Headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show is always a tall order; the performance can easily become overwhelming, but this year’s performer, Justin Timberlake, looked like he was having the time of his life, at least.
Beginning with his latest single, “Filthy,” in the underground portion of the walkway, Timberlake sauntered through a primarily heavy-feeling uptempo section. I couldn’t tell if his mic was low or he just wasn’t singing loudly. This was the first live performance of the Man of the Woods lead single and honestly, it fell flat. The greatest achievement of “Filthy” is the intricate and nuanced production, none of that translated live. Timberlake then lumbered through “Rock Your Body” and “Señorita,” both cuts from his debut album. I do appreciate the attention brought to the live remixes of his older tracks, they were pretty great. The “Sexy Back” and “My Love” dance sections were particularly glorious. Timberlake had killer fluidity and the choreography was fresh and interesting. That being said, the moment felt really flat. “Sexy Back” is one of Timberlake’s career-defining songs, it should have been a *moment.* This was the problem with the entire performance, it lacked the bombast and excitement that has come to define Halftime performances.
Timberlake continued the dancing trend with a more traditional dance break during a new mix of “Cry Me A River.” This was the closest thing to a *moment,* it was the first part of the show that felt genuinely interesting. He then segued into a more recent hit, “Suit and Tie,” which was just fine and not particularly amazing. Then came probably the worst decision of his 2010s-era career yet.
First, Justin performed a prolonged snippet of his 2006 Beyoncé duet, “Until the End of Time.” For people who still remember this song, we know Bey was the highlight on the track. This song only made me wish Beyoncé was performing instead of JT. As if that wasn’t bad enough, JT then mashed-up “Time” with the classic Prince anthem, “I Would Die 4 U,” featuring, wait for it, a Prince hologram substitute/videocast thing.
I’ll admit it: I wanted to change the channel right then and there. Prince’s close friend and bandmate, Sheila E, got on Twitter before Halftime and said that Justin told her there would be no hologram. Nevertheless, the video looked cheap and tacky, it should have never happened. If JT wanted to pay tribute to Prince, the Super Bowl was in his hometown, after all, he could have sung the song himself and said a quick tribute. Mere rumors of the hologram drew ire from all sides, it was a bad idea from every angle. This entire section was not a smart move, there were many other ways to pay tribute to Prince and this was clearly not the best way. After this awful moment, Timberlake performed a particularly weak version of “Mirrors” and ended with a surprisingly flat version of “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!”
Overall, Timberlake’s performance was the worst Halftime of the decade. Everything felt flat. He looked like he was having a great time, but it still felt empty. The live mixes were great, and the set production, lights, and use of all parts of the stadium were incredible. Vocally, the show was severely disappointing and the backing track was entirely too loud. Timberlake has an incredible repertoire of huge, fun hits, yet they all felt completely characterless on the Super Bowl stage. The show was simply an inaccurate representation of Justin’s illustrious career and what he is capable of as a performer. The performance was the worst of the decade not because it was bad, but because it pales in comparison to the ones that came before it. To keep it short, it was kind of boring. Here’s to next year!