You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Halftime Review: Justin Timberlake Emerges Fumble-Free After Bad Pre-Game PR

The performance wasn't one for the ages, but was impressive as a show of athleticism interrupting the athleticism.

It wasn’t a Super Bowl halftime show to die 4. But Justin Timberlake’s only minimally Prince-augmented performance proved to be the fumble-free affair he needed this weekend. Yes, he wore a weird shirt emblazoned with lovingly photographed elk, proving that, no, he hasn’t been reading the comments about his much-snickered-about “Man of the Woods” album rollout. But he made everyone forget about hooves with 12 minutes of the superior hoofing that first made him America’s song-and-dance sweetheart.

It ended better than it started. Timberlake spent the first couple of valuable minutes under the stage, in a recreation of a sleazy nightclub where you can’t see the artist and everyone is holding cell phones over their heads — a vision of hell, for some of us. But he brought himself out of that “Filthy” milieu and out into the stadium open, where he was joined by what seemed like hundreds of dancers on what seemed like thousands of stages. Haters will continue to say it’s fake — as he correctly prophesied — but at least he made a fast-moving target for ‘em, moving from platform to platform on the vast field faster than Corey Clement making a 55-yard run.

He sang “Rock Your Body” — not afraid to revive the song that served as soundtrack for history’s most famous nip slip in 2004 — and then said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you…” If this had led to a cameo by Janet Jackson, the roar would have been heard back in the team’s respective hometowns, but of course we’d already been advised this was not to be, nor any other guest appearance, and so we were primed for the letdown of… “the Tennessee Kids!” Bringing out a 10-plus-piece band would have had more impact if every kid and grandma in the audience weren’t aware at this point in history that all the instrumentation at the Super Bowl is canned.

Also absent, for obvious reasons: a Prince hologram, which TMZ reported and turned out to be semi-fake news, as the site subsequently updated its story with a correction that it would be video of Prince projected onto a wind-swept screen. Somehow, in the delineation of the fine line between what we consider grave-robbing and what we consider tribute, most of us determined that a flat projection was fine, whereas a 3D Prince would have been grounds for canceling Timberlake’s career. Whatever. It was sweet, even if there might have been a better pick than “I Would Die 4 U,” and even if Wendy and Lisa were the guest stars he should have called in if he wasn’t going to call Janet. The unisex Prince symbol that lit up the snowy blocks surround the stadium tied a glyph-y ribbon on this perfectly acceptable homage.

Timberlake crooned of “disasters in the world” and “so much darkness in the world,” but this was not going to be the place for social commentary, obviously. This would be the place for feelings that can’t be stopped — specifically, boogie-down feelings — and the performance finally came into its own when JT stepped away from that white piano and joined the cast of thousands on the field. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” was the can’t-fail capper to his medley, an inevitable show-closer so irresistible that maybe even Bill Belichick felt less tense for a minute. Well, scratch that. But the ghosts of Up With People had to have been proud.

The amusing anticlimax to this came when Timberlake ran into the stands and… took time out to try to teach a kid how to take a selfie. Maybe the performance would have been better bookended without cell phones. But if nothing about the optics of this performance adds up to this going on a “Five Most Memorable Halftimes” list, Timberlake turned in a more enjoyably physical performance than just about anybody else who’s done the Bowl show… and if it was more a feat of athleticism than aestheticism, you can’t say that’s entirely inappropriate for the occasion. In a week where he’s had some obvious PR problems with that album launch, it might even have helped bring him out of the woods.

More Music

  • Harry Connick Jr.

    Harry Connick Jr. Swears Off Super Bowl After Saints Defeat

    Tempers flared during today’s NFC championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams at the Super Dome after a controversial non-call on a potential pass interference penalty and head-to-head hit by L.A. defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, who slammed into Saints pass receiver  Tommylee Lewis on a crucial third-down play. The ref’s decision [...]

  • Editorial use only. No merchandising.Mandatory Credit:

    Lady Gaga Slams Government Shutdown, Mike Pence at Vegas Residency

    Lady Gaga took a short break from singing “Million Reasons” at her Saturday performance of “Enigma” in Las Vegas to slam the president for the continued government shutdown. While sitting at the piano for her performance, Gaga broke into a takedown of the government shutdown and Vice President Mike Pence, who has been in the [...]

  • maggie rogers

    Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It in a Past Life'

    Maggie Rogers earned one of those very rare “Saturday Night Live” slots in which a musical guest is booked onto the show well in advance of her major label debut album’s release — two and a half months prior, in this case. And the scrutiny of such an appearance is not always pretty. Rogers’ “SNL” [...]

  • iHeartRadio Alter Ego Review

    Concert Review: Muse, Weezer, the Killers Rock iHeartRadio Alter Ego 2019

    iHeartRadio’s Alter Ego — a multi-band bill that serves to showcase some of the biggest names in alternative rock — is a relatively new creation, but clearly one that’s been embraced by radio listeners in the greater Los Angeles area who filled the Forum on a Saturday night. Twenty-One Pilots, the Revivalists, Rise Against, Bishop [...]


    Dax Shepard, Bobby Bones, 'Breakfast Club' Among iHeartRadio Podcast Awards Winners

    iHeartRadio launched its first ever Podcast Awards on Friday (January 18) in Los Angeles. Among the winners in 22 categories were “Whine Down with Jana Kramer” (Best Entertainment TV Podcast); “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard (Breakout Podcast); “Bobbycast” (Music Podcast); and “The Breakfast Club” (Best Multicultural Podcast). The winners were determined by iHeartRadio listeners. Taking the top prize of Podcast [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content