The 2000s: A New Reality premieres Sunday, July 12, and Monday, July 13, at 9/8CT on National Geographic Channel.
Never let it be said that stylist to the stars Wayne Scot Lukas doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Having worked with everyone from Tina Turner to Meryl Streep, the New Jersey native was riding a career high when he teamed up with pop superstar Janet Jackson to clothe her for the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. One that Jackson intended to uplift a country stunned and wearied by the Iraq war. Instead, in less than one second, in a flash of a moment that would likely have gone unnoticed were it not for a voracious news media, an emerging new technology called TiVo, and a carnival of finger-pointing between network executives and the FCC, Lukas’ storied career was reduced to two words — wardrobe malfunction.
Eleven years later, the moment takes on new significance in National Geographic Channel’s fascinating two-night event, The 2000s: A New Reality. And Lukas finally feels free to share the blow-by-blow of the evening’s events and the impact on his career, technology and the way Americans view celebrity.
“Let me shove my nipples back in my shirt, and then I can sit down and talk! Hello!” Lukas chuckles at the start of our conversation. So much for needing to break the ice. A considerable relief. Might as well get the most debated issue of that moment off the table to start: Was the situation — for Lukas takes a justifiable exception to the word “malfunction” — planned?
“Planned or unplanned — that’s not something I discuss,” he says. “What I do discuss is the mess around it. We had just gone to war as a country, and Janet said, ‘We want to do a Super Bowl performance that is going to bring the country together.’ These were her exact words to me, and I quote that. She said, ‘What are we going to do?’ We were looking at ‘The War Song’ by Culture Club at that time — war is stupid. Because she wanted to be against the war. Then she said, ‘I can’t go against the government, so let’s be very supportive.’ So she chose ‘Rhythm Nation,’ and you see what it says. Prejudice no, bigotry no. The moment was really to bring the country together, and for some reason that last half of a second tore the country apart.”
While news broadcasts and pop culture outlets debated Jackson’s and Justin Timberlake’s intentions and joined the FCC, Viacom and CBS in scrambling to assign blame, the NFL implemented a five-second delay and got serious about its halftime contracts. The FCC levied a $550,000 fine against CBS, which was tossed out by a federal appeals court in 2008. And then FCC chairman Michael Powell admitted the whole thing got a little out of hand. “I ended up testifying for nine hours on just this,” he told ESPN. “On 9/16 of a second.”
Meanwhile Lukas and Jackson were facing career hits that they could have never imagined would come from a carefully constructed four minutes in February 2004.
CGM: We all know what the fallout was, and we all know what the freak-out was, but can you take me back to the beginning, to the earliest discussions of what Janet would wear?
WSL: The funniest thing about Janet is that she is always at the top of her game. She’s always on top of what’s coming, and what’s showing up, and what’s next. She pays so much attention to the fans. The young fans, and what they want, and what they need. I have a lot of celebrities in my roster who don’t care about the fans. Janet does. We had done a half jacket for her “All For You” video, and all of a sudden all the kids at Gay Pride that year were cutting their leather jackets in half and copying her.
Then we did MTV Icons, and for the performance, I took Janet’s best videos, and I dressed each dancer in one of those iconic outfits they you, me, and everybody else in America remember.
For the Super Bowl we had to really have a special, big outfit to create some kind of look that was going to be really magical. I told you the war had started, so we were thinking it had to be semi-military, but it had to still be a little bit sexy and fun. We probably had 500 sketches of the Super Bowl outfit. And this is what no one understands: She had about 30 to 50 dancers on that stage, and if you watch that performance, there are three wardrobe changes for every single person on that stage in the three and half minutes that you watch the halftime show. No one remembers all of the magic — each dancer starts the show in white with black accents, and as the performance unfolds, no one is noticing that the dancers’ outfits are changing. The whole Super Bowl that year for us was about quick change. Janet came out in a white outfit. She walks back to the elevator, she got on the elevator, she disappeared from the stage when the stage went dark, and she came back up in that final black outfit.
So underneath the stage in about 45 seconds I had to change all of her clothes. She changed her clothes, and 35 dancers changed their clothes in the dark during a commercial break, and nobody even saw it. When you watch the performance back, and you forget about the end — the “wardrobe malfunction” — you’ll see that this was probably the most functional wardrobe they’ve ever had at a Super Bowl halftime show. It couldn’t have gone off better if I had been up there myself dressing her on the stage. I was underneath, not knowing what was going on up above me.
