Justin Timberlake’s Tribute To Prince: A Self-serving performance

While Justin Timberlake put on an energetic Super Bowl Halftime Show, the public’s reaction was certainly mixed. Leading up to the show, rumors whirled that JT planned on using a hologram of Prince in a tribute to the epic singer. Prince’s fans spoke out against the use of a hologram of the singer, deceased in 2016, saying that it was against his wishes. While Timberlake listened to the outcry and did not use a hologram, he did incorporate a projection of the singer on a giant sheet, complete with a purple theme and vocal tracks from the singer. Timberlake claims his rendition of ‘I Would Die 4 You’ was done out of complete respect for the singer and with the approval of those who knew Prince and could speak for him. While Timberlake has the right to pay tribute to Prince, he ultimately sabotaged the gesture by disregarding Prince’s wishes, making his performance Timberlake-centered rather than a true gift to Prince and his fans.

Timberlake argues that his performance was done with utmost respect for Prince and his fans, and further that everything was approved by those who knew Prince. In an interview on Late Night, JT said, “I just felt like I wanted to do something for this city [Minneapolis] and something for [Prince] that would just be the ultimate homage to what I consider the GOAT [greatest of all time] of musicians.” Prince’s hometown, Minneapolis, holds the musician in incredibly high esteem, so in theory the tribute is a gesture to the city as well as the singer. Furthermore, he explains that he received approval from Questlove, who was close to Prince, and Sheila E., a musician who collaborated many times with the legend. JT makes a case that everything was technically above board and approved.

However, the tribute ultimately is a self-serving performance, which disregards Prince’s wishes. JT, on Late Night, said, “It’s a moment for me, if I’m being quite honest, because he has always been the pinnacle of musicianship for me.” Timberlake used the popularity of Prince to put on a performance that contributed to his own image. Further, a projection on a sheet and a hologram are not that different. While Timberlake claimed he was listening to the wishes of the Prince Foundation, his decision to use any footage of Prince is self-serving and goes against the spirit Prince espoused while living.

I am not claiming what JT did was wrong in any definitive sense, just ultimately self-serving. For one thing, in life Prince and JT were less than friends. In the public eye, the two singers called each other out for musical choices, and took personal shots as well. His fans are right to question JT’s motives after the rocky relationship the two singers shared. JT claims he has nothing but respect for Prince, but at this point, it’s too late for him to make up his feud with the deceased singer and taking on his tribute can come across as flippant.

While he conferred with some of Prince’s close friends, he still did not listen to Prince’s wishes, which were clear. His fans knew this and were not fooled. In an interview, Prince said of virtual reality in musical performances, “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. Also, what they did with that Beatles song (Free as a Bird), manipulating John Lennon’s voice to have him singing from across the grave… that’ll never happen to me. To prevent that kind of thing from happening is another reason why I want artistic control.” Regardless of further arguments, Prince is clear: he never wanted his music or image to be used posthumously to make him “sing across the grave.” His use of demonic language exhibits just how strongly he felt about his beliefs and as a fellow musician, JT should have paid heed to the singer’s request for artistic control.

Of course, JT did ‘play by all the rules’ and ultimately tried to make a respectful tribute, but the lack of friendship with Prince was evident. JT could have tailored his performance to Prince’s wishes by avoiding using recorded footage to call the singer to life. Also, seeing that he evidently lacked real relationship with Prince, he could have involved someone in the performance that had real connection with Prince. In the end, JT’s self-serving act is more of an affront to Prince than a tribute.

Sources: Vanityfair.com, independent.co.uk, usatoday.com.

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