How Janet Jackson’s ‘Wardrobe Malfunction’ Changed The Internet


The world changed on February 1, 2004. Super Bowl XXXVIII is remembered for what happened between Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, not so much The Patriots defeating the Carolina Panthers. The fallout of the wardrobe malfunction is still being felt today.

A Quick Refresher

Heading into halftime Tom Brady and the Patriots were up 14-10. Beyonce had already done the national anthem, and Jessica Simpson kicked off the halftime show. She was followed by two marching bands and, soon, Janet Jackson. This was back in the day when the NFL would pack as many contemporary stars as possible into the set, so she was followed by P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, and, finally, Timberlake.

What happened next is calcified in pop culture history. Amidst a duet of “Rock Your Body,” Timberlake said the lyric “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” and accidentally exposed Jackson’s right breast. The camera cut away, but it was too late. The moment became a turning point in Jackson’s career, and it became TiVo’s most replayed moment ever.

Meanwhile, In Silicon Valley…

The PayPal mafia is a group of former PayPal employees who were able to cash out of the company with millions, if not billions. Elon Musk, Peter Theil, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman are among its ranks. Three of its other members banded together in 2005 to create what would become the second most visited website on the internet: Youtube.

Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim were hatching ideas for a new website. Karim later told USA Today that he was inspired to create a video-sharing site because of the wardrobe malfunction. He found it difficult to find the video of the incident on the internet. The “malfunction” and the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami on Boxing Day later that year, made him realize there would be a marketplace for online video. “I thought it was a good idea,” Karim said. It was.

Rest Is History

It took a few years for YouTube to figure itself out. The founders imagined it as a video dating site, but it found its footing as a Flickr but for videos instead of photos. It fought competitors like Vimeo and CollegeHumor, but the Saturday Night Live sketch “Lazy Sunday” helped bolster the platform. With the viral video established, the site grew rapidly.

Stand back for a second and see how easily this could have been different. YouTube feels so obvious and inevitable, yet it took a faulty Jackson top for it to be created. If the halftime show had gone as planned, perhaps the internet would be utterly unrecognizable today.

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