I spend my life not thinking about Justin Timberlake. Not a like or dislike thing, I just don’t generally care either way. I know he exists, he has lots of fans, great for him, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to his music.
So I sat with my Dad last night, watching the Eagles beat the Patriots in (what amounted to) an actually exciting football game to watch. There were contentious plays, plenty of tense moments, strong play, and (generally) excellent defense. I’m not a football guy either (usually this is the only game I watch all year, unless I also remember to catch the Grey Cup) and even I knew it was a good/interesting one to watch.
Anyway, come halftime and it’s Justin Timberlake. OK, sure. No Janet Jackson (and thus no wayward nipples) this time. His set was a choreographer’s dream. Moving through at least four stage setups (more?), amongst which there was a marching band, a wee stage with a microphone stand that wobbled like a Weeble, dancing at center field, and finally ending up in the crowd* doing a selfie with a kid. The guy was everywhere, and even did a piano tribute of I Would Die 4 U for Prince, as the game was held in Minneapolis. He sang along to a medley of his songs, all of which I knew, surprisingly, thanks to the piped-in music at work.
* And here we have the crux of the performance. He was in a crowd of people for a good portion of it. Of course some of it was on the stage above other people, but I’d wager the majority was spent in crowds… he was down in a hallway with a bunch of people under the stands to start, then on the field with the marching band and a bunch of people waving mirrors around, then the stage, back on the field, stage, etc until finally ending up in the stands. Moving between each set piece took him through more crowds of people…
… the whole thing felt like it was meant to bring people together, we’re all in this together. First time I ever saw anyone do that in quite this way. I liked it, even though I know the whole thing was a set-up, planned to an nth degree, and that selfie kid was likely a plant, etc etc. It was different, and it worked, largely (I’d surmise) because everyone seemed to like the guy, and bringing people together feels right given the prevailing mood and political upheaval in present day America. It took the focus off himself and his band and made it about everyone, and it wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, it was the first one of these I’ve seen that wasn’t just a by-rote stage performance.
But between the music and the roar of the crowd, the vocals were buried way too low. Even my Dad, who says “there was music?” in every movie he sees, said he couldn’t hear the guy, couldn’t make out any of the words (could I? no), and wondered why he even bothered singing when he could just dance.
In all, a decent performance. I’ll go back to my life of not thinking about Justin Timberlake, but from a performance persepctive, I think he pretty much nailed this halftime appearance.