Even though the game had been a thrilling nail-biter, the most suspenseful thing inside U.S. Bank Stadium as Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl halftime show neared may have been the question: Will he or won’t he?
The pop star who helped make the words “wardrobe malfunction” permanent halftime jargon avoided another controversy this time around by not using a Prince hologram, a much-derided gimmick that reportedly had been enlisted in rehearsals.
Instead, Timberlake paid tribute to the Minneapolis rock legend in his hometown by projecting video of him from the movie “Purple Rain” onto a large sheet draped from the ceiling as a snippet of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” played.
“Two fingers in the air for Prince tonight,” he told the crowd, which had been given small LED lights at every seat that turned a purple tint to match the Minnesota Vikings’ home field. Through TV trickery, viewers around the world concurrently saw the skyline outside the stadium light up purple with Prince’s symbol.
Timberlake applied plenty of visual gimmicks to his own rapid-fire array of hits offered in the 13-minute show. He took the field on a long, neon-lit runway to the tune of his Michael Jackson-esque 2002 hit “Rock Your Body,” and from there bounced from one large, multitiered stage to two smaller platforms while singing his other hits, including “SexyBack.”
Dressed in black suits, the University of Minnesota marching band joined him midfield during the funky jam “Suit & Tie.” Then hundreds of extras — led by dance-team members from various Minnesota high schools who rehearsed with Timberlake all week — took the field in a rainbow array of outfits with giant mirrors in hand as he launched into “Mirrors.”
Before the show, crews set up the stages on the field with impressive haste while the video screens showed snippets of Prince’s own 2007 Super Bowl appearance in a Miami rainstorm. Then a video with Timberlake pal and “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon served as an introduction.
The halftime show was a hot topic for fans headed into the stadium, after insider sources confirmed that a Prince hologram was used during Timberlake’s rehearsals Friday. He may have benched the idea after backlash on Saturday, or it’s possible that people who saw the video montage with “I Would Die 4 U” may have mistaken it for a hologram.
Kira Lillehei, a Vikings season ticket-holder at the game in all-purple regalia, wasn’t against the idea of a virtual Prince performance.
“I think it’d be something Minnesota could be proud of,” Lillehei said, “but it sounds like his family doesn’t want it, so we should be Minnesota Nice and respect their wishes.”
Prince was on Timberlake’s mind at his NFL-run news conference Thursday, which preceded a listening party for his new album that night at Prince’s studio-turned-museum Paisley Park in Chanhassen.
“The time I got to spend around him, with him, talking about music, those are memories that I will take with me forever,” Timberlake said, calling Prince “the greatest all-around musician I can think of in popular culture.”
The backlash to the hologram idea was as swift and exact as a Tom Brady spiral, with Prince’s family and longtime associate Sheila E. — who performed at an NFL pregame party Sunday at the Armory — joining the chorus of fans against the idea. Sheila said she spoke with Timberlake late Saturday and was assured “there is no hologram.”
Timberlake still faces a certain level of sour feelings over the controversial “wardrobe” stunt at the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston, where he infamously pulled at halftime headliner Janet Jackson’s top and exposed her breast on live TV. Some thought he might bring back Jackson to this Super Bowl to rectify the stunt, but he said at Thursday’s news conference he would have no guests and wanted to let his own band shine.
He and his crew may have sounded good on TV, but inside the stadium their hard-bopping grooves were muddied by U.S. Bank Stadium’s notoriously bouncy acoustics.
Filling her duty as singer of the national anthem, Pink faced even more daunting circumstances: She was conspicuously ailing from the flu two nights earlier at her Armory pregame concert. But the resilient pop star showed her mettle at game time Sunday. Wearing a silvery jacket, the Philadelphia-area native born Alecia Moore stepped up with a soaring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that had even fans in Patriots gear cheering her victory.
While many anthem singers lip-sync to a prerecorded version to sidestep the echoey acoustics at most stadiums, it sure looked and sounded as if it was all done live inside the stadium Sunday. The fact that Pink removed a cough drop from her mouth just before the first note was a good sign that she was delivering it in the moment.
The pregame music also included a tender version of “America the Beautiful,” delivered by Broadway star Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton” fame with help from two children’s choirs, Bloomington-based Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs and St. Paul’s ComMUSICation.