CGM: Or having any sort of control over that …
WSL: You really have to go back and watch it, because here’s what happened. I was backstage and we got everybody ready and what they do is they put me in a box. Me, the hairdresser and the makeup artist and one crew member from the production company goes in a box. The box is about 5’ x 5’ x 5’. In the middle of the box was the elevator that Janet shot up from when the show started; it was a long tube. We all get in the box and someone screams, “Clear!” and you turn around and all of a sudden the walls come up, and you’re in this, like, coffin — this giant coffin —and then you start bouncing. They’re rolling us out to the middle of the field — Janet Jackson, hair, makeup, me, and a crew member with a walkie-talkie bouncing across the field like the old West days. Like we’re in a covered wagon.
Then the box stops, and they scream, “Clear!” They scream it again, and me and Janet and the makeup artist all hugged each other around the elevator because all these contraptions start to attach to the box. They build the stage on you, which is so amazing. That whole stage you saw got rolled out within the three minutes or four minutes, and was built right there live in the middle of halftime. Janet gets her last touch-ups, and the guy goes, “OK, we have a countdown.” I said, “I love you, Janet.” She said, “I love you, Lukas,” and she looked at me, and I looked at her, and it was my job to then push the button. She was in her first outfit. A white jacket with a white skirt. I pushed the button and she shot up and the audience went crazy.
She performed and we were downstairs. Then we heard, “Janet’s coming — five, four, three, two, one.” Janet came back down in the elevator and I had to take everything she had on off and then I had to snap it and Velcro it all back onto her. Did we not put it on tight enough? Did the snap or a Velcro not stick? Who knows? But she had what’s called a quick change and it happens all the time and nobody seems to recognize it happened in between. To say planned or unplanned, everybody can make their decisions and say what they think it could have been, but so much went on in the moments that no one will ever really understand. We’re underneath the stage, and Janet’s changed into the new outfit and it was so much faster than we thought. Then they said “Clear,” and I pushed the button, and Janet shot up, and then she did the second half of the performance. The second half had a 500- to 600-piece marching band, balloons, “Rhythm Nation,” a million dancers. All the dancers were hanging from 20-foot poles on the side of the stage. She did her thing, and we’re downstairs, and I can’t see anything, and all we can hear is the crowd screaming. The place, it vibrated so much it was like being in an earthquake. It was so amazing.
Then Justin, I heard him go up. I didn’t see him. I don’t know where he came from. I heard him go up and that’s all we knew. Then the show was over and I was waiting for Janet to come down, because I had to change her and wrap my arms around her so that we can get safely to the backstage — and she never came down. They kept saying, “Clear.” I had a walkie-talkie, and I said, “Janet is not with me,” and they said, “Clear,” and I said, “I am not clearing until the celebrity comes back down.” They say, “We’ve got it — clear.” So me and the hair and makeup people just looked at each other and all of a sudden the walls went up like a drawbridge, the box closed, the stage disappeared, and we were bouncing across the field again without Janet. To this day I don’t know where she went.
But I saw her later to undress her, and it was fine — “Oh, it was amazing, the crowd was amazing” — and then I was taken out of that van, put in another van and I was sent to the airport for my next shoot. I didn’t know until 4:30am the next morning what happened. They said, “Janet Jackson’s team is being arrested. They’re searching for Janet Jackson’s team for FCC violations,” and I started to cry. Every single channel was talking about the war, every channel all night, and then Justin goes, “It was a just a little wardrobe malfunction,” and I tell you if my head could spin around like Linda Blair’s toward the TV! I go, “What did he just say? Did he just throw me under the bus? Wait a second!” Then he goes, “We all want to give you something to talk about. Ha, ha, ha.” Like everything was funny. It ruined a lot of careers that moment, and it hurt a lot of us.
