On Sunday, Feb. 4, Justin Timberlake took the stage at the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show and proceeded to underwhelm 106.6 million viewers. Clad in a camo suit and a shirt emblazoned with a mountain scene, JT touted his new hipster-meets-mountaineer persona, which has accompanied his recently released (and not very good) album Man of the Woods. The choice of Timberlake as singular ringleader of the biggest entertainment event of the year has left many baffled, as his only memorable track in recent years, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is from the soundtrack to “The Trolls” — an animated children’s film.
Timberlake is an undeniable entertainer, but has more recently shined greater on stages like “Saturday Night Live” than in concert venues. While relevance is not a prerequisite for halftime supremacy, usually only artists with legendary status can pull off a show without it (see Madonna’s 2012 show).
To make matters worse, Timberlake’s history with the Super Bowl, 2004’s “Nipplegate,” set the stakes for the show very high. A Prince hologram, which went against the music legend’s wishes, was also rumored to make an appearance. Timberlake needed an extraordinary spectacle that could take his audience out of this world, but he only delivered a low-energy performance which lacked the transformative powers the Super Bowl halftime show is known for.
Below is a list of five artists who could have delivered that energy and put on a more relevant and compelling show.
The fact that Rihanna has not performed at the Super Bowl seems almost sacrilegious at this point. Rihanna has continually proven to be one of this generation’s most compelling performers, and with 14 No. 1 singles, she has an endless catalog of songs to perform. Despite not releasing an album since 2016’s Anti, Rihanna was still 2017’s most-streamed female artist on Spotify. Her feature on DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” was compelling enough to earn the DJ a performance at the 2018 Grammys.
I repeat: Rihanna got DJ Khaled to the Grammys. There’s no doubt Rihanna could have brought the star power and energy to the Super Bowl that Timberlake lacked.
After an amazing 2017 following the release of his critical and financial powerhouse DAMN., there could be no artist more relevant to perform at the Super Bowl this year than Kendrick Lamar. His headlining performance at last year’s Coachella and performances at this year’s Grammys, College Football Championship and VMAs all prove his ability to deliver a high-profile, awe-inspiring show. In 2018, Kendrick has already dropped three massive singles from the “Black Panther” soundtrack, which he is producing, giving him more than enough new exciting material to perform, not to mention the potential for guest appearances from The Weeknd and SZA.
Kendrick, the complete opposite from apolitical and stagnant Timberlake, could deliver a performance which would not only recognize the recent shift towards rap in pop music but also deliver a relevant statement on the state of America, one the NFL would be wise to listen to.
P!nk, who performed Sunday’s national anthem (under the duress of the flu no less), is a pop star who has stood the test of time. Her music catalog has spanned almost two decades, and she continually cranks out hits, including this year’s “What About Us.” While a figure from Timberlake’s time at the charts, P!nk has continued to stay relevant and has managed to keep churning out a fresh sound. Plus, her passion for high-flying acrobatic performances would no doubt excel in a giant stadium venue.
Who doesn’t love Drake? Serving as our generation’s resident sad boy crooner, Drake knows how to keep America entertained. While not always the most innovative artist, there’s a reason Drake can release near identical songs year after year and still make it into our playlists. He’s got a formula and it works.
His recent surprise release EP, Scary Hours, has already produced the No. 1 single, “God’s Plan,” which has already situated itself as the anthem of 2018. Drake’s voice is enough to unite America, and a Super Bowl performance that coincided with his newly released tracks would generate unfathomable hype that would energize any crowd — something JT just could not do.
As soon as Timberlake was announced as the halftime headliner, an uproar was sent throughout the musical universe. At the 2004 halftime show, as JT and Jackson finished the show to Timberlake’s recent hit “Rock Your Body,” Timberlake tore off a segment of Jackson’s costume, which led to the infamous wardrobe malfunction, Nipplegate.
In the aftermath of the incident, Jackson’s career suffered as the media allocated her with almost all blame, while Timberlake’s career escaped unscathed. Fans on Twitter acknowledged the incident and supported the music legend by tweeting #janetjacksonappreciationday on Sunday. In the context of the recent #metoo and #timesup movements, an appearance by Jackson would be a timely statement on the systematic biases which women are subjected to, and a moment of redemption for a music legend. Both would offer more excitement and spectacle than Justin Timberlake’s tepid voyage through his musical catalog.