Newly single Miley Cyrus, universal arbiter of all that is profound and romantic about the human condition, recently tweeted these photos of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. The caption: “I want a boyfriend that will wear jean on jean on jean with me.” Is she crazy? Unrelated. Is she on to something? Undoubtedly.
I’m sure you recognize these outfits, because if you’ve seen them once, your damaged retinas bear their impression forever. Jitney — then very much in love — busted out matching ensembles for the 2001 American Music Awards. It isn’t an optical illusion: they’re wearing denim layered with denim on top of more denim accessorized with denim. Britney is probably wearing a denim thong. The layer of skin immediately below Justin’s epidermis was surgically replaced with denim. The full annual cotton crop of a small country went into the making of these next-level Canadian tuxedos.
In 2011, Justin told Playboy that he’d like to wipe these photos from the Internet. As Beyoncé knows all too well, that is never going to happen. Nor should it — the denim incident is a matter of historical record. Together from 1999 to 2002, Britney and Justin were our Jack and Jackie, and this the greatest celebrity couple photo opp of a generation. They look awful (like, so awful), but they look awful together.
If any anthropologists should come across this post in the distant future, please note that, while the early 2000s were difficult for us all, this was by no means an acceptable standard of clothing for the time. Planning these outfits must have required an impressive degree of coordination (where do you even find a denim cowboy hat?) on the part of Bustin’s publicists, stylists, and/or evil overlords, whose idea this stunt surely was in the first place. But that’s not the point.
In the impeccable form in which they’re typically presented to the public, celebrity couples — with the exception of the Kardashian-Wests, Kardashian-Disicks, Kardashian-Odoms, Hutchison-Stoddens (RIP 2011-2013) and their reality-show ilk — are shielded by a tremendous force field of industrial-strength grooming and PR designed to keep them as pristine as possible, their inner turmoil and imperfections unseen. Here, A-list though they were, Britney and Justin are the opposite of pristine and impeccable. They look goofy and dumb, which makes them vulnerable, which makes them charming.
Who needs another photo of Brad and Angelina looking impossibly gorgeous in impossibly expensive formalwear? It means nothing, not to them, and certainly not to us. Jitney’s denim is almost an act of defiance — their mutual hideousness sets them apart from the crowd, and in doing so, brings them closer together. These photos are a perfect reminder of how love can cloud your judgment into doing weird stuff for the benefit of person you care about, as well as how having that person at your side can embolden you into doing all manner of weird stuff you wouldn’t otherwise consider. Love is finding someone to be weird with you. Jean on jean on jean.
Today, Justin keeps busy with international superstardom and his side project of literally driving Jessica Biel insane. Britney has a two-year residency in Vegas to look forward to. But once, they were in love. And it was ugly. And that was beautiful.