It’s that time of year again where people who normally do not care about sports pretend to care about sports: The Super Bowl! That means a large group of people tuned in to watch a fantastic game of football that they may or may not have cared about. (Go Birds!) But the NFL is not dumb, i5 knows it has to entice those nerds somehow, so it tosses in the halftime show to satiate them. That’s not meant to be offensive; I am one of those nerds and I was pretty interested to see what Justin Timberlake brought to this year’s show. Especially given that the last time Timberlake saw a Super Bowl stage he essentially ended Janet Jackson’s career in 2004.
Timberlake’s big performance comes hot off the heels of the release of his most recent album “Man of the Woods,” which has thus far been critically panned as a bland and somewhat incoherent mess. While that was disappointing, I still had hope that JT could put on a great show but in the end, it was closer in caliber to “Man of the Woods” than “FutureSex/LoveSounds” or “The 20/20 Experience.”
The show started off hot with the powerful stadium rock opening to “Filthy,” a single off Timberlake’s newest album. Over the course of this song, the artist made his way from backstage and out onto the main stage in the arena. The song honestly did a solid job of opening up the show and creating a high energy in the performance and in the audience, regardless of the debatable quality of the song itself.
From there Timberlake transitioned into some of his classic hits like “Rock Your Body,” “Senorita,” and “SexyBack.” This gave Timberlake the chance to show off his vocal range while busting out some of the stylish dance moves that he is known so well for. However, once the nostalgia faded the performance began to feel somewhat hollow and low energy, like Timberlake himself did not even want to be participating. When you’re watching an artist perform who seems like they do not even want to be performing, then why would the audience want to be watching? It almost felt like the show was turning into Timberlake pleading with the audience for relevancy that he no longer really has as a “ground-breaking” artist.
There was a glimpse of light for the liveliness of the show when Timberlake took to a circular stage, featuring a mic that pivoted to a litany of angles, and began “Suit and Tie” accompanied by a brass marching band. But that optimism was quickly dashed as Timberlake dawned his full “suit and tie” apparel in what can only be described as “environmental.”
Wearing a shiny camouflage suit accompanied by a shirt that looked something straight out of the works of Bob Ross featuring a bright blue sky and a green and brown forest with some “happy little trees.” The outfit was as jarring as Timberlake’s attempts to blend the same two themes of his previous albums, the suit, and his new folksy style, the egregious pattern, that clash in his newest album. Though it was an outlandish outfit, it wasn’t awful and it gave him some stage presence he was failing to bring to the performance himself.
Timberlake continued down a few more of his hits while busting out some sweet moves when the show suddenly came to a halt as he paid tribute to Prince in a performance of “I Would Die 4 U” which not only felt like it was in poor taste but also that just did not fit with Timberlake’s style or the energy of the rest of the show. For the show having been in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, I could not help but feel like something, even anything, could have been done to improve this tribute and make it feel more sincere or at least fit better within the context of the performance.
Timberlake then closed the show out with his two hits “Mirror” and last year’s single “Can’t Stop the Feeling” during which a rather unfortunate young audience member experienced a moment of teenage awkwardness that we are all too familiar with and instantly became a meme. His fate was sealed, but I cannot help but feel somewhat bad for him. It seemed like Justin tried to take a picture with him but it somehow did not work so the kid went into a panic mode. He then tried to get another picture, which Timberlake did take the time to graciously take with him, which I thought was nice of him.
However, when the show came to a close and the songs had been sung and the dances had been danced and the guest performers had been nowhere to be found, I found the show to be completely unmemorable. I think it’s time for Timberlake to hang his hat high while he still can and resign himself to a life of being the cool dad who playfully embarasses his kids by pretending to be cool.