What’s Going on With Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Few people came out of Britney Spears’s 2023 memoir, The Woman in Me, looking good. Along with her father, sister, and ex Kevin Federline, another person high on Spears’s list of people who harmed her was Justin Timberlake, whom she dated from 1999 to 2002. Timberlake, Spears wrote, pressured her into having an abortion, appropriated African American Vernacular English to seem cool, and initiated their breakup over text message.

So it came as a surprise when on Monday — two days after Timberlake performed two new songs on SNL — Spears took to Instagram, writing, “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 …” She then gave Timberlake a shout-out, saying, “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.” (At the time of her post, her Instagram account appeared to be set to private.)

Spears’s post might have been her way of encouraging her fans to cut Timberlake some slack. After the memoir came out, he was flooded with comments criticizing him, and he eventually turned off his Instagram comments. In her book, Spears wrote that the video for Timberlake’s 2002 single “Cry Me a River” — which featured a woman who looked eerily similar to Spears cheating on Timberlake — painted her as a “harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy,” while in reality she was “comatose in Louisiana.” In December, before performing “Cry Me a River,” Timberlake said, “No disrespect,” which some interpreted as recognition of Spears’s comments.

Spears’s fans previously pushed Timberlake to apologize in 2021, after the New York Times released Framing Britney Spears, a documentary examining how Spears was treated by the press and her loved ones at the height of her fame. At the time, Timberlake released a vague apology in a since-deleted Instagram post, writing, “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.” 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.”

However, not everyone was satisfied. When “Selfish” — his first single from his upcoming album Everything I Thought It Was — dropped last week, Spears fans decided to protest in their own way: by playing her 2011 song with the same title repeatedly. That landed Spears in the No. 1 spot on iTunes, two spots ahead of Timberlake. And if Spears’s post was a gesture of goodwill, it didn’t seem to be received that way by Timberlake. On Wednesday night, he introduced “Cry Me a River” by saying, “I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to absolutely fucking nobody,” per “Page Six.

Spears appeared to take the message personally. Though she didn’t name names, she posted a photo of a basketball hoop to her Instagram, captioning it: “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 !!!.” (Spears had previously said that Timberlake used to cry when she beat him at basketball.)

On the same day, a “Page Six” source claimed Timberlake is “seething” because Spears is “overshadowing his new music.” Apparently, he “hoped the backlash [from Spears’s memoir] would’ve blown over by now so that he could focus on his new album, which he’s very excited about, but every day is something new.” He’s right about that, at least.

This post has been updated.

What’s Going on With Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake?