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Justin Timberlake under fire for his treatment of Britney Spears in 2002: '[Take] responsibility for her downfall'

Kelsey Weekman
·4-min read

It’s been almost 20 years since Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake broke up, but his Instagram comments are currently flooded with calls for him to apologize to her for the way their relationship ended.

A recent documentary called Framing Britney reexamined the end of the power couple’s three-year relationship, thus inspiring fans and onlookers from the past two decades to rethink the way the media portrayed Spears, who was 20 years old at the time.

It also takes a closer look at the current #FreeBritney movement — a fan-led crusade to rid the pop star of the conservatorship she’s been under since 2008.

Why is Justin Timberlake facing criticism over his treatment of Britney Spears?

Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” music video, which was a massive hit, included a Spears lookalike alongside lyrics about infidelity, which contributed to rumors that she had been unfaithful.

In an interview with highly respected journalist Diane Sawyer, she’s solely blamed for the couple’s breakup.

“You broke his heart. You did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?” Sawyer asked Spears.

Sawyer went on to tell Spears that her sexualized image “disappointed a lot of mothers,” then appeared to defend the first lady of Maryland who said she would “shoot” the singer if she could. Sawyer suggested Spears was a “bad example for kids,” too.

At the same time, Timberlake was being questioned about the breakup in a very different way. The documentary accused him of “weaponizing” their relationship to further his career.

During one radio appearance, Timberlake was asked, “Did you f*** Britney Spears?” He laughed before saying, “OK, I did it.”

Tabloids had been obsessed with Spears’ virginity for years, so this comment created a sort of media firestorm with people accusing Spears of being “not that innocent” at every turn.

Meanwhile, Timberlake landed the covers of magazines, praised for his physical relationship with Spears.

“Can we ever forgive Justin Timberlake for all that sissy music? Hey … at least he got into Britney’s pants,” the cover of the December 2002 edition of Details Magazine said.

What do people want from Justin Timberlake nearly 20 years after the breakup?

As far as we know, he’s never apologized for encouraging this treatment of Spears. That’s why it’s so striking that he’s facing calls to apologize nearly two decades later.

“So glad people finally get to see what kind of person you are,” one user wrote.

“Apologize to Britney,” another said.

“It’s insane how Britney got slut-shamed so much, but you were cool for taking her ‘v-card’ and bragging about it when you know she wanted privacy,” a third wrote. “It’s so mind-boggling how sexualized women are today and none of you seem to care now …. but you cared back in the day and it truly destroyed Britney, and you have [to take] responsibility for her downfall.”

“Everyone is gonna know what you are! Justice for Britney and Janet,” a fourth said, referencing his Super Bowl controversy involving Janet Jackson, for which he apologized after the damage had been done to her reputation.

Fans say speaking out about his treatment of Spears is the best thing Timberlake can do. He can never undo what he’s done, but he can give her the chance to fix the reputation he had a hand in tearing down.

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