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Justin Timberlake Frontrunner to Perform at Super Bowl, but Nipplegate Still Looms

Will the “wardrobe malfunction” seen ’round the world soon be all but a distant memory?

According to multiple sources, Justin Timberlake is the frontrunner to perform at next year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

It’s hard to believe this February will mark 14 years since Timberlake’s baring of Janet Jackson’s right breast during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Could Super Bowl LII, slated for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 3, 2018, being televised by NBC, be the site of Timberlake’s long-awaited return? Although the former boybander is inching closer to the gig, the 2004 controversy still engulfs the singer.

The so-called “wardrobe malfunction” caused a “chilling effect” crackdown by the FCC on objectionable broadcast material and served as a launching pad for a fledgling site known as YouTube.

Sources also tell Variety that Timberlake is expected to release a new album at the beginning of 2018, which would make the Super Bowl timing optimal.

Internet chatter began to surface last month and reached fever pitch on Wednesday that Timberlake – despite the NFL’s insistence he’d been banned for the incident – is being considered for the halftime slot alongside pal Jay-Z, with whom he toured in 2013 as part of their “Legends of the Summer” U.S. dates. The rapper was a featured performer on Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie,” the first single from Justin’s album, “The 20/20 Experience.” One major TV music executive even insists a buzzworthy reunion with Jackson can’t be completely ruled out, though that seems far-fetched.

It’s no surprise Jay-Z has reportedly turned down the NFL’s offer, given the league’s current controversy over players refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem to protest racially charged police brutality incidents around the country, and the apparent reluctance of teams to sign the movement’s currently free-agent leader, quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

A decision should be revealed any day now, as Lady Gaga was announced as the performer at the end of September last year.

The halftime show has been headlined over the past few years by a succession of rock superstars like Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, and Madonna. Ameriquest Mortgage, Sprint Nextel, Bridgestone, and AOL Topspeed were all halftime sponsors until Pepsi took over for Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, highlighted by a Beyonce reunion with Destiny’s Child in 2016.

The Super Bowl halftime show has become the most-watched musical event in history. Last year’s Gaga performance at Houston’s NRG Stadium was seen by 117.5 million viewers, and for four consecutive years, the show has attracted higher average views than the actual game.

So, with most of the major pop and rock acts having played the halftime show, who will headline the 2018 edition? It won’t be Taylor Swift, who, as a Diet Coke spokesperson, is a no-go for the Pepsi-sponsored event, instead scheduling a performance headlining the halftime show of the College Football National Championship game in Atlanta on Jan. 8, 2018, from nearby Centennial Olympic Park, produced by ESPN. Swift previously debuted a clip for the track “Ready for It” during college football’s opening weekend game between Alabama and Florida State on ABC.

Britney Spears, another early contender – she performed at Super Bowl XXXV at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on a lineup which included Aerosmith, Timberlake with NSYNC, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly – has also been ruled out, according to a recent statement from PepsiCo head of sports marketing Justin Toman.

Recent polls as to who should headline saw Billboard readers overwhelmingly voting for K-Pop band BTS (with a whopping 58.6%), while Popcrush’s audience opted for Queen & Adam Lambert (37.6%) over BTS (with 34.3%).

And while rumors of Timberlake being the chosen one has sparked talk of a possible NSYNC reunion, at least one observer, Fred Traube, head of his own East Coast-based Pro Sports Music Marketing, claims the NFL is still smarting over the incident 14 years ago.

“Don’t expect any controversial rappers, either,” he noted, with the expected on-air bleeps ruining the potential of appearances by not just Jay-Z, but Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, or Migos (subjects of an online petition for last year’s slot), even though it’s hard to believe that ban extending to the likes of mainstream crossovers like Chance the Rapper (who recently made an appearance on CBS’ Emmy Awards).

Meanwhile, the fact that musicians aren’t paid for their Super Bowl performance, and indeed, have to pay, has scared off a number of artists, including Kelly Clarkson, who is about to release a new album next month for new label Atlantic, and recently admitted to Breatheheavy.com, “I’m not paying, you pay me.”

Others touted include Pink, who also has a new album, “Beautiful Trauma,” coming out on Oct. 13 (with an Oct. 14 “Saturday Night Live” appearance on tap, and a high-wire act that would play well on a big stage), along with Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith (slated for “SNL” on Oct. 7), and Foo Fighters.

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