The recent backlash stems from The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears documentary that premiered last week. Throughout the unauthorized project, footage shows Spears being put in the hot seat and questioned about her role in the highly publicized breakup, while Timberlake was seemingly idolized.
During a sit-down interview with Diane Sawyer from 2003, for example, Spears is asked, "Justin has gone on television and pretty much said you broke his heart. You did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?" Meanwhile, in a New York radio interview, Timberlake was asked if he and Spears had ever slept together, to which he jokingly replied, "OK, yeah, I did it!"
After watching the documentary, many viewers took to social media to express their "disappointment" and "disgust" in Timberlake. Many argued that he was to blame for the media's negative portrayal of Spears after their split, while others brought up how he exhibited similar toxic behavior toward Janet Jackson after the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" that occurred during their Super Bowl halftime performance in 2004.
"Watching the #BritneySpears documentary and I am legit disgusted by Justin Timberlake and how he dragged Britney through the mud like that," one fan tweeted, with another adding, "Crazy how Justin Timberlake had such a hand in f**king over the careers and lives of Britney and Janet, two of the most talented women in music, ever."
In response, Timberlake said in a statement on Friday that he's "seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns."
"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," the statement read. "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."
"The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success," the statement continued. "It's designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again."
Timberlake admitted that he hasn't been perfect "in navigating all of this throughout my career."
"I know this apology is a first step and doesn't absolve the past," he added. "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."
ET has reached out to Spears and Jackson for comment.
"She's always made aware of any important new releases that pertain to her life and career, and this was no different," the source said. "She hasn't seen the documentary because she never likes to focus on what others say about her."
ET's source added that Spears has "no interest in getting involved with any details being discussed about her past relationship with Justin Timberlake."
"She wouldn't want her fans to speak negatively about him because she has the utmost respect for both Justin and his wife [Jessica Biel]," the source added. "She laughed about how people are talking about it now. It happened so long ago."