That wasn’t that bad, Justin Timberlake. But unless you were one of thousands clapping and swaying at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium at Sunday’s Super Bowl Halftime show, history will tell it was an unmitigated disaster.
Social media lit up with fans and critics desperate to out-snark each other on Timberlake’s choices for the annual romp sponsored by Pepsi, this year breaking up the death match between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He looks like a bitcoin millionaire who just bought his way into Westworld,” one user wrote of Timberlake’s confusing wardrobe — a mix of nature prints, camouflage and leather, likely meant to reinforce the vibe of his latest album “Man of the Woods.”
“I think the takeaway here is that we have some truly excellent performers who deliver showmanship and Justin just ain’t one of them,” another Twitter user said of a set that burned through the singer’s catalogue of hits with EDM transitions.
“Also the gall of not bringing any other performers out is bananas,” they added.
Oh, but he did!
For days leading up to this year’s Super Bowl, reports said Timberlake would be performing with a hologram of the late legend Prince, whose hometown was Minneapolis. The singer’s estate quashed the rumors.
But on a massive, free-standing backdrop there he was — Prince, projected for the stadium as a recording and Timberlake sang “I Would Die 4 U.”
“To honor Prince would be to respect his wishes, not to capitalize off of him for your own name. Justin Timberlake is disgusting,” an interested party shared.
Here’s what actually happened: Timberlake performed a smattering of overplayed hits (“Rock Your Body,” “Cry Me a River,” “Suit and Tie,” “SexyBack”) with some barely-known new material (“Filthy,” the first single from his new album).
He danced adequately (though perhaps he’s a little long in the tooth for some of the more abstract routines), his famous falsetto hit the right notes here and there. He pandered obscenely to the massive Super Bowl viewership by closing the set with his most saccharine hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from the film “Trolls.” Judging by his hammy grin, Timberlake loved every minute of it.
He checked all the boxes that one might in a performance of this magnitude, but there’s a fundamental problem Timberlake has been avoiding lately and it manifested on stage tonight — no one knows who he is anymore, and no one really cares.
Timberlake has been promoting “Man of the Woods” in a vacuum with nary an “SNL” hosting gig or magazine cover to trumpet his return. It’s probably for the best.
The Instagram-filtered, stripped-down aesthetics of a teaser for the record — which played like an advertisement for the Ace Hotel Yellowstone Park — did not ring genuine to fans or critics.
The concept was the subject of a beautiful hatchet job by BuzzFeed, which accused Timberlake of retreating into a space of uncomplicated white masculinity and wealth. The Daily Beast slogged it as an “incredibly shallow vanity project” inspired by a few listens to Bon Iver.
He’s been unfazed by the criticism or, at very least, hasn’t addressed it. That’s a fate that may be unavoidable now as immediate sentiment proves he failed on Sunday.
Before the stomach-turning pep of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Timberlake used a large orchestral section and dozens of massive mirror fragments to perform his ballad “Mirrors.”
“If you ever feel alone and the glare makes me hard to find /Just know that I’m always parallel on the other side,” he sang.
Timberlake might need to dust off that mirror and take a closer look.
This year’s halftime show was produced by Ricky Kirshner, who has handled previous efforts by Beyoncé, Madonna Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars.