Super Bowl LII Halftime Show
People wanted a lot of things out of Justin Timberlake’s third appearance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. They wanted Timberlake to reunite with NSYNC, a la his first appearance on the Super Bowl stage in 2001 where the boy band performed alongside Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige. Some people wanted some sort of appearance from Janet Jackson, or #JusticeForJanet, after her infamous “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004 where Timberlake accidentally ripped off a piece of her costume during their duet of his song “Rock Your Body." Since his album Man of the Woods dropped a few days before the performance, I was completely expecting him to perform at least two songs from the album besides “Filthy” as some sort of shameless (but later frowned upon) self-promotion. Instead, it seemed that what most people got during Timberlake’s Super Bowl Halftime Show was disappointment.
In short, the former NSYNC member’s performance was merely average. What Timberlake brought to the U.S. Bank Stadium was great and entertaining, but frankly didn’t feel new from the pop icon. For the most part, I felt like I was watching a Timberlake concert in Minneapolis, especially during the first half. While I have never been to one of his concerts (and am not sure if I plan to, since tickets start at $95), Timberlake’s smooth transitions between each of his familiar hits almost felt too perfect during the first half of his performance. After opening with “Filthy,” the divisive lead single off of Man of the Woods, Timberlake performed three of his hits “Rock Your Body,” “Senorita,” and “SexyBack” in such a fluid and effortless way that almost felt too rehearsed. The same applied for his next three songs, “My Love,” “Cry Me A River,” and “Suit & Tie,” thus only supporting the feeling in my gut that maybe I was watching some polished yet monotonously entertaining robot on screen. However, some of these statements can still be interpreted as compliments; the first half of Timberlake’s Super Bowl Halftime Show only served to solidify his overwhelming talent and to remind people of his relevance in the mainstream realm of pop music. At the start, Timberlake was effortlessly suave and entertaining.
The second half of Timberlake’s performance was when things became a little more interesting, in a variety of senses. After performing “Until the End of Time,” a seemingly forgotten ballad from his many singles, Timberlake transitioned into a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” making the Minneapolis crowd go crazy with excitement. However, Timberlake’s performance alongside a video projection of the Minneapolis-born icon was met with division and controversy over the fact that the video projection was almost a hologram of the late artist, who died April 21, 2016. Additionally, Timberlake’s whole tribute faced controversy, with reasons varying from how Prince never wanted anyone to “do a hologram of me” to how Timberlake and Prince’s feud from the previous decade caused disapproval among fans of Prince. While the segment felt a little dated giving that he died over a year ago, and felt a little bit extra after Timberlake decided to light not only the whole stadium but the entirety of Minneapolis in purple, I did see how Timberlake wanted to respect Prince and his legacy on music through his cover. For the most part, it seems that this controversy will fall along quieter but similar lines of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where the truth behind the performance seemed to be shrouded in mystery.
It is notable that in their more recent halftime shows, the Super Bowl features artists that had big breaks or comebacks five years ago in an effort to make their show “safe” (to avoid any further wardrobe malfunctions) and to cater to the larger crowd. To supplement that fact, it was only after I marinated on my previous robotic gut feeling for a few days that I looked back and found out that the choreography for some of his musical numbers, most notably “SexyBack,” was almost the exact same as his choreography for his 2013 performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, which was generally more entertaining and fulfilling. It is probably this detail and his lyric “No disrespect, I don’t mean no harm” from “Rock Your Body” that best sums up his Super Bowl performance: that for the most part, Timberlake wanted to not stir a larger pot so he wanted to emphasize his previous works and his huge talent. Unfortunately, he ended up doing so anyway.
If you liked Man of the Woods and you’re looking for Timberlake’s return to the realm of pop music in an overtly grandeur fashion, Timberlake’s Super Bowl LII Halftime Show will satisfy your needs. But if you want to watch a better version of the show that’s free of controversy and division, and you just really wanted that second NSYNC reunion, then watch his VMAs performance.