Justin Timberlake didn’t have anyone naked by the end of his songs at the Super Bowl, but that didn’t help his performance.
For days, rumours had been swirling about what Timberlake’s return to the Super Bowl would look like - 14 years since the performance where he accidentally ripped off Jackson's entire garment in an incident dubbed “nipplegate”, where he revealed her right breast.
Yet it was her, and her alone, who left with a lifetime ban from the Super Bowl, a ban from that year’s Grammy Awards, and a derailed career. So it was expected that, as a courtesy, Timberlake would invite Jackson back to the stage at this year’s halftime show to make some form of public amends.
On Thursday, Timberlake held a press conference in Minneapolis saying that there had been “a ton of grand ideas about special guests” including Jackson, *NSYNC, Jay Z and Chris Stapleton. But ultimately he said his band The Tennessee Kids would be his “special guests.”
Jackson released a statement on Twitter throwing subtle shade Timberlake’s way saying “I will not be performing at the Super Bowl.”
The Man of the Woods singer opened with the first single from his fifth solo album “Filthy” as he made his way from an inside stage into the open stadium. He then went into “Rock Your Body” - the song that he famously tore Jackson’s costume off to in the 2004 - a move which seemed designed to rub Jackson’s face - along with those of her fans - into the fact that she was not present.
He followed “Señorita” interlude and then a full band performance of “Sexy Back,” transitioning into a borderline EDM version of “My Love” and an operatic “Cry Me a River.” The “special moment” of the night was supposed to be a video tribute sing-a-long performance to Prince who appeared singing on a screen behind Timberlake.
It wasn’t quite a hologram, but Prince probably wouldn’t have been thrilled about the video projection of his face and Timberlake's cover. Prince wasn't exactly a fan of Timberlake - he took a shot at his song "Sexyback" in 2006. Timberlake retaliated in 2007 by making a dig about Prince's height on stage at the Oscars in 2007. There seemed to be no resolution between the two artists before Prince's death.
While Timberlake slowed things down with “Until The End Of Time” and “Mirrors,” he ended with the unavoidable radio single “Can’t Stop The Feeling.”
Despite the light show and support from his backing band, the performance was underwhelming at best.
With politics at the centre of people's minds, it's worth noting there were no political allusions - a mis-step in the era of #MeToo, #TimesUp and the Trump presidency. There was no kneeling at this year's Super Bowl or reference to Colin Kaepernick. In 2016, Beyoncé used her performance to bring attention to Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther movement, and last year Lady Gaga was the first artist to use the Super Bowl stage to bring awareness to the LGBTQ community. However with Timberlake's show, it looks like the Super Bowl is opting for a more family-friendly look this year, which didn't involve politics.
With no justice for Jackson, no apologies and no real excitement, the Super Bowl could have done without Timberlake’s halftime show.
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