Superstar runs through gamut of hits during fun, funky halftime performance
Justin Timberlake crammed a lot into his Super Bowl halftime performance, a massively entertaining 13-minute spectacle that saw him run the gamut of his hits while covering as much ground on the field as an extremely active running back.
The 37-year-old star began his performance on a small stage inside Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium, then made his way onto several stages on the field and closed in the stands, embedded among the fans. It was an innovative use of space that re-imagined the possibility of what a halftime performance could look like, and it will likely be a while before we see someone in that role confined to a single stage again.
Timberlake skipped guest cameos, so any prop betters in Vegas gunning for an *NSYNC reunion or a Janet Jackson appearance were left empty-handed. There was an almost-awkward allusion to his infamous “Rock Your Body” performance with Jackson 14 years prior. While performing the song, Timberlake stopped just short of the “gonna have you naked by the end of this song” line, which last time around led to the most notorious incident in Super Bowl halftime entertainment history. “Hold up, stop!” he said in its place, quickly transitioning into “Senorita” and flashing a small, knowing grin across his face.
The biggest surprise of the set was a short tribute to Prince, as images of the late superstar (and favorite son of Minneapolis) were flashed onto a flowing white sheet as the two shared a sort-of duet to the Purple One’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Cameras cut to shots outside the stadium as the blocks around U.S. Bank Stadium were lit up in purple, and Prince’s symbol was superimposed onto the city, kind of like a Batman symbol in reverse.
It was a stirring moment, but it’s questionable if Timberlake was the best person to deliver it. The two shared a brief feud in the late ’00s, and Timberlake’s verse on Timbaland’s “Give It To Me” (sample lyric: “we missed you on the charts last week/ damn, that’s right, you wasn’t there”) was largely said to be aimed at Prince, who had earlier criticized Timberlake’s “SexyBack.”
Those instances aside, Timberlake’s performance was joyous and celebratory, an excellent commercial for Timberlake’s upcoming tour (it hits Little Caesars Arena on April 2, ICYMI). He began with “Filthy,” the first single from his new album “Man of the Woods,” but otherwise stuck to the hits rather than trying to sell his new material. (The new album, which has received mixed reviews, was released Friday.)
After “Filthy,” the disorienting funk of which was wisely presented in a small venue rather than inside the stadium, he made his way out onto the field and ran through a sampling of his hits in chronological order, including tracks from his solo debut “Justified,” its boundary-pushing follow-up “FutureSex/LoveSounds” (“SexyBack” included a Migos-esque makeover) and 2013’s “20/20 Experience.”
Fans on the field bounced like a European festival audience. Whatever those extras were hopped up on, it was worth it, because from a visual standpoint, it raised the energy of the performance by several levels.
Timberlake, a skilled dancer from his *NSYNC years, is still incredibly nimble on his feet, gliding in his custom white cement Tinker Hatfield Air Jordan 3s as if he was on a cloud. At one point, fans were cleared off of the field and Timberlake and his dancers performed on the field’s huge NFL logo, as cool an advertisement for the league as it has had in some time.
During “Suit and Tie,” Timberlake bobbed and weaved around a spring-loaded microphone, treating it like a sparring partner. During “Mirrors,” fans hit the field carrying mirrors above their head, catching the light and making the field glow like a starry night. Timberlake then hit the field and made his way into the stands while performing “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” his 2016 hit from the “Trolls” soundtrack. In a moment that looked too set up, he was seen taking a selfie with a fan, a false moment of spontaneity to close out an otherwise sterling medley.
But why nitpick? Timberlake created such a fun vibe that there was no use trying to stop the feeling.