Becky Kelly takes us through Justin Timberlake’s return to the Super Bowl stage, 14 years on from his infamous guest appearance with Janet Jackson
Justin Timberlake is no stranger to the spotlight. He started out in the Mickey Mouse Club, went on to become the lead singer of boyband NSYNC, formed one half of the most iconic couple of the noughties – never forget the matching denim look – and continues to maintain an extremely successful solo music career and acting credits such as The Social Network and Friends with Benefits. Sixteen years on from his debut solo album, Justified, Timberlake released his fourth album Man of the Woods on Friday 2 February. The first single taken from the album, Filthy, seems to pay homage to his Future Sex/Love Sounds era. However, the rest of the album appears more influenced by folk and country music as opposed to R’n’B, creating a new sound from Timberlake’s past three albums.
The timing of this album comes as no surprise due to the announcement of his Super Bowl LII half-time show back in October. This is not Justin Timberlake’s first experience of the Super Bowl, with his infamous guest appearance in Janet Jackson’s half-time show back in 2004. With many upset at Jackson’s ban from the show but not Timberlake’s, due to the now infamous “nipple-gate”, he must be feeling the pressure to deliver a stellar performance to justify his return to the world famous stage.
This controversial shadow only adds extra pressure to Timberlake, who is following in the footsteps of the highly praised half-time shows of the past few years. Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry and Beyoncé have all delivered exceptional performances, from classic medleys to all-star guest performers. However, at his press conference this week Timberlake he confirmed he would follow Lady Gaga’s example and have no special guests during his half-time show, deciding to focus on his long-time band the Tennessee Kids. “To be honest, I had a ton of grand ideas about special guests. There’s a whole list. I think Vegas has a lot of odds on it, from ‘NSYNC to Jay [Jay-Z] to Chris Stapleton to Janet.”
It is clear the demand for this half-time show did not seem to slow him down as Timberlake once again – continuing on from his MTV Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award performance back in 2013 – proves he is a world class performer with an endless supply of hits in his repertoire.
Timberlake opened his half-time performance with the first track off his new album, Filthy, which began under the stadium in what looked like a nightclub with strobe lights and an array of backup dancers. Sporting a leather jacket, camouflage trousers and a red bandana, he focused heavily on dance moves which were reminiscent of the moves from his Rock your Body music video. It is perhaps no surprise that this was his next song choice as he made his way down a runway from the stands onto the pitch, followed by his team of back-up dancers. Timberlake continued this blending of hits as he continued into Senorita to help him dance his way onto the main stage where his band, the Tennessee Kids were waiting.
Next on the set list was his famous comeback hit, Sexyback, during which his leather jacket is thrown off to reveal a nature-depicting shirt. Proving the amount of well-known songs he has to work through, Timberlake then performs snippets of his hits, My Love, followed by Cry me a River, a track long-associated with Britney Spears due to the Britney lookalike feature in the music video. Before we know it, he’s back on the pitch for a dance break and suddenly the lights go out, signalling the end of part one of his half-time show.
When the lights build back up, he is joined on the pitch by a full marching band, playing the intro to the hit of his third album The 20/20 Experience, Suit and Tie. Timberlake adds a camouflage blazer to his look and is noticeably tired during this number as he focuses more on dancing with his mic than actually singing into it. He then asks the stadium to shine their phones in the air as he makes is way over to a small stage with a piano, crooning his slow track End of Time. While Timberlake opted to go alone rather than introduce a guest performer, instead he took this time to pay tribute to Prince, with a projection of Prince’s own half-time performance of I Would Die 4 U, to which Timberlake harmonized and sang along.
As Timberlake makes his way back to the main stage, the intro of Mirrors echoed around the stadium, indicating he is no doubt reaching the end of his performance. The stadium is a-glow with both the crowd’s phones and a mass of back up dancers holding mirrors into the sky as Timberlake serenades us with the chorus of the hit track. Just as it looks like his time on stage has come to an end, the mirrors are flipped around to reveal bright colours as Timberlake join his dancers on the pitch in a performance of his Oscar-nominated track, Can’t Stop the Feeling. The sheer number of back up dancers and light-hearted nature of the track makes for a great final song choice to end his performance, which is accompanied by confetti and glitter.
This performance certainly stood strong alongside previous performers, with Timberlake proving the number of chart-successes he has accumulated over his four-album career. However the volume of songs to work through left him with little time to truly get into any one song as less than a minute later, he was onto the next medley. Despite the strength of his stage presence, a surprise appearance of Jay-Z for Suit and Tie would have certainly added excitement to the performance, as the Prince tribute has received mixed reactions online. Despite this, Timberlake succeeded in creating hype around his next tour, as he gets ready to hit the road in March. With mixed reactions to Timberlake’s new music, hopefully this performance will increase interest and certainly contribute to a significant hike in streams of his music, both old and new.