Justin Timberlake battled audio troubles and bad pre-performance press to deliver a Super Bowl halftime show that fell flat – and was overshadowed by an awkward teenager.
After the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots headed off the field at the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sunday (US time), Timberlake’s performance began with a laser light show.
Despite betting companies backing him to open with his hits Can’t Stop the Feeling or SexyBack , Timberlake opted for his latest single, Filthy, which was poorly received by both critics and fans upon its January 5 release.
Viewers watching at home complained about the unfamiliar song, which was only released in January.
To make matters worse, many struggled to hear the 37-year-old’s trademark falsetto thanks to sound-mixing struggles in the stadium.
Does Justin Timberlake’s audio sound muffled to you?
— DeanRichards (@DeanRichards) February 5, 2018
— Henry Goldblatt (@HenryGoldblatt) February 5, 2018
Thankfully, the audio improved as Timberlake proceeded to work through some of his older hits, including Dance with Me, SexyBack and Cry Me a River.
Despite JT’s carefully scripted performance, it was a spontaneous reaction from a young fan, since dubbed ‘selfie kid’, that stole the limelight.
Towards the end of his performance, Ryan McKenna, 13, managed to snap a photo with the singer as he jumped down into the crowd. A photo of Ryan peering at his phone to look at the ‘selfie’, awkwardly ignoring the performance around him, was quickly parodied on social media.
The original selfie
But then Ryan didn’t seem to know what to do with himself.
— Ian Ginther (@GintherIan) February 5, 2018
Naturally, this inspired many, many memes.
— Whitley Bailey (@whitleybree) February 5, 2018
While there was talk of Timberlake paying tribute to Prince in the late singer’s hometown of Minneapolis by performing alongside a hologram of the ’80s icon, Timberlake instead sang alongside footage of Prince performing his 1984 hit I Would Die 4 U.
This angered Prince fans, who felt the quasi-duet with the singer was disrespectful to his memory, due to Prince’s previous comments about the “demonic” nature of virtual reality.
“Certainly not,” Prince told Guitar World in 1998 when asked if he’d ever perform with an artist from the past.
“That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing … it really is demonic. And I am not a demon.”
Prince, who himself performed the halftime show in 2007, passed away in his Paisley Park mansion in Minneapolis in April 2016.
It’s the second time in a week Timberlake has angered Prince fans – on Thursday he held a listening part for his new album at Paisley Park, at which he served alcohol, despite Prince being a known Jehovah’s Witness who never drank.
It’s not quite a hologram. Part of Justin Timberlake’s Prince Tribute: pic.twitter.com/j4EZfpj7ae
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) February 5, 2018
Justin Timberlake totally disrespected & dismissed Prince when he was alive; yet, he includes footage of him in this halftime performance. This dude is the ultimate culture vulture and fake AF. #JanetsLegacyMatters #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay
— Elgin Charles (@ElginCharles) February 5, 2018
But after a surge of angry tweets about the tribute, which also saw the stadium lit up in purple, the rest of Timberlake’s performance proceeded without any drama.
Wearing a camouflage-print suit, he closed out the show with his massive 2016 chart-topper, Can’t Stop the Feeling, before running into the crowd for selfies with fans.
Timberlake’s performance was hotly anticipated given his last appearance at the Super Bowl was marred by controversy following a seemingly concocted wardrobe malfunction that left his co-star Janet Jackson’s breast exposed.
Some critics decided to boycott this year’s show, blaming Timberlake for the 2004 stunt which they believed destroyed Jackson’s career credibility, but boosted his.
Others chose to refer to the Super Bowl instead as Janet Jackson Appreciation Day, arguing Timberlake should have invited Jackson to perform with him.
“If he’s such a gentleman, he’d make sure Janet is there,” her father Joseph Jackson told People magazine ahead of the halftime show.
While Timberlake’s new album, Man of the Woods, is likely to receive a huge publicity boost following his performance, he won’t directly profit from the show, which requires months of preparation.
“We do not pay the artists,” NFL rep Joanna Hunter told Forbes in 2016. “We cover expenses and production costs.”