jackson further elaborated about “Nipplegate.”

“It was not planned. What people don’t understand is that [Timberlake] was to rip the piece off [my shirt] that he did, but more came off than what was supposed to . . . it was a very embarrassing moment. It was an accident,” said Jackson.

When Winfrey asked if Jackson thought Timberlake “left you hanging,” the singer replied, “All the emphasis was put on me. Not on Justin. And Justin…we were friends. Not that we aren’t now. We haven’t spoken. I consider him a friend. And I’m very loyal. Friendship is important to me.” 

Winfrey asked if people were too hard on her, and Jackson said, “I think they were. I think they did put all the emphasis on me.”

The infamous “wardrobe malfunction” incident. Wireimage.com

Despite public speculation, the NFL denied banning Jackson from returning to perform at the big game. 

When Timberlake returned to perform in 2018, the NFL put out a statement saying, “There’s no ban. We are not going to comment on any speculation regarding potential guests. There may be no guests. Along with Pepsi, we’re excited to have Justin Timberlake. Like the elite NFL players who can run, catch, and block, Justin can do it all — sing, dance, act, and entertain.”

Timberlake apologized on his Instagram page in 2021 following backlash from a New York Times documentary about Spears and her downfall. At the time, viewers also slammed him about “Nipplegate” via social media.

“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,” he posted on Instagram at the time, adding that he wants to “take accountability” for his own “missteps.” 

Regardless of the NFL denying a ban against Jackson, Timberlake — who was part of her “wardrobe malfunction” — was able to take the stage at the halftime show again after the incident, while Jackson hasn’t returned. 

And, viewers haven’t forgotten

“We saw two of Usher’s nipples. Why was it such a big deal when we saw one of Janet Jacksons?” another viewer complained on X. 

Another critic posted a photo of shirtless Usher, and commented, “I am NOT complaining! But damn justice for Janet, y’all.”

For his part, Usher, who opened for Jackson’s The Velvet Rope Tour in 1998 and 1999, has gushed about Jackson, and there seems to be no bad blood between the two singers.

“[She] taught me how to be a great headliner,” Usher told Complex in 2022. 

Fans pointed out the double-standard, as Usher was allowed to show his nipples at the 2024 Super Bowl. Getty Images

“Anything I wanted to have onstage she made sure that I had, she didn’t cut my sound short, which a lot of times, you know, artists will do that. They won’t give you the full range of the entire speaker system, because they save it for themselves,” he said. 

He also told The Post that his halftime show, in which he wore a sparkling glove, was inspired by Jackson’s brother, the late Michael Jackson.

“He absolutely revolutionized the experience like no other,” Usher told The Post.

“He changed how people perceived the halftime show [because before Jackson] it was just kind of hiring, you know, local performers or whatever it might be … I really did respect that.”

Usher gave an energetic — and topless — performance at the 2024 Super Bowl. Getty Images

Usher and Jackson are also slated to headline the 2024 Lovers & Friends festival together on May 4 in Las Vegas. 

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, 44, also sparked a similar debate when he took off his shirt during his 2019 Super Bowl halftime show. 

“Friendly reminder that janet jackson got blacklisted for doing what adam levine just did,” one fan posted at the time. 

Not all fans, however, thought that Usher taking his shirt off should be compared to Jackson. “We talking about usher [and] beyonce as live performers and y’all bring up janet. Baby that mike aint been on since 86. And i love me some janet,” one viewer said.

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