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

  • Terry Wakefield Exits Sony/ATV to Head

    Terry Wakefield Exits Sony/ATV to Head Up A&R at UMPG Nashville

    After a decades-long tenure at Sony/ATV Nashville, Terry Wakefield has followed another alumnus, Troy Tomlinson, across town to take a top position at Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville. Wakefield is senior VP of A&R at UMPG after having been senior VP of creative in his previous post. Personal loyalty to Tomlinson, UMPG Nashville’s recently named chairman/CEO, [...]

  • Sally Williams at PBS Country Music

    Sally Williams to Leave Longtime Opry Home for Top Post at Live Nation in Nashville

    Nashville executive Sally Williams is leaving Opry Entertainment, where she rose to the top over a two-decade tenure there, to join Live Nation’s regional office as the president of Nashville music and business strategy, the company announced Monday. Live Nation said Williams will not only lead programming and marketing for their concerts in the area, [...]

  • 'Welcome to New York The Empire

    Woodstock 50's Permit Denial Heap Keeps Growing

    In what’s become a broken record for music journalists everywhere, Woodstock 50 was once again denied a permit to hold its event, slated for Aug. 16 to 18, as a daytime festival at Vernon Downs in upstate New York. Previous attempts to convince the town of Vernon, on June 18 and July 3, were rejected [...]

  • London's CODA Agency Formally Becomes a

    Paradigm Agency Formally Absorbs London's CODA Into the Fold

    After five years of working together, London’s CODA Agency has formally become a part of Paradigm and will continue under its U.S. partner’s banner. The London office of what is now a fully integrated Paradigm will continue to be led by Alex Hardee, Tom Schroeder, James Whitting and Dave Hallybone. In a statement otherwise laden [...]

  • Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey Signs With CAA

    Mariah Carey has returned to CAA for representation worldwide after moving to UTA in 2015. Throughout her 30-year career, the five-time Grammy winner has released some of the best-selling albums of all time, including “Music Box,” which racked up more than 28 million in sales, and “Daydream,” which sold 20 million copies. Her other albums, [...]

  • Art Neville of The Meters performs

    Art Neville of the Meters and the Neville Brothers Dies at 81

    Art Neville, one of the key figures of New Orleans music as a member of the Meters and later the Neville Brothers, died Monday. He was 81. Neville’s manager, Kent Sorrell, confirmed the death. “It was peaceful,” Sorrell told Nola.com. “He passed away at home with his adoring wife Lorraine by his side. He toured [...]

  • Roddy Rich

    Roddy Ricch Signs Wide-Ranging Deal With Kobalt

    Kobalt has signed Roddy Ricch to a wide-ranging exclusive worldwide deal in which the company will have full administration of the rapper, singer, songwriter and producer’s catalog, as well as publishing, creative services and synch for his future works. Ricch is a relative newcomer, first emerging onto the music scene in 2017 with the release [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content