Malfunction: The Dressing Down Of Janet Jackson is the latest Hulu documentary to explore one of music’s biggest scandals

They gave us Framing Britney Spears. Now, The New York Times Presents is uncovering the truth behind another infamous scandal of the 2000s.

It’s no secret that our enduring love for true crime has us gripped across documentaries, podcasts and even the wonderful hybrid genre of true crime comedy.

But in recent months a new appetite has emerged within the genre, uncovering the truth behind music’s most infamous scandals of the 1990s and 2000s, and the famous women at the centre of them.

From the explosive Framing Britney Spears (and subsequent Controlling Britney Spears) to What Happened, Brittany Murphy? networks are giving some revival to the ‘troubled starlet’ narrative beloved by the tabloids, but not without rightful controversy.

Both HBO series have garnered some negative attention for being “exploiting” and capitalising from the trauma of those who were victims of the pressure of their industry, often with devastating mental and physical health consequences.

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However, that hasn’t stopped FX, Hulu and The New York Times Presents from steaming right ahead for their latest docu-series Malfunction: The Dressing Down Of Janet Jackson, which will explore the infamous incident at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show where Justin Timberlake briefly exposed Jackson’s breast to millions of viewers, sparking a scandal that haunted her career.

Keep reading for everything we know about the investigative series so far.

What is Malfunction: The Dressing Down Of Janet Jackson about?

As mentioned, the series will explore the events and aftermath of the 2004 halftime show on Jackson’s music career and public image.

The documentary will examine the racial and cultural currents that collided on the Super Bowl stage, and explore how the incident impacted one of the most successful pop musicians in history.

Though her breast was adorned with a nipple shield, the event led to Jackson’s music being blacklisted from CBS and MTV, as well as her Grammy appearance that year being cancelled.

The series will feature rare footage and interviews with several people who were at the controls that night in Houston, including NFL and MTV executives, to reconstruct an incident that shook the country and explain how it shaped culture in the decades to follow. 

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake on stage at the 2004 Superbowl half-time show
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake on stage at the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show

With new reporting by The Times, as well as insights from music industry insiders, cultural critics and members of the Jackson family, the film illuminates the fallout, and CBS boss Les Moonves’s role in it. 

Timberlake’s career, however, continued to go from strength to strength, and he currently stands as one of the world’s best-selling music artists, with sales of over 88 million records worldwide.

In February 2021, Timberlake publicly apologised to Jackson in an Instagram post, pledging to “take accountability” after developments in the conservatorship of Britney Spears saw him criticised for his behaviour towards the two women.

At the end of the Super Bowl performance, Timberlake ripped part of Jackson's costume, leading her breast to be exposed
At the end of the Super Bowl performance, Timberlake ripped part of Jackson's costume, exposing her breast

“The industry is flawed,” he said. “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 recognise 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.”

Malfunction also comes ahead of another documentary based on events in Jackson’s life, simply titled Janet, which is due to land in January via Lifetime and A&E. Produced by the world-renowned singer herself, it will air in celebration of her self-titled debut album’s 40th anniversary.

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Jackson in 2018
Jackson in 2018

When and where will Malfunction: The Dressing Down Of Janet Jackson be released?

FX and Hulu are set to launch Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson on 19 November.

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