There was a solid start with "Rock Your Body", one of his early aughts hits that hasn't aged terribly, as well as renditions of "Suit and Tie" and "Can't Stop the Feeling." What followed was a controversial cover of "I Would Die 4 U", with Timberlake's own vocals as a projection of Prince performing the track engulfed the purple lights. The city of Minneapolis died and lived again, drenching everything in the color purple in honor of the late Prince. With the two pop singers having an infamous spat in the news, many fans were angered and felt like Prince would've hated the tribute - his sister Tyka Nelson, however, has told TMZ that she was pleasantly surprised and felt that her brother would've enjoyed it. Her brother wasn't one to hold grudges, she said.
In a post-show interview with Jimmy Fallon, Timberlake gave some insight into his decision to perform a Prince tribute. ""It's a moment for me, if I'm being quite honest, because he's always been the pinnacle of musicianship for me," Timberlake said. "When we decided that the serendipity and synergy that we would be in Minneapolis and that, you know, he's such a special thing here, aside from what he is all over the world, I just felt like I wanted to do something for this city and something for him that would be the ultimate homage to what I consider the GOAT of musicians." He explained how they acquired the footage: "We got the actual vocal stems from 'I Would Die 4 U,' the actual recordings, and then we got uncut footage from his performance of it in Purple Rain, and somehow, some way, by the grace of probably Prince looking down on us, it synced up. It was like this crazy serendipitous moment. I just wanted to use that opportunity to do something special for this city, but most of all, for my favorite musician of all time."
Critics have panned this performance, accusing Timberlake of "phoning it in" with a mediocre catalog. To that, I riddle you this - Timberlake's half time show was never going to be great because his discography is, aside from a crowning gem here and there, mostly empty and forgettable. There was nothing of substance being said here. The New Yorker's Amanda Petrusich brought up a good reasoning for this: "As dancers flooded the field, Timberlake eventually made his way into the stands. He cajoled a child into filming a cell-phone video with him. Many more phones turned in his direction. For someone so aware of the way news travels now, his performance was oddly benign—expert, sure (in his decades of pop stardom, Timberlake has never been anything less than expert), but eerily un-self-aware. In 2018, eyeballs do not necessarily equal adulation. It seems fitting that the last thing Timberlake said, before sprinting away, his forehead glinting, was "Super Bowl selfies!" In the end, that was all that mattered."
Vanessa is a music and culture writer. Follow her on twitter.
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