I left town right after the Super Bowl on the plane, and on the plane was Jessica Simpson’s makeup artist, and she’s like, “Oh, my God, Wayne, you’ve got to meet Jessica, she’s going to love you, you’ve got to style her, you’re going to love her.” Jessica was still very popular then, and she goes, “Jessica, this is Wayne Scot Lukas. He’s Janet Jackson’s stylist.” I go, “Hi, Jessica,” and I put my hand out. She looks me up and down, gives me a dirty look and then goes and sits behind me. This is going to all be in my book about this; I’m going to do it probably next year. Then Joe Simpson comes on and she goes, “Joe, you’ve got to meet Wayne Lukas, he dresses Janet,” and Joe’s like, “Oh, hey.” Little did I know I was being vilified. I was being treated like a pariah for whatever just happened that they saw. When I saw the “wardrobe malfunction,” I saw it on TiVo and on YouTube, and on the news. I saw it on the news just like everybody else in America.
So I called New York and I can’t get anybody on the phone because it’s 4:30am here, and I get a message on my home machine from my mother. My mother said, “I’m so ashamed and so embarrassed that I told all my friends to watch that, what you guys did,” and I went, “What we did?” It’s my mother! My mother was getting the same information from the news until I could call her. What happens is, it became the satanic ritual of that day. Everybody thought that the world had crashed because this girl’s top opened up for a millisecond and no one saw. The only way people saw it was they watched it over and over and over on every national news channel, so shame on you to every national news channel, whether they blurred the nipple or not, that posted that moment.
If it was so bad, the FCC would have said, “Do not show this over and over and over.” Think about that.
CGM: So what were the discussions like with Janet and her team afterward?
WSL: Me and Janet and her whole team didn’t have any drama about it until two days later on a Tuesday. We were shooting Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, and Janet for the cover of Essence in one room, and she was having to shoot this apology in the other room. She didn’t want to, because what are we apologizing for? Great, amazing performance about the war and 500 dancers and costume changes and exhaustion and money spent. What are we apologizing for? But then when you read what Michael Powell says, he set it up. When you read that, and that’s the thing — that possibly even if you put it out there, no press picked this up and ran with it. It was on the news maybe for one day.
CGM: Until this documentary, did you yourself have any idea that that moment is what launched the idea for YouTube?
WSL: You know the funny thing is nobody actually saw it. Nobody in the whole world saw it live. It was the TV channels, and the people on the news that said, “Did you see that?” That’s when people started TiVoing and [searching the Internet] and making this huge event happen from nothing. They had 35,000 new subscribers on TiVo — and that was when you had to buy TiVo, you had to buy the box — just to see this wardrobe malfunction, they called it. We were all devastated and shocked at the same time.
The ruckus was created by the people, by the hosts of the show, and by the newscasts immediately going, “What did we just see?” They caused the drama, which caused all of America to follow the drama. It wasn’t always like that. People didn’t follow so simply. They didn’t believe so simply. You know Michael Powell, the head of the FCC then, he had an article that came out 10 years later and said he overreacted, and he lied, and it wasn’t as big a deal as he said it was. Because he needed to further his career. He admitted it. Colin Powell’s son admitted that he made it a bigger deal than it was, and that never got any press. Which breaks my heart. He said that it was out of his hands. Having to do his job, or having to act more outraged than he really was. “I think we’ve been removed from this long enough for me to tell you the truth. That I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on.” Can you believe that?
The truth of the matter is — and I don’t want to be cruel to anyone — but Justin got away with kind of being the sweet boy and apologizing and all that kind of bullshit. I would put more pressure on Michael Powell and Justin than I would ever have put on Janet, and I was there. That’s how I feel. I was there, and I also did Justin’s world tour and I was friendly with Justin, but he kind of threw her under the bus, and then they banned Janet, if you remember, from the Grammy Awards that year.
CGM: On The 2000s, then MTV executive producer Salli Frattini, who oversaw the halftime show, said that there was no rehearsal from start to finish. Since you had so much to orchestrate, did you guys actually rehearse your own?
WSL: The truth of the matter is there was a rehearsal. They did a lot of rehearsals in a big airplane hangar out in L.A. to rehearse the dancing. Then when you do a Super Bowl — and no one knows this — when you do a Super Bowl, you have to do the whole performance once as a run-through. I was furious. I’m like, “I’m not dressing her twice. I’m not doing this; it’s too many outfits.” But you have to do the whole halftime show completely on tape so that if the satellite goes down during the Super Bowl, they have a tape, and they can run the tape. The Super Bowl may not tell the truth, and MTV may not tell the truth, but for that producer to say in the moment that there’s no rehearsal, that’s just not true.
