Downtown Minneapolis nearly upstages Justin Timberlake’s high-energy halftime show

Downtown Minneapolis during Justin TImberlake's Halftime Show.

Downtown Minneapolis during Justin TImberlake's Halftime Show. YouTube

Was Bedsheet Prince any less disrespectful than Hologram Prince?

We’ll never know if the hologram was actually a possibility or just a rumor. I like to think the latter, and that it was planted by the show organizers themselves, knowing that compared to the idea of such a desecration, anything short of a Prince impersonator performing a stadium-wide 3D card trick would come off as at least marginally more appropriate.

What we got instead was a brief, virtual duet between Justin Timberlake and Prince’s recorded vocal on “I Would Die 4 U” as a billowy projection of the late superstar loomed above. It felt obligatory, wasn’t much to look at, and it violated Prince’s wishes not to be incorporated into posthumous stage trickery. But it did set up a dazzling visual: a camera shot of downtown Minneapolis bathed in a gorgeous purple, with Prince’s love symbol superimposed on top.

Nobody knows better than we residents of the Land of 10,000 Prince Tributes how difficult it is to celebrate Prince’s music without paling in comparison—especially if, like Timberlake, you are comparatively, well, paler. Performing in Prince’s hometown—our hometown—Timberlake needed to acknowledge the legacy without hijacking it, and he came about as close as he could have.

The real problem with the duet was that it placed Timberlake in competition with the memory of Prince, one of the few performers able to transcend the conventional routine of the Super Bowl Halftime Show. A top-rate song and dance man—and that’s no dis—Justin Timberlake is built for those conventions, and he embraced them.

So what we got was a high-energy sprint through the past that was chock full of hooks, and, once Timberlake emerged from the nest of lasers woven around him at the start, more reliant on physical performance than visual pyrotechnics. The only new track he performed was the opener, “Filthy,” but it fit in surprisingly well with the medley of oldies, and that’s saying something because those oldies sure are durable. “SexyBack,” “My Love,” “Cry Me a River”—the hits just kept on comin’.

Yes, there was too little of “Senorita” and maybe too much of “Until the End of Time,” and when he shouted “Hold up—stop!” during “Rock Your Body,” it was just as jarring as it might have been if he’d sung “Gonna have you naked before the end of the song” (the lyric preceding the notorious unveiling of Janet Jackson’s breast in 2004). The visuals didn’t pop as they should have (blame Timberlake’s earth-toned outfit, an overcrowded stage, and some sloppy camerawork) and the sound could have been better.

But Justin’s dance moves—Michael Jackson filtered through boy band choreo—are still expert and crisp, if a little dated, and he used the space around him well, ducking and weaving through the crowd. The University of Minnesota marching band joining in for “Suit & Tie” as he batted around a trick microphone stand was a highlight. And I don’t have kids so I still find “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” tolerable.

Maybe none of it was as cool as a flu-debilitated P!nk casually taking a lozenge out of her mouth before “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But Justin Timberlake doesn’t do casual any more than he does transcendent. He’s here to entertain you, and he gets the job done.