Justin Timberlake brought both fancy footwork and a projection of Prince to the Super Bowl LII on Sunday.
Headlining the halftime show in Minneapolis, the singer, 37, began with a slew of his own hits — including “Rock Your Body,” “Cry Me a River,” and “Suit & Tie” — before transitioning to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.”
As a projection of the late singer played above him at the U.S. Bank Stadium, Timberlake sang along on a piano — a move that was met with negative reactions on Twitter. Over the weekend, Timberlake was criticized online following speculation that he would perform with a Prince hologram, which Sheila E. claimed Timberlake said was not happening. (Prince was famously against holograms, telling Guitar World in 1998 — 18 years before his death — that the concept of post-death performances via holograms was “demonic.”)
Wearing custom semi-camouflage threads by Stella McCartney and “SBLII” Air Jordan III sneakers, Timberlake kicked off the show inside a club, singing his recent single “Filthy” amid a sea of laser lights. After dancing up a staircase, Timberlake transitioned into his hit “Rock Your Body” — the same song he performed with Janet Jackson during what became known as “Nipplegate” at her halftime show in 2004 — as he made his way to the field. Timberlake soon had everyone clapping their hands as he performed “SexyBack” on yet another platform with his backup dancers.
“How are y’all feeling?” he asked prior to singing parts of “My Love” and “Cry Me a River” with his longtime backup band, the Tennessee Kids. Then the stadium went dark as a marching band joined Timberlake for “Suit & Tie.”
“Let me see you put your cellphones up, Minneapolis — let’s light it up tonight,” he yelled before singing his ballad “Until The End of Time” at a piano.
Then came the most anticipated moment of the night: Timberlake paying homage to Prince. Nick Whitehouse of Fireplay, the design studio Timberlake enlisted to create visuals for the show, said that Timberlake “highlighted” the Prince portion as an “important moment for this show.” According to Whitehouse, “we spent quite a bit of time ensuring this moment would be true to his legacy. Ultimately, Justin decided that the only person who could do Prince justice is Prince, and we’re so proud to be part of his team who created this epic moment.”
Minneapolis went purple for Prince during the tribute, a mesmerizing sight NBC captured in an aerial shot above the stadium.
Timberlake returned to his own hits, singing “Mirrors” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” — the latter of which served as his finale. Timberlake went against the usual halftime show rules, though, ending his performance in the audience and taking “Super Bowl selfies.”
The big moment comes two days after the release of his fifth studio album, Man of the Woods, from which he’s dropped four singles and music videos — “Filthy,” “Supplies,” “Say Something,” and the title track — since announcing his musical comeback in early January.
The Grammy winner has a well-documented history with the Super Bowl. After taking the stage with his former boy band *NSYNC, Aerosmith, then-girlfriend Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly in the 2001 halftime show, Timberlake returned to perform in Jackson’s 2004 spectacle. The latter did not go as planned, of course: Timberlake removed a piece of headliner Jackson’s top, revealing her right pierced nipple as an estimated 90 million viewers tuned in live.
That wardrobe malfunction came back to haunt Timberlake last year. After weeks of speculation that the NFL would pick him to be the halftime headliner at Super Bowl LII, Timberlake finally announced the news alongside pal Jimmy Fallon in October. Jackson fans were not thrilled, criticizing his role in Nipplegate in a #JusticeforJanet campaign.
As anticipation for his show amped up in January, Timberlake said he and Jackson had long since made amends. “I stumbled through it, to be quite honest,” he told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe of dealing with the fallout. “I had my wires crossed and it’s just something that you have to look back on and go like, ‘Okay, well you know, you can’t change what’s happened but you can move forward and learn from it.’”
With the clock ticking down to Timberlake’s show over the weekend, Jackson cleared up speculation that she would appear in the program.
“To put to rest any speculation or rumors as to whether I will be performing at the Super Bowl tomorrow; I will not,” Jackson tweeted on Saturday. “Thank you for your support and I do look forward to seeing you all very soon.”
Watch Timberlake’s first solo halftime-headlining show above.