It’s been five years since Justin Timberlake last toured, but over the last few weeks, he’s been easing back into performing with a couple of one-off shows ahead of his forthcoming album Everything I Thought I Was, out March 15. During those appearances, a recurring performance bit has emerged. Wednesday night, before performing “Cry Me a River” at New York’s Irving Plaza, Timberlake announced: “I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize… to absolutely fucking nobody.”
The moment — shared on social media by fans who attended the free concert and spread widely by those who saw it as a jab at Britney Spears — called back to the singer’s appearance in Las Vegas in December. At the same part of his set, just before “Cry Me a River,” Timberlake remarked: “No disrespect … Ain’t we all just entertainers? Think I’m stupid and contagious?” During a recent Memphis performance, he also transitioned from “Holy Grail” into “Cry Me a River,” but without the caveat on respect.
The Las Vegas performance came weeks after Spears released her bombshell memoir The Woman in Me, in which she claimed that Timberlake “decided to use me as ammunition for his record,” referring to the 2003 hit single. The book also detailed previously private matters of their relationship, including an abortion and their breakup not too long after, which Timberlake apparently initiated via text message. She also stated that Timberlake’s use of a Spears look-alike in the “Cry Me a River” music video attempted to portray her as “a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy.”
But the New York performance, held on Timberlake’s birthday with wife Jessica Biel in attendance, followed the apology Spears issued earlier this week about the content of her book. “I wanna apologize for some of the things I wrote about in my book,” the singer wrote on Instagram on Sunday. “If I offended any of the people I genuinely care about I am deeply sorry.” Spears posted the caption beneath a video of Timberlake on The Tonight Show gushed about how much she loves his new single “Selfish.”
Timberlake himself has not publicly responded to Spears’ memoir or social posts. The last time the musician addressed their past relationship was after the airing of Framing Britney Spears, a 2021 documentary about her career and conservatorship. Old footage of Timberlake post-breakup was featured in the docuseries, reframing the public’s view of him.
“I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond,” Timberlake wrote in a lengthy statement shared via Instagram that has since been removed. “I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right. I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”
He added: “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 … I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be part of and grow from.”
“I have not been perfect in navigating all of this throughout my career. I know this apology is a first step and doesn’t absolve the past,” Timberlake concluded. “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. I care deeply about the wellbeing of the people I love and have loved. I can do better and I will do better.”
Three years later, he isn’t feeling as sorry.