A 2011 deep cut from Britney Spears is at the top of the iTunes charts, thanks to a trolling effort by her fans to rob Justin Timberlake of the top spot. Timberlake's new single, Selfish dropped last Thursday, giving the Britney Army a perfect opportunity to hype her song of the same name from her 2011 album Femme Fatale.
Pop star fans can be a little crazy in their pursuit of justice for perceived slights against the objects of their obsession, just ask anyone who's earned the wrath of the Beyhive. But this isn't any ordinary pop culture feud; the grudge that the Britney Army holds against Timberlake has a serious and dark edge.
The 2021 documentary Reframing Britney Spears revealed the disparity in how the two former Mickey Mouse Club stars were treated in the press when they were dating in the late 90s and early 2000s. When the two split in 2002, his star continued to rise, while she was vilified in the press.
The Trolling of Justin Timberlake has a serious point to make
Due to the cultural climate of the time, they were both required by their management to maintain that they were virgins, waiting until marriage to have sex. But in reality, it was only Spears, who was held to this standard. After they broke up, the public grew skeptical of the virgin pretense, which led to shameful prying into her private life.
Timberlake, meanwhile, was not simply an innocent benefactor in the unjust treatment of Spears; he, or at least his management enjoyed his status as the golden boy who had seemingly risen above her chaos. As if her public ordeal was her own doing, while he was the picture of dignity and restraint.
Spears' memoir, The Woman In Me gave further details of Timberlake's bad behaviour, further demonstrating the double standard that sees men's bad behaviour forgiven or ignored entirely, while women in similar positions are punished for simply existing.
A similar dynamic showed itself a few years later in the aftermath of the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" at Janet Jackson's Superbowl halftime performance. Timberlake was a guest performer, and at the conclusion of the show, he removed a breastplate from Jackson's bustier, exposing her right breast to an estimated 150 million viewers. The FCC received nearly 540,000 complaints, and while Jackson's career has never recovered, Timberlake's role in it is often ignored or forgotten.
So good on these trolls, I say.
The Spears documentary and memoir, as well as a documentary about the "wardrobe malfunction" that also debuted in 2021, have forced us to face how culture treated women back then. Not that these issues are a thing of the past, but those were really bad times to be a woman in the public eye.
But I feel that there is one group that has not had its reckoning, music snobs. Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson are all musicians, the music press should have spoken out against this treatment of the people working in the medium that we admire so much. Not only were we oblivious to society's double standard, but we also didn't want to be seen sticking up for, or even showing an interest in musicians who make music primarily for teenage girls.
It's always the way that art and media made for, or consumed primarily by women is seen as less than. The Beatles were just a boy band until men started paying attention to their trippier more meditative sound post-Revolver, then they became history's most important rock band. The whole "disco sucks" movement was predicated on disco being female, black, and queer music.
Thankfully, we're better now. It's great to see Beyoncé and Taylor Swift being given the same respect and recognition as white guys who play guitar. But I do suspect that this is a case of some people having to be twice as good to get half as far. Bey and Taytay are at the top of their game. Pop stars who make "music for girls" have to have Beyoncé or Taylor Swift-levels of talent to be seen as on par with the older male heroes of rock.
Anyway, as if to prove that the culture wars are eternal, both Britney and Justin were pipped for the top spot by Tom MacDonald a conservative rapper with a track featuring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro rapping.