Has Justin Timberlake's all-access pass to the black entertainment universe been revoked? Few white artists have enjoyed as much support among African- Americans as Timberlake, thanks to a debut solo CD jammed with classic R&B and tracks produced by the likes of hip-hop maestro Timbaland. Just last year he was nominated for best male artist at the Soul Train Music Awards, and he performed during the ceremony to raucous applause, cementing his status as a less-talented version of reigning R&B prince Usher. But some believe he showed his true color after Janet Jackson's wardrobe infamously malfunctioned at the Super Bowl--and, in their view, allowed her to take all the heat for what happened. "If I do recall, there were two people on that stage," says actress-rapper Queen Latifah. "He loses a lot of my respect for not taking responsibility for his actions. I think that was real shady on his part."
Timberlake, who had a brief fling with Jackson last year, laughed off the boob-baring brouhaha at first. But as soon as it exploded into a scandal, he began making appearances on talk shows during which he issued sniffling apologies and implied that he was the unwitting victim of a planned publicity stunt. Tellingly, some think, he never once spoke out in Jackson's defense. It was particularly galling to those who believe that Timberlake has become rich off urban culture. "It's just maddening because he was as black as black could be until Super Bowl night," says a close friend of Jackson's. "In his mind, he was as black as 50 Cent because he knew the words to a Marvin Gaye song. He rolled in both worlds, living it up. But as soon as something went wrong, we got a chance to see how white he really was. He left Janet hanging big time, and she's still hurt by that."
Let the fallout commence. After Timberlake agreed to cohost Motown's upcoming 45th-anniversary show on ABC with Lionel Richie, black activist groups launched a phone and e-mail protest. "[His selection] is a cultural insult to the black community," says Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope. Timberlake soon bailed out, citing a scheduling conflict.