Justin Timberlake, who celebrated his 43rd birthday with a free concert at New York City’s Irving Plaza on Wednesday night, introduced his song “Cry Me a River” by saying, “I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to absolutely fucking nobody.” Timberlake didn’t name who his retraction was necessarily directed at, but the January 31st concert did happen to fall on the same day as the 20th anniversary of the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show, where Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast on live television.
The claim also follows the highly-publicized rift between Timberlake and Britney Spears, who dated from 1999 to 2002. “Cry Me a River” was speculated to be about Spears and her confirmed infidelity with dancer Wade Robson, and arrived with a music video that featured a blonde woman resembling Spears.
Britney Spears, meanwhile, had previously referenced “Cry Me a River” — amidst dozens of revelations about her and Timberlake’s relationship — in her 2023 memoir, The Woman in Me. She claimed that the video’s backlash made her out to be a “harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy,” all while Timberlake was “was happily running around Hollywood.”
But when Timberlake released his comeback single “Selfish” this month, Spears initially offered support. In a since-deleted Instagram post from Sunday, Spears wrote, “I wanna apologize for some of the things I wrote about in my book. If I offended any of the people I genuinely care about I am deeply sorry…” She then praised “Selfish,” writing, “I also wanted to say I am in love with Justin Timberlake’s new song ‘Selfish’ 🌹 It is soo good and how come every time I see Justin and Jimmy together I laugh so hard ??? P.S. ‘Sanctified’ is wow 🤩 too.”
Now, Spears appears to be walking back her support. “Someone told me someone was talking shit about me on the streets !!! Do you want to bring it to the court or will you go home crying to your mom like you did last time ??? I’m not sorry !!!,” the star wrote on Instagram on Thursday.
Timberlake has yet to respond to Spears’ Instagram post, and it’s still unclear who his (non) apology was exactly intended for — Jackson, Spears, or the general public. Timberlake previously apologized publicly to both Janet Jackson and Britney Spears in a 2021 Instagram post. “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,” Timberlake wrote. “I want to take accountability for my own missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports.”
Beyond the 2021 post, however, Timberlake hasn’t addressed the details from Spears’ 2023 memoir directly. But with his fifth album Everything I Thought It Was on the way, there may be some more illuminating perspectives from the pop singer yet to come.
Justin Timberlake recently wrapped up an appearance on Saturday Night Live, where he performed new songs “Selfish” and “Sanctified.” He’ll embark on his first tour in five years later this year; get tickets here.
Britney Spears was rumored to be working on new music with Charli XCX and Julia Michaels earlier this year. She denied the rumors, however, saying she would “never return to the music industry.” Read our feature on the impact and legacy of Britney Spears’ 1999 debut album, …Baby One More Time, as part of our ’99 Rewind series.