CGM: So tell me about the impact on your career.
WSL: I was the host of What Not to Wear for a season, and I was a huge part of the production of that show. And I was ready to take my career to another level back then. I was going to become the host on the red carpet for Access Hollywood for the Grammy Awards. Remember, the Grammy Awards were, what, a week later? Suddenly I was on lockdown in Shutters Hotel out in Santa Monica. We couldn’t talk to anybody; we couldn’t discuss this with the press. What I will say is that we lost work.
So Access Hollywood called and said, “Will you talk about the Super Bowl?” and I said, “Well I can’t.” They said, “Well we need you to talk about the Super Bowl, or we’re going to fire you from the Grammy Awards.” No one knows this story. I had a host job on Saturday night at the Grammy Awards, and they called my attorney and said, “Well, he has to talk about it,” and I said I wouldn’t out of respect for Janet, my client. No matter what the wardrobe malfunction was, it was not for me to discuss, because this was her career, this was her business and this was the Super Bowl.
But everybody was looking to hang someone, which made no sense to me. I said no, and I got canceled. My career was going to go to the next level of being a red carpet host like Joan Rivers and Melissa, and it ruined that whole next four years of being a host on TV because of Michael Powell and the FCC. It all started to fall apart.
Because I was on What Not to Wear, a fan called me and said, “Oh my God you looked so great on TV last night.” I said, “Great on TV? I wasn’t on TV.” She goes “Yeah, you were defending Janet Jackson for the Super Bowl.” I go, “I was not on TV.” She goes, “Oh, and your short hair looks great!” Now I had waist-length hair at that point. Access Hollywood went behind my back — are you ready for this? — and they took an interview from 1996 at Barneys New York when I talk about how to buy the best bras, and they interspersed it with clips from the Super Bowl and said, “Wayne Scot Lukas comes to Janet Jackson’s defense.” They aired a false interview.
CGM: Didn’t you want to do something about that?
WSL: Because of Janet, they were asking us to lay low. I told my lawyers, “They said just keep your mouth shut. Just don’t fight anything.” I look back now, and I think of that. I’m from that old school where you take care of your celebrities. The hardest thing about taking care of your celebrities is you always don’t take care of yourself. Do you know what I mean? You keep their private stuff private, but at the end of the day you’re looking at your own life going, “Wait a second, what happened here?” Everybody was saying, “Say nothing.”
I’ll tell you the truth — I don’t think that it was handled correctly even from a Janet standpoint. I think that she deserved not to be the only one that apologized, not to do all that stuff for America. They just wanted to vilify someone, and make someone feel like it was their fault, and somebody wanted an apology, and the truth of the matter is the only reason why people apologized is because people at MTV, like this producer who’s talking about it, could have lost their job over it. That wasn’t our responsibility either. When it comes down to it, America set up a situation where they attacked, but they didn’t know what to do for the fallout.
Everybody passed — that whole situation was pass-the-buck — and if you want to know one thing, the only person in this whole situation, and this is a very important speaking point, who did not pass the buck on anybody else was Janet. Janet Jackson sat there and said to America, “If I’ve done something that upsets you, I’m very, very sorry.” She took complete responsibility for a moment that was not her complete responsibility.
CGM: Are you happy to have it presented in this perspective in The 2000s, that it is part and parcel of this voyeuristic/narcissistic era into which we’ve entered, cellphones in hand?
WSL: Yeah. That’s your perfect angle for this. We all are voyeuristic, hoping to catch people in bad moments and bring them down. Kim Kardashian, who I love, did that sex video. Whether she put that video up or not, the majority of the people who judged her for it watched it. We like to see people’s humanness and despair as a country, and what I always feel is that Janet is really about spreading people’s hope and kindness for a better future. I’m not working with her this tour — we’re just friends now — but she’s always wanting to say, “How are the kids going to react? How are we going to do this for the kids?” You hit a point where you want to just make good music. At what point do you have to keep being sexier and sexier and sexier?
See Wayne Scot Lukas on The 2000s: A New Reality: Boom and Bust Monday, July 13 at 9/8CT on National Geographic Channel.