Cry me a river: Timberlake’s controversial Super Bowl homage to Prince

Justin Timberlake performs during the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Prince once told an audience in Los Angeles, “Instead of hate, celebrate.”

Apparently, that memo never reached this year’s Super Bowl — as mutual hatred for all things Patriots stretched from Minneapolis all the way to Forbes Avenue. But for those that had no stake in the game, outrage was pouring out toward another area of the Super Bowl — Justin Timberlake’s halftime show.

Prince annihilated the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show 11 years ago with a performance that still leaves me thunderstruck. It was 12 glorious minutes that started with the quintessential party declaration “Let’s Go Crazy” and ended with a chilling version of “Purple Rain.”  

While the broiling guitar work Prince fans are accustomed to rang throughout Miami, a giant sheet flailed as it showcased the silhouette of The Purple One. Even better, it was all done under February rainfall, as though his signature song had summoned the elements.

That is one sight that I never want to forget.

This year, Timberlake took the halftime stage of the 2018 Super Bowl for a greatest-hits-so-far setlist. It was rumored earlier in the week over social media that Timberlake’s show would feature a hologram of Prince as a tribute to him and as a treat to his hometown of Minneapolis. Backlash from fans soon erupted.

They reminded us that JT once mocked Prince’s short stature at a Golden Globes ceremony and referenced him in the 2007 song, “Give It To Me” with the lyrics, “We missed you in the charts last week / Damn that’s right you wasn’t there,” They also stood behind Prince’s wishes to never be shown in hologram form, which he labeled as “demonic.”

Instead, the tribute consisted of a video projection of the late rocker and JT singing along to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” as U.S. Bank Stadium lit up purple. That should have been an acceptable salute to His Purple Highness. Yet, the reactions said otherwise.

Newsweek wrote, “It might not have been a hologram, but it was just as tasteless — not to mention a crass act of ignoring a dead man’s wishes.” The entire performance received negative reviews as The Atlantic headline read — “Justin Timberlake’s Anti-Spectacular Super Bowl.”

Paying tribute to a deceased artist is always tricky. For every group of disgusted critics, there is a legion of fans that gawk over it. Personally, I found myself divided over this “debacle.”

Was Timberlake trying to elevate his status in pop music? Or was this a genuine attempt to honor the man?

And so I did what any Prince enthusiast would do — I turned to his music.

I can admit that Timberlake’s decision to sing “I Would Die 4 U” to commemorate Prince was not the best choice of song. Just like Chris Richards of The Washington Post writes, “Prince didn’t die for Timberlake, and he certainly didn’t die for this.”

However, Prince also writes in the same song that “I am something that you’ll never comprehend.” That’s what made Prince so sensational — he was always surrounded by a notion of unfathomable mystery. He was also always one to stir some controversy. I mean, come on — just read the tracklist of his 1981 album, “Controversy.”

Who are we to say that Prince didn’t like JT’s homage? For all we know, he could have adored the quarrels that spun from Timberlake’s decision. I don’t think it’s logical to dwell on the anger or the frustration that Prince would not have been pleased. Let’s be honest — the closest we’ve ever gotten to speaking with Prince about his desires is when we lip sync the words to “Baby I’m a Star.”

It’s been one year, nine months and 15 days since Prince died. No, I’m not counting — don’t be ridiculous. Frankly, I think it was time to see Prince again for one fleeting minute. Not having at least a brief moment of admiration for Prince in Minnesota is like going to Philly and not eating a cheesesteak — you just don’t cross that line.

I’d like to admit that I am in no way an NSYNC fanatic or president of the JT fan club. I like a good tribute act when I see one and truthfully, I think the reactions are slightly extreme for a halftime show that could have gone a lot worse.

Timberlake was not the ideal candidate to pay respect to The Purple Wonder. But who really is? I can’t name one person that can capture the musical majesty that is Prince. Any living artist that chooses to recognize one that came before them can only give their valiant effort. And sometimes that’s more than enough.

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