Justin Timberlake delivered a family-friendly, hit-filled, upbeat Super Bowl halftime show Sunday night that was nonstop entertainment.
However, aside from the much-anticipated Prince tribute — which was not a controversial hologram, but simple video on a giant screen — there wasn’t much that was memorable in his show at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. It was 13 minutes jam-packed with well-choreographed nice, empty calories that went down super easy.
In a time when awards shows and high-profile events are focused on creating “moments,” Timberlake’s set didn’t really have any. There were no special guests, not even his former boy band NSYNC, no dangerous stunts, no statements — political or otherwise. And maybe it was just what the NFL, besieged by the Colin Kaepernick-inspired #TakeAKnee protests and worries about concussions, needed: a low-impact, high-energy crowd-pleaser.
Aside from opening with a bit of his current single “Filthy,” Timberlake didn’t touch much of his new “Man of the Woods” album, which has drawn mixed reviews since its release Friday. Instead, his set was focused on hits, like the slick “Suit and Tie” accompanied by a marching band and the dramatic “Mirrors,” where all the dancers held, well, mirrors. And seemingly everyone got into the act to sing along with “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
Timberlake’s return to the Super Bowl halftime show was the polar opposite of the infamous 2004 “wardrobe malfunction,” when he mistakenly ripped off too much of Janet Jackson’s costume and left her breast momentarily exposed. (He reprised “Rock Your Body” Sunday night, though he stopped the song before the line “Bet I have you naked by the end of this song.”) While that MTV-produced show was all about edginess, this one was as edge-free as they come.
Maybe all the sunniness was planned to balance all the storm clouds that were gathering even before he took the stage. To protest his invitation to return before Jackson received one, fans had #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay trending on Twitter long before the show. Then, there were the reports that Timberlake planned to use a Prince hologram, which outraged many fans, since the late Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had expressed his dislike for the technology, telling Guitar World once that it was “demonic,” and wasn’t really all that fond of Timberlake.
However, Timberlake has been very open about his appreciation for the Minneapolis native and he seemed to have his heart in the right place as he took to the piano to deliver a slowed-down version of the Prince classic “I Would Die 4 U” in his hometown.
In a season that has been exceedingly rocky for the NFL, the rest of the Super Bowl experience also went smoothly. Queens native Leslie Odom Jr., best known for his role in “Hamilton,” performed “America the Beautiful,” while P!nk delivered a soaring version of the national anthem, even as she battled a case of the flu. Valley Stream’s Shaggy joined Sting during the pregame festivities to deliver their new single “Don’t Make Me Wait.”