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Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake engage in war of words on stage and social networks

The singer apologized to her ex-partner on Sunday for ‘some of the things’ she wrote in her memoir. But the artist gave a very different response on Wednesday while performing in New York

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at the premiere of Spears' film 'Crossroads' at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, February 11, 2002.Kevin Winter (Getty Images)
María Porcel

They only spent three years together more than 20 years ago, but the relationship between Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake is still going strong. Their immense exposure to public opinion, at a time when photographers were shameless in pursuing them and television stations pored over their private lives, gave the relationship a level of publicity like few others. Now the former couple’s very public spat has been reignited.

The feud was rekindled when Spears published her memoirs last October, revealing details about the relationship, such as the abortion Timberlake forced her to undergo, something that put him in the firing line. But it is necessary to combine the past with the present to understand what is happening now. On Wednesday, on stage during a concert in New York, Timberlake performed one of his biggest hits, Cry Me A River, a song he wrote after his breakup with Spears in 2002 and in which he talks not very subtly about a guy whose girlfriend betrays him, a song that is loaded with meaning for them both. As he was about to start singing at New York’s Irving Plaza on his 43rd birthday, Timberlake said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to absolutely fucking nobody.”

The target of the message was clear: Spears. And it was issued for several reasons. First, because she herself discussed her ex-partner and that song in her memoir, where she explains that Timberlake broke up with her through a series of text messages in early 2002, and that she was accused of lying and cheating. The video for Cry Me A River features a blonde whose face is hidden as she drives off in a car without looking back, while Timberlake cries. In his 2018 memoir, the former N’Sync vocalist recounted that he had felt “scorned” and wrote the song in a couple of hours: “I didn’t plan on writing it. The feelings I had were so strong that I had to write it, and I translated my feelings into a form where people could listen and, hopefully, relate to it. People heard me and they understood it because we’ve all been there.”

However, Spears’ version is very different: “A woman who looks like me cheats on him and he wanders around sad in the rain,” she said of the video, stating the press portrayed her as a “harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy.”

“In reality,” she recounts in her book, Spears was “comatose in Louisiana, and he was happily running around Hollywood.” Shortly thereafter, she faced a tough television interview with host Diane Sawyer, where she was accused in front of millions of viewers of causing Timberlake “a great deal of pain”. That, as she has recounted, was a “breaking point” and she felt she “had been exploited, set up in front of the whole world.

After the publication of Spears’ memoirs, the singer has remained silent. But on Sunday night she posted a video on her Instagram profile, now deleted, featuring Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon playing instruments, and in the accompanying text she praised Timberlake’s new musical work and appeared to offer an olive branch. “”I wanna apologize for some of the things I wrote about in my book. If I offended any of the people I genuinely care about I am deeply sorry. I also wanted to say I am in love with Justin Timberlake’s new song ‘Selfish.’ It is soo good and how come every time I see Justin and Jimmy together I laugh so hard ??? Ps ‘Sanctified’ is wow too.”

Timberlake had previously apologized to Spears in February 2021, when hearings were being held on Spears’ legal guardianship under her father and after the release of a documentary titled Framing Britney Spears. He also addressed the controversy over his Super Bowl appearance with Janet Jackson in 2004. “I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond. 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. I specifically want to apologise 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.”

After Timberlake’s New York show, Spears responded on Instagram: “Someone told me someone was talking shit about me on the streets !!! Do you want to bring it to the court or will you go home crying to your mom like you did last time ??? I’m not sorry !!!”

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