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Week in Rock History: Janet Jackson Has a Wardrobe Malfunction

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February 1, 2004: Janet Jackson has a "wardrobe malfunction" at Super Bowl XXXVIII
Even for Patriots fans, the most exciting moment of Super Bowl XXXVIII occurred during the halftime show, when Justin Timberlake famously exposed Janet Jackson's right breast at the end of their performance. During their joint medley – which included Jackson classics "Rhythm Nation" and "All For You" and Timberlake's newer hit "Rock Your Body" – the ex-'N Sync pin-up ripped off part of Jackson's costume, and the image was beamed to millions of televisions across America before CBS cameras cut away, a second too late, to an aerial shot of the stadium. (Court documents would later note that Jackson's breast was exposed for nine-sixteenths of a second.)

The public backlash was swift and relentless: the FCC received over half a million complaints and launched an investigation, the Parents Television Council released a damning public statement, private citizens launched class action suits, sponsors demanded refunds, and even a senator, Zell Miller (D) of Georgia, railed against the incident in Washington and in print. Comedians took potshots for weeks, from South Park to David Letterman (the latter quipping that he wasn't "the biggest boob" on the channel anymore). There was much debate as to whether the singers had planned the moment in advance, which was never established. Viacom ultimately shelled out millions to settle the indecency complaints launched against their performers, and the FCC's enormous fine was contested in court, in a seemingly unending cycle of overturns and appeals, until as recently as November 2011.

The controversy placed a much stronger emphasis on cultural incidents of so-called indecency. Virtually all television networks subsequently played it safe with their content, at the risk of invoking similar wrath. Timberlake distanced himself from the controversy and Jackson took the majority of the scorn, which angered many media and racial/gender studies critics (Timberlake later told MTV that felt "America is harder on women"). For her part, Jackson receded from public attention before giving an interview to Oprah Winfrey calling the exposure accidental and the reaction "absurd." She parodied the incident on Saturday Night Live in April 2004 as a breast-baring Condoleezza Rice.

February 3, 2004: R. Kelly pleads not guilty to child pornography
Two days after Jackson's "Nipplegate," another R&B superstar hit a major low: R. Kelly appeared in court to enter a plea of not guilty to 21 charges of child pornography.

The 35-year-old Kelly was arrested in Florida earlier in the month after he was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago. The charges resulted from a videotape that was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times, allegedly showing Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl. Further adding to the negative evidence: Kelly had been married to R&B singer Aaliyah while she was underage.

Kelly faced up to 15 years in prison for the allegations. After more than six years, the case went to trial. After less than a day of deliberations, during which Kelly did not testify, a jury found the "I Believe I Can Fly" singer not guilty on all counts.



Last week: Superstars Record 'We Are the World'

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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