The 2004 Super Bowl halftime show unraveled mass hysteria throughout the country. As the voices of backup singers, techno music, and basses reverberated throughout the stadium, Justin Timberlake made a surprise appearance during Janet Jackson’s ballad, “Rock Your Body.” On the final verse, Timberlake tore off a piece of Jackson’s outfit, revealing her right breast on live television. Despite justifications and apologies, the incident was regarded as a wardrobe malfunction; Jackson had to apologize for something over which she had no control; and her career began to unravel. But when it came to choosing a performer for the Super Bowl LII halftime show, Timberlake was offered a second opportunity to redeem himself. To some, his 13-minute performance was a success—to others, a letdown.
For decades, the Super Bowl has been a cultural staple, an event during which families, coworkers, and friends come together on a Sunday evening to sit in front of a screen with snacks and drinks covering every square inch on a table and cheer on their preferred team. Four hours of attention get devoted to men wearing helmets and shoulder pads, tossing a ball around, and ramming into one another. Although football is, of course, the main attraction of the Super Bowl, the halftime show is a highly anticipated and watched performance. It is not unknown that the Super Bowl halftime show is the biggest platform in music, a booking reserved solely for pop culture icons. Pre-Timberlake 2.0, performers such as Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga lit the stadium ablaze. Their performances left attendees and viewers across the globe speechless, starstruck, and spellbound. For said performers, the Super Bowl halftime show served as a pivotal point in their careers. Beyonce took advantage twice to reinvent herself through her 2013 performance of a medley of all her popular songs, and once again in 2016 with “Formation.” Katy Perry performed a variety of her single ballads that propelled her career forward. Lady Gaga redirected the spotlight on her and her career at 2017’s Super Bowl halftime show. With the return of Timberlake, he too was seeking a career revival.
Performing at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show enabled Timberlake to showcase his new song, “Filthy,” as well as a new tag name he has coined, “Man of the Woods.” However, from his attire he wore that night—a shirt with two deer on it, a faded camouflage suit, and a red bandana tied around his neck—and the poor use of his vocals and background music, his performance was simply unimpressive. Despite being well-known for his lissome voice through his NSYNC and early 2000s career, his 13-minute performance heavily focused on dance rather than vocals. Throughout Timberlake’s performance of “Cry Me a River,” “SexyBack,” “My Love,” “Suit & Tie,” and “The 20/20 Experience,” it often sounded like he was just adding a few riffs here and there to the existing vocals in the songs. Even though several of his hit songs made an appearance that night with a complete backup band, they did not seem to have the same grand impact on his fans as they did a few years ago. It was not until Timberlake changed into a tuxedo and sat behind a white grand piano to sing “Until the End of Time” that his vocals fell in-tune, allowing their natural warmth to come through.
As expected, Timberlake’s performance sparked much controversy due to his rendition of “I Would Die 4 U,” which featured a projection of Prince behind him. Before Prince’s death, Prince and Timberlake had a feud dating back about 11 years. During a 2006 post-Emmy party, Prince commented on Timberlake’s “SexyBack”: “For whoever is claiming that they are bringing sexy back, sexy never left!” During “Give It To Me,” Timberlake came back with, “We missed you on the charts last week. Damn, that’s right, you wasn’t there. Now if sexy never left, then why is everybody on my shit? Don’t hate on me just because you didn’t come up with it.” The bitterness between the two artists carried on into 2007 when Timberlake mimicked Prince’s short stature at the Golden Globes by squatting to a low stance at the microphone in order to accept the award on his behalf. When the stadium lights dimmed low and purple surrounded the stadium, Prince appeared on a projector screen alongside Timberlake. Despite the controversy and the feud between the two, the projection was a stylistic homage to Prince’s iconic Super Bowl halftime show in 2007.
Although there were numerous tweets, reviews, and memes made after Super Bowl LII’s halftime performance that claimed Timberlake’s performance was a disappointment, the country still came together to witness a halftime show that will likely be remembered as controversial yet creative. We also bore witness to a football game that had the country divided, and commercials that will forever be humorous.Whether the next performer will be Drake, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, or someone else, the nation will gather again in a year to celebrate one of America’s most beloved cultural events.