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Appearing on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Timberlake didn’t directly address the criticism surrounding the tribute, but did explain why he wanted to incorporate it into his performance.
“It’s a moment for me, and if I’m being quite honest, it’s because he’s always been the pinnacle of musicianship,” Timberlake said. “And when we decided that the serendipity and synergy [of being] in Minnesota — he’s such a special thing here aside from what he is all over the world. I just felt like I wanted to do something for this city and something for him that would just be the ultimate homage to what I consider the GOAT [Greatest of All Time] of musicians.”
He also noted that Questlove, who is Fallon’s bandleader, approved of the performance.
“Questlove is the encyclopedia on music, but I also feel like a gatekeeper on Prince, so if I got the thumbs-up from Questlove, I’m good,” he said, to which Questlove responded: “Yeah, it was good.”
Many Twitter users mocked the tribute, which included a performance of Prince’s “I Will Die 4 U” and a projection of the artist, who died in April 2016, behind Timberlake as he performed. Otherwise during the halftime show, the singer-songwriter ran through some of his biggest hits, including “Rock Your Body,” “SexyBack” and “Suit & Tie,” as well as a single from his new album, Man of the Woods.
Some noted that the late artist himself would not have appreciated the tribute: “Prince didn’t like Justin Timberlake… it’s kind of rude to use his image for this performance,” Affinity magazine tweeted, while user Adam Best wrote, “Prince specifically said he didn’t want that, right?”
On the Tonight Show, Timberlake also addressed the technical aspects of the halftime tribute.
“We got the actual vocal stems from ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and the actual recording, and then we got uncut footage from his performance of it in Purple Rain and somehow, someway, by the grace of — probably Prince looking down on us — it synced up and it was this crazy, serendipitous moment…and I just wanted to use that opportunity to do something special for this city but most of all my favorite musician of all time.”
Timberlake also opened The Tonight Show with a performance of his single “Supplies” from Man of the Woods, and took part in a “songversation” with Fallon in a pretaped bit.
The duo sang their way through a conversation about everything from the CW’s Riverdale to setting up a playdate for their kids to the joys of Chuck E. Cheese.
They also incorporated melodies from songs including Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.”
They finally quit the silliness when Questlove broke in and told them, “Shut the fuck up.”
Timberlake ended the show with a performance of “Say Something,” also from Man of the Woods, alongside Chris Stapleton.
Katie Kilkenny and Rebecca Cohen contributed to this report.
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