Justin Timberlake’s Prince tribute: not as good as it seemed?
With the surprise Superbowl win by the underdog Eagles, the commonly talked-about halftime show was relegated to the backseat. For those who didn’t watch, Justin Timberlake sang at this year’s halftime show, and many people are incredibly upset by his performance. More specifically, people are upset by his use of Prince’s image and vocals during the show.
Towards the end of his performance, Timberlake sat down at a piano to play Prince’s hit, “I Would Die 4 U,” as a duet with Prince. Timberlake edited Prince’s vocals to make this happen and had a giant projection of Prince singing with him.
It’s a well-known fact that Minnesotans love Prince. He grew up in Minneapolis and lived in Chanhassen at the time of his death. For many Minnesotans, Prince is their golden child; he is loved because of his accomplishments, messages, and because he loved Minnesota like Minnesotans do. He held true to Minnesota even after he became famous.
Justin Timberlake knew this, and he took advantage of it. His halftime show had several nods to Minnesota, from the use of Prince to the University of Minnesota marching band. My Minnesota heart would normally love this, were it not for the fact that Prince definitely would not have consented to this had he been alive. In fact, he pretty much explicitly stated he was against the use of his image and manipulation of his vocals after death.
In an interview with Guitar World in 2007, Prince discussed the possibility of holograms of dead artists being used in performances. “That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. 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,” Prince said. “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.” It really is very obvious that Prince was extremely against holograms and digital manipulation.
To defend himself, Timberlake has said he obtained permission from friends and family of Prince, but that isn’t good enough. Prince said he didn’t want his image used, and no one else should be able to override that. So what if a friend said he probably would have been okay with it? Their image is ultimately not the one being used, and in this case it would have been better for Timberlake to err on the side of caution, especially considering his history with Prince.
After Timberlake’s song “Sexy Back” came out, Prince was quoted saying that sexy had never left. This jest apparently made Timberlake so mad that he decided to devote a diss verse to him in his song “Give It To Me” that said “Don’t hate on me just because you didn’t come up with it.”
Again Timberlake decided to hit at Prince during the Golden Globes. Prince had won the award that Timberlake was presenting, but was not able to accept the award. Timberlake decided to lower the mic to make fun of Prince’s height of 5’3”.
Considering this, it is wholly unacceptable that Timberlake used Prince’s vocals and image in his performance. Timberlake was extremely rude to Prince in life, and now in death he has disobeyed one of Prince’s wishes, disguising it as love and respect for him.
Another issue has been brought up by fans of Prince– an issue of cultural appropriation. Justin Timberlake is a privileged white man, while Prince was a person of color. This is an issue because Timberlake totally exploited the late singer in order to promote himself and garner more favor for his own performance. It became even more cringe-worthy when Timberlake walked through a tunnel of his dancers, and almost all of them were white. This is because although there are incredibly talented dance teams from inner city Minneapolis and St. Paul who have more diverse teams, Timberlake somehow managed to only use Minnesota Dance teams from the whitest suburbs of the Twin Cities. There really isn’t an explanation for this unless it was some mistake on the part of whoever selected them, but I highly doubt it.
The lighting up of the streets in the shape of Prince’s symbol in purple was magical, but in the context of Timberlake’s relationship with Prince, the image is soured. Justin Timberlake exploited Prince in order to gain the support and admiration of Minnesotans, and sadly, many of them fell for this. They didn’t look into the relationship between the two, and gave Timberlake what he wanted but didn’t deserve.