Justin Timberlake brought the crowd to their feet during the 2018 Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show in Minneapolis Sunday. The singer whipped through his own hits, singing bits of “Filthy,” “Rock Your Body,” “Señorita,” “SexyBack,” “My Love,” “Cry Me a River,” “Suit & Tie,” “Until the End of Time,” “Mirrors” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” But it was his cover of Prince‘s “I Would Die 4 U”—along with a pre-recorded video of the late singer, displayed on a projection screen—that made headlines. Before the performance, amid premature complaints on social media, Prince’s friend, Sheila E., said she’d talked to Timberlake and there would not be a “hologram.”
Timberlake appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, and he explained how the tribute to Prince came out. “It’s a moment for me, if I’m being quite honest, because he’s always been the pinnacle of musicianship for me. And when we decided that, like, the serendipity and synergy that we would be in Minneapolis, and that, you know, he’s such a special thing here, aside from what he is all over the world, um, I just felt I wanted to do something for this city and something for him that, uh, would just be the ultimate homage to what I consider the GOAT [Greatest of All Time] of musicians,” Timberlake said. “And also, I’m not gonna lie to you guys because Questlove is the encyclopedia on music, but also, like, I feel like a gatekeeper on Prince, so if I got the thumbs up from Quest, I’m good.”
Questlove gave him two thumbs up and said the tribute was “dope.”
As part of the performance, Timberlake “turned the city purple,” Jimmy Fallon noted.
Timberlake couldn’t stop geeking out over the technological aspects that went into his tribute. “I mean, you have to understand: We got the actual real vocal stems from ‘I Would Die 4 U.’ The actual recording! And then we got uncut footage of him performance of it in Purple Rain. Somehow, some way, by the grace of—probably Prince looking down on us—it synced up. It was like this crazy serendipitous moment…I just wanted to use the opportunity to do something special for this city,” he said, “but most of all, for my favorite musician of all time.”