Justin Timberlake Super Bowl LII Halftime Show

Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl LII Halftime Show Demonstrated His Prowess as an Artist

From his early songs like 'My Love' and 'Sexyback' to newer songs such as 'Can’t Stop the Feeling' and 'Filthy', JT’s Super Bowl LII halftime show was both nostalgic and futuristic.
February 7, 2018
11 mins read

On Feb. 4, Americans nationwide and international citizens worldwide watched as pop icon Justin Timberlake took to the stage for the Super Bowl LII halftime show. The artist showed the breadth of his musical talents with songs from earlier on in his solo career to his progression to futuristic sounds in his latest albums.

For those who grew up listening to JT’s hits such as “Sexyback” or “My Love,” this show was a reiteration of fan favorites melded together as a remix. The halftime show carried a light, fun tone, which staunchly contrasts the wardrobe malfunction with Janet Jackson in what later became known as “Nipplegate.”

JT’s show began underneath the stage with his latest hit “Filthy” in his album “Man of the Woods,” which released Jan. 9 and came in at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The outfit he wore was inspired by his southern roots as a Tennessee native from Memphis, which was a camouflage splatter-print suit featuring a red bandana. With the help of London fashion designer Stella McCartney, JT became the “Man of the Woods” in his camouflage getup.

With the excitement and enthusiasm about recent tech such as augmented reality and virtual reality tech, the song was appropriate to herald in the Super Bowl LII halftime show. Evidently, it deals with the new age of robotics and technology, as the music video features a robot dancing on a stage among Asian dancers with JT, whose character was inspired by the late Steve Jobs, controlling the robot from behind the curtain.

Emerging to the surface from underground, “Filthy” transitions into one of his classic, sexy love songs “Rock Your Body.” A fine blend of R&B, disco groove and soul influenced by Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, the 2003 pop hit, released only a year after the breakup of NSYNC in his album “Justified,” had people foot-tapping everywhere. The song also carries with it a reminder of going too far with the sex symbol image he has built during his solo career — this was the same song to which he exposed Janet Jackson’s right breast on live television during the Super Bowl XXXVIII show in 2004.

However groovy the song may be, it almost seems out of place for JT to perform the song as the second one in the show, if even at all. On the other hand, including the song also gave JT the opportunity to redeem himself by not making the same mistake twice, thus getting a second chance to reclaim the song as a light-hearted, flirty mix. The song ended abruptly just before the final line, “I gotta have you naked by the end of the song,” at which point he exposed Janet Jackson 14 years ago. As the song goes, this time JT meant “no disrespect” or “no harm.”

Continuing with his catchy hits about raw sex and love, JT performed “SexyBack” and “My Love” from his 2006 album “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” Combining synthesizer and distorted vocals with an influence of the “raw energy” present in rock and roll icons such as David Bowie and David Byrne, “SexyBack” was born. Music fanatics have described the song as “club funk,” though JT has since claimed the song “doesn’t qualify as rock or straight funk” as he had hoped. Moving out of the rawness of “SexyBack,” JT performed the R&B, hip-hop ballad “My Love,” which shows JT’s rugged softness when it comes to love.

When JT performed “Cry Me a River,” the performer showed off some of his slick dance moves that he is known for in a short, but sweet choreographed number. However, it was especially powerful to see him performing “Suit & Tie” with the University of Minnesota Marching Band suited up in black and white, providing orchestral accompaniment.

This harkens back to the first several Super Bowl halftime shows in which university marching bands would entertain the nation musically until headlining performers took the stage. Even after famous celebrity musicians began entertaining America on the Super Bowl stage, university marching bands still perform alongside these stars.

While there is that too-hot-to-trot attitude that JT embodies, there is also a sensitive, vulnerable JT that comes out in a song like “Until the End of Time” from the same album as “SexyBack” and “My Love.” During the track, the football field faded to black, with only a white piano on stage and spotlights surrounding the stage.

The first verse of the song is pertinent to the youth generation today, particularly millennials. The lyrics paired with the somber moment captured the kind of hopefulness that many millennials so desperately need today — one in which they recognize that though “there’s so much darkness in the world,” love can and will get them through anything; it always has and always will. The moment calls them to focus on the good in life despite life’s inevitable problems that arise.

The hopeful moment carries into one of the highlights of JT’s Super Bowl LII halftime show: his tribute to the legendary Minnesotan musician, Prince. Purple descended the football field as Prince’s video projection of himself singing “I Would Die 4 U” from the 1984 film “Purple Rain” lit up the field while JT began his duet with the guitar prince.

One by one, purple lights lit up neighboring city blocks beside the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis until Prince’s other stage name, the “Love Symbol,” took hold of the city. While some die-hard Prince fans viewed the tribute as problematic since Prince explicitly stated in an interview that he despised the use of holograms as “demonic,” the tribute to Prince was well-received by many, considering that the late pop icon was not revived in a hologram, but projected onto a screen.

Embodying an androgynous, amorphous sexuality, Prince always toyed with gender roles, making him a hopeful inspiration for many in today’s LGBTQ+ community. Being a supporter himself, JT’s tribute not only pays homage to a stellar artist, but also provides a sense of hope and encouragement in the LGBTQ+ community.

From purple to glittering silver, JT comes back to his famous hits with “Mirrors,” a performance in which a crowd holds up mirrors which catch light and, from above, give the appearance of a glittering disco ball. With this song, JT instills in youth the need to search for and hold onto love.

Finishing off on a high note, the singer’s Super Bowl LII halftime show saves “Can’t Stop the Feeling” for his finale. A song that delivers on good vibes, it gave the audience something to look forward to and hold onto even after the performance: happiness and hope. JT then ended the song with the now infamous #SuperBowlSelfie with a young boy in the crowd.

While JT’s Super Bowl LII halftime show performance was a crowd-pleaser for the most part, halftime shows would not be headlined by leading performers today if it were not for the King of Pop Michael Jackson’s iconic 1993 performance during the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show. The King’s show was characterized by themes of being passionate about living, racial equality and hope for a better future for children in songs such as “Jam,” “Black or White,” “We Are the World” and “Heal the World.” Jackson’s show marked the first time in Super Bowl history that ratings increased between halves during the game. After Jackson’s performance, the NFL has since made explicit attempts to attract top performers for the halftime shows to increase ratings.

At the end of the day, JT’s Super Bowl performance showed the progression of his talent as an artist as he mashed up some of his greatest hits into a single jam this past Sunday.

Elizabeth Ivanecky, McMaster University

Writer Profile

Elizabeth Lucy Ivanecky

McMaster University
English & Cultural Studies, History, and French Studies

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