Let me be clear. I am a Justin Timberlake fan. When my daughter was a teenager she once said, “I always thought it was odd that my Dad was a Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake fan before I was.” I believe Cry Me a River is one the great pieces of music ever made. I even really liked The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2, you know, the second part of that project that everybody hated? And I had purchased his new album six hours before kickoff. So, believe me, it pains me to say I didn’t like his Super Bowl Halftime show.
First, there was the abomination of the duet with Prince. I’ll come back to that.
Second, there were clearly issues with the audio. Sometimes it was very muffled, and throughout the sound was muddy and lifeless. This would be a problem for any artist but especially for JT as most of his songs depend on “beats”, i.e. a certain punchiness. The smoothness of his voice against the backdrop of those punchy beats is a big part of what makes his sound special. With such murky audio, I found it impossible to feel him or the music.
Third, the performance was a case where less would have been more. There was just too much going on – too many 30-second snippets of songs and too many changes in staging – in such a short period of time. As such, he never inhabited a song. Just as I was about to have a moment – he’s got plenty of moment-making hits – the moment was gone. Because he never settled in anywhere, there wasn’t a way for me to settle in and enjoy any part of the show, either.
Finally, there was no arc to the performance. A good show doesn’t merely throw hit songs scattershot at an audience. It puts those songs together in a pace and rhythm that feels like a rollercoaster ride: unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows, and varying levels of intensity that end in some climactic moment (e.g. Prince closing out his all-time great 2007 Super Bowl set with Purple Rain). JT’s set, on the other hand, was a frenetically paced hodgepodge of sights and sounds – more a bumper car ride than a rollercoaster.
As to the Prince thing:
- Prince was on record as being deeply opposed to the use of technology to create “duets” across time. He actually called such things “demonic.” JT knew this and did it anyway. So this was hardly honoring Prince.
- NOBODY ever decided to perform with Prince. Prince decided if he was going to perform with you.
- Therefore, what JT did was an incomprehensible level of presumption and hubris.
Again, I love JT but the Prince thing was really, really wrong. And the whole performance was beneath his substantial talents.