The Super Bowl halftime show is always one of the most carefully-watched live musical performances of the year, and no matter how talented the star in the spotlight may be, it can be incredibly difficult (near-impossible, even) to live up to the highest of expectations and the past performances of some of the greatest artists who have ever lived. Justin Timberlake took up that difficult task this year, and while much of his showing was...fine, it’s the moment he wanted to be the sweetest that ended up leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouths.
From the outset, Timberlake was in a somewhat odd position. He had to tribute the late, great Prince in some way, but how? Had he ignored the man while playing the biggest stage in the world (located this year in his hometown) and after hosting an album listening session at his hallowed home just days prior, he surely would have been skewered, but that doesn’t mean that he had to take things as far as he did.
Timberlake clearly wanted to do something big and obvious, but in going that route, he disappointed millions who had tuned in and tainted the rest of his perfectly adequate live showing in the process.
The majority of the tribute section of JT’s headlining gig last night was respectful and even exciting to watch, and the special effects were unparalleled in Super Bowl history. Justin’s rendition of “I Would Die 4 U” was perfectly nice, and when all the buildings surrounding the stadium were bathed in purple lights, it was truly a spectacular sight...even if it wasn’t actually real.
Where things immediately fell apart was when the pop star sang along with the deceased musician via a towering projection of Prince that appeared behind him. It was the duet nobody asked for but Timberlake, and it looks like he was the only one happy about it. Between Prince’s reported feelings about how the likenesses of famous musicians are used after they’ve passed away to his probable distaste for the “Filthy” singer himself, everything about this moment felt wrong, though sadly, it wasn’t too far away from being almost acceptable.
Had Justin simply played the piano while Prince sang, or perhaps if just an image of the rocker was projected while Timberlake crooned one of the musician’s best, things wouldn’t have been quite as bad as they were. Maybe after he finished, the city could have turned purple as a silent tribute, letting the imagery speak for itself.
There were many ways Justin could have tipped his hat (which has changed from a fedora to a Von Dutch trucker cap in his Man of the Woods era) to the musician who left us too soon, but alas, that’s just how Justin does. He turned something that only needed to be a moment of celebration of a life and of reverence into something about him and shoehorned his way into something in a way that was not well-received.
The rest of Timberlake’s time on the field wasn’t great enough to overshadow this Prince-ly misstep, and the next day, everybody is left talking about how last night’s event was a true let down. Was it as bad as it could have been? No, a real hologram surely would have been much, much worse, but it was no touchdown.
After rewatching Justin's Super Bowl halftime performance above (or maybe you're just catching it for the first time), listen to him speak to Fuse about top-notch musicianship below.