The Mighty Logo

5 Ways to Improve Justin Timberlake's Apology

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you want to have a conversation with people who “get it,” join The Mighty’s Chat Space group.

Justin Timberlake recently posted a public apology on Instagram, in response to backlash from the documentary, “Framing Britney Spears.” Timberlake’s apology to the two superstars is problematic for several reasons. Here are five ways to make his statement better.

1. Don’t make this about you.

Timberlake’s apology comes one week after “Framing Britney Spears” was released, in which he is exposed for publicly shaming Britney Spears, and contributing to the sexist ways she was treated. His apology appears to be more of a PR statement than an actual apology. The appropriate time to apologize should have been at the time of the event, not nearly 20 years later, and not only after public complaint.

2. Don’t make this about you.

A more sincere apology would have been private and personal, not a response to his fans, who were not the ones wronged and are not the ones who get to decide if he is forgiven. Imagine if I cheated on my husband and then posted on social media, “I’m sorry to my husband and all other people I’ve cheated on.” Imagine how much worse that would be for my husband, especially if some random stranger tweeted back, “I forgive you!” Timberlake’s statement is a slap in the face to the women he harmed.

3. Don’t make this about you.

Spears and Jackson deserve separate, individually tailored apologies, not a form letter to vaguely reference Timberlake’s transgressions. Looping what Timberlake did to Janet Jackson (exposing her breast at the 2004 Super Bowl and calling it a “wardrobe malfunction”) into his apology about Spears makes for a weak admission to both situations. His actions harmed the careers of both women, while he continued to rise in fame with seemingly few consequences. There’s no way to know what level of personal contact he’s had with either women in the last 16 years, but given the nature of the public apology, I’d venture to guess it’s none.

4.  Don’t make this about you.

Speaking of vague, what the heck does, “…benefitted from a system that condones misogyny and racism” mean, exactly? By blaming “the system,” are you saying that you, a privileged white male, are absolved of responsibility because “the system” granted your success? Are you willing to see “the system” change, even if it means a demotion for you?

5. Don’t make this about you.

As the adage goes, the best apology is changed behavior. Timberlake claims he wants to “be part of the conversation” and “grow,” yet offers no insight on what he specifically needs to change, or how he plans to do it. An apology worth accepting includes actionable steps toward making reparations for the damage done. What might that look like for a mega star who admits his success was built in part to throwing his female colleagues under the bus? What makes that right? To quote a Britney Spears song, “Don’t you know you’re toxic?”

Photos courtesy of Justin Timberlake’s Instagram.

Originally published: February 12, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home