Justin Timberlake’s hits-filled, controversy-free Sunday halftime show performance at Super Bowl LII was as notable for what didn’t happen as for what did.
For starters, there was no “wardrobe malfunction,” in marked contrast with his 2004 Super Bowl halftime show with Janet Jackson.
Nor was there a single superstar guest, at least not any living ones, although a video projection of the late Prince briefly “duetted” with Timberlake on Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” during the 12½-minute halftime show at Sunday’s big game at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
There weren’t any drones either, as was the case at the start of Lady Gaga’s halftime show at last year’s Super Bowl.
Heck, there wasn’t even a cameo by “Left Shark,” the costume-clad, proudly out-of-sync dancer who enlivened Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show performance.
The (presumably) unintentional message delivered was that having Timberlake duet on Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” with the deceased superstar — the Minneapolis-born Prince died in 2016 — was a safer bet than making amends to Jackson with a live duet.
It was a clear reminder that Jackson is still persona non grata at the Super Bowl.
She became a national pariah after Timberlake ripped off the top of her black leather bustier and exposed her right breast for 9/16ths of a second during their 2004 Super Bowl half time show duet.
That incident, quickly branded “nipplegate,” occurred during Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” just as he sang the words: “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.”
There were still a few suggestive lyrics Sunday, when Timberlake opened with his recent single, “Filthy.” But apart from the bare midriff of a blonde female dancer, who was shown cavorting with Timberlake for a mere instant, there was little flesh to be seen during Sunday’s by-the-numbers halftime show.
And while Timberlake’s medley of truncated hits included “Rock Your Body,” his show was clearly designed to avoid even a hint of controversy — that Prince video notwithstanding.
After TMZ had reported his plans to use a hologram, former Prince drummer Sheila E. went on social media Saturday night to say that Timberlake had assured her he would not use a hologram of Prince. If he told her he would instead use a video of Prince, she neglected to say so in her Twitter message Saturday.
Timberlake segued from “Rock Your Body” into “SexyBack,” the 2006 hit that — at the time of its release — prompted Prince to bitingly observe: “Sexy never left.”
For “My Love,” Timberlake doffed his black leather jacket to unveil a rustic, desert-scene shirt that apparently was chosen to convey the faux earthy flavor of his new album, “Man of the Woods.”
He engaged in an elaborately choreographed production number of the stadium field for “Cry Me a River,” his kiss-off to former girlfriend Britney Spears. He then moved to a small stage for “Suit & Tie,” which clocked in at barely a minute, then to another small stage, where he sat at a white grand piano for “Until the End of Time” and his fleeing “duet” with the late Prince.
Timberlake may have intended a reverent tribute to Prince, whose name has long been synonymous with Minneapolis. But he seemed to be trying to cash in with a from-the-grave collaboration of questionable taste at best.
He concluded his performance with the one-two punch of “Mirror” — guess what the main prop (make that many props) for that was — and the celebratory “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” which concluded with him jogging into the stands, performing all the while.
Timberlake was energetic throughout, but it was difficult to determine how much of his singing was live, especially given how much of the instrumentation — from his new group, The Tennessee Kids, to a tuxedo-clad marching band was mimed.
This was Timberlake’s third Super Bowl halftime show performance, following previous appearances with Jackson in 2014 and *NSYNC in 2001.
His latest halftime show was his first in the spotlight on his own. And while he was slick, sleek and charismatic, Timberlake played it safe throughout, turning what could have been a career high-point into a pleasant but ultimately innocuous diversion.