Challenge: Double Agents MTV

MTV Plays Janet Jackson as Background Music After Banning Her in 2004

MTV featured a Janet Jackson song on The Challenge after ignoring her for 17 years.

On episode 11 of Double Agents, we witnessed Lolo Jones depart from the game. As she leaves, the cast seems to wish her well but no one seems too torn up over her departure. In the background we hear the song What Have You Done For Me Lately by Janet Jackson play.

Throughout Double Agents, we’ve heard a soundtrack of 80’s songs playing. It seems every other episode features a tune from Tears For Fears, and earlier in episode 11 Centerfold by J. Geils Band plays while the cast is getting ready for a night out. Like these songs, Janet Jackson’s music is a perfect addition to an 80’s playlist. We also need to think of the environment where the music is being played, and MTV’s decision to include Janet’s music should not go unnoticed.

In 2004, MTV helped to produce the Super Bowl halftime show where Janet Jackson headlined. There’s a very real possibility that current Challenge fans are unaware of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime incident or weren’t even born yet. For those of you out of the loop, the controversy occurred when Janet was accompanied by Justin Timberlake and performed the song Rock Your Body. At the end of the song, Justin pulled down part of Janet’s top and exposed her partially-covered nipple.

I’m not going to speculate the motives behind the incident which was coined a “wardrobe malfunction.” By most accounts, Justin had rehearsed the move at some point, but the intent was not to expose Janet’s nipple. Likely the intent was to lower Janet’s bustier and expose part of her red, lacy top. As we all know, that’s not what went down.

Janet Super Bowl
Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake at the 2004 Super Bowl.

So where doest MTV and The Challenge fit into this mix?

Well, clearly The Challenge was playing Janet’s music last week. This is significant because MTV and Viacom blocked Janet’s music from their platforms. As a result of the 2004 Super Bowl incident Janet Jackson felt the brunt of the blame. Justin Timberlake’s career flourished after the incident. MTV was a part of his success, playing his music and awarding him with the Video Vangard Award at the 2013 VMAs.

Just two weeks ago, Justin Timberlake apologized to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson for remaining silent as their careers and personal lives struggled. This comes during a time where our culture is changing and media outlets are questioning the treatment of women in media, particularly women of color. So it seems like a bit coincidental that MTV would also send a subtle sign of acknowledgement to Janet Jackson.

We also know MTV & The Challenge has become the beacon righteousness in recent years. Multiple Challengers have been banned from the show, with Dee being the most notable case. For a network that has suddenly developed morals regarding their casting, it seems they don’t hold themselves to a similar standard.

MTV played a huge role in tarnishing Janet Jackson’s career. Even if we treat the incident as a genuine mistake, MTV allowed Janet to take all the blame for an action Justin Timberlake committed. They scrubbed her legacy from their platform, embraced Justin, and never issued an apology.

But they just played one song, is it really that big of a deal?

Well, yes and no. Keep in mind, MTV and other Viacom channels like VH1 (who also blacklisted Janet) are known for overanalyzing every detail in music/ pop culture. If they were still reporting on music, this is the type of incident that would make it into their commentary. I would also think playing Janet’s music would be a hard no after all the drama surrounding the incident. It’s very odd that MTV would change their position on the scandal just weeks after Justin Timberlake apologized. This is MTV, they have thousands of other popular songs they could have played during Lolo’s departure. But they chose Janet.

I’ve been a viewer of MTV for over two decades now. I was very aware of their response to the Super Bowl in 2004, and I’m aware of casting initiatives for The Challenge. It feels MTV is slowly changing casting and trying to be more inclusive, but they’re unwilling to acknowledge their role creating an environment where racism and misogyny can flourish.

I will also be honest here, I feel Janet was treat very poorly after the Super Bowl and MTV was unwilling to stand up for her. As soon as I heard her song on the show, my mind went to the 2004 incident. For a causal viewer, the song likely had no significance. For someone who knows how MTV treated Janet, this might be a tiny olive branch. I can try to assume best intent here, because Janet’s ban is rumored to be an order from Les Moonves, former CBS CEO and chairman. After numerous allegations of sexual assault, Les was fired from CBS. As we know, CBS and Viacom have been working closely together in recent years and worked together during the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show.

It could also be a subtle jab, as Janet’s impressive music catalog has be regulated to background noise. As much as I love The Challenge, Janet deserves a better apology than background music. Any longtime viewer of The Challenge knows the show doesn’t tolerate men exposing a woman’s breasts, and MTV knows they’re striving to create a more socially conscious environment. Part of this would be admitting their mistake.

A part of me felt I was blowing this out of proportion. After all, no one watches music on MTV anymore or even expects it. But I feel I have the support of MTV when speaking out against injustice.


  1. It wasn’t just MTV, the music industry as a whole turned their back on Janet while somehow braced Justin even though he did the deed. I read her Wikipedia (or somewhere), music stations refused to play songs from her album after nipplegate about two years after the incident.

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