“I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily feuding, but there’s definitely some shady, backhanded comments being thrown back and forth, though never directly,” said Joshua Pingley, a Spears fan who runs an entertainment news TikTok account with more than 500,000 followers. He traced the spat back to the publication of Spears’s memoir last year.
In that book, “The Woman in Me,” Spears wrote she had an abortion because Timberlake didn’t want to be a father, and claimed that he broke up with her through text message in 2002. “Everyone felt very sorry for him. And it shamed me,” she wrote. “Anywhere I went, I could get booed. I would go to clubs and I would hear boos.”
That was more than enough to get Spears fans riled up about Timberlake, whose reputation had already taken a few knocks in recent years. A 2021 New York Times documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” made a case that Timberlake weaponized his music against Spears and openly discussed his sexual relationship with her after their breakup. Timberlake apologized to Spears after the film released, but not everyone was satisfied.
So when Timberlake recently released his first single in five years, “Selfish,” about desired love, Spears fans were primed to hit back.
As the track began to chart, Spears fans started to promote a 2011 Spears song, also titled “Selfish.” The song rocketed up the charts, at one point topping not only Timberlake’s song on the U.S. iTunes charts but also Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hiss,” and Ben Shapiro and Tom MacDonald’s “Facts,” according to Billboard.
The internet hivemind seemed to be dragging the ex-couple back into the fray. Spears responded to the attention in a relatively gracious Instagram post.
“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 wrote.
“I also wanted to say I am in love with Justin Timberlake’s new song ‘Selfish,’” she wrote on Instagram before making her account private. “It is soo good.”
It’s unclear if the apology was meant for Timberlake, or if he accepted, but Wednesday night he memorably blurted out during a performance in New York: “’I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to absolutely [expletive] nobody,’” as seen on video footage of the concert.
Though he didn’t mention Spears by name, people on social media were quick to point out that Timberlake made the non-apology right before performing his hit song “Cry Me a River” — a song that was inspired by his breakup with Spears.
Spears appeared to retaliate Thursday, posting an Instagram photo of a basketball hoop and a caption that read, “Someone told me someone was talking [expletive] 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 !!!.”
The basketball hoop has ties to Spears-Timberlake lore. In December, Spears wrote on Instagram that Timberlake used to cry when she beat him at basketball. As evidence, perhaps, she posted a series of photos of the couple shooting hoops together, as they were reported to have done for a Challenge for the Children basketball charity event in Las Vegas back in 2001. Happier times.