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At Super Bowl LII halftime, Justin Timberlake turns Minneapolis purple and duets with not-technically-a-hologram Prince

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There was no hologram. Or was there? There was a projection. On a sheet. With singing. Also, there was a GIANT LOVE SYMBOL RINGING U.S. BANK STADIUM. Or at least it looked like there was. Was that the hologram? Is the whole stadium a hologram? Did this whole crazy week even happen? My frostbite says yes.

Leading up to the Super Bowl tonight, Prince fans were consumed with a rumor that the late icon would join halftime headliner Justin Timberlake in the form of a hologram. TMZ and the Star Tribune reported the hologram was happening, but Prince’s siblings disputed the reports. Fans noted that Prince himself called the idea of performing via virtual reality “demonic.” (It’s hard to know exactly what he’d make of the upcoming “Live on the Big Screen” concert at Target Center.)

Finally, Sheila E put the matter to rest by speaking with Timberlake directly, reporting that “there is no hologram” and the singer “shared heartfelt words of respect for Prince & the Purple fans.” Of course, after all the back-and-forth, many still felt they couldn’t be really sure until halftime actually happened.

What happened was a virtual duet between Timberlake and Prince, with Purple Rain footage projected on a billowing sheet as Timberlake sat at a piano and sang “I Would Die 4 U.” That one was for us, and so was a vast stunt that appeared to swath East Town in purple light, with an enormous Love Symbol ringing the stadium. It was an appropriately larger-than-life tribute to one of the greatest artists in the history of popular music, one who hailed from Minneapolis and also happened to be a football fan.

(A Vikings fan, specifically. Oh, well, even the spirit of Prince can’t do everything.)

After an introduction from Jimmy Fallon, the halftime show began with Timberlake playing to a group of fans at a makeshift club underneath the stadium. Phones were in the air, and Timberlake would ultimately urge the audience to produce even more of them. After dancing with some laser beams, Timberlake emerged onto the field singing “Rock Your Body” — a bold move, given that was the song that led up to Janet Jackson’s 2004 “wardrobe malfunction.”

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Jackson’s absence was glaring, but otherwise Timberlake did a more than respectable job of continuing the show’s reclamation from the cavalcade-of-stars cameo parades that have distinguished many halftime shows. (Last year, Lady Gaga also performed without star guests.) The man’s charisma is undeniable, even when he’s wearing a button-down shirt printed with an image of the western plains, coupled with a red bandana around the neck to complete the Howdy Doody look.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

That outfit was nearly the only nod to Timberlake’s new album Man of the Woods, in a set that comprised the former NSYNC star’s greatest solo hits after an opening snippet of his new single “Filthy.” (A walkway dance with four dudes did bring back some memories of when Timberlake played that very same spot with his boy band in 2001.) “Rock Your Body” led into “Señorita” — the first song from JT’s first solo album — and then into “SexyBack,” by which point Timberlake had finally made it to the center of the field, joining his band and a constellation of colorful video panels.

That was when we got the first of several shout-outs to “Minneapolis!” There was so much walking, dancing, and running in the halftime show, though, that by the time it ended it seemed like Timberlake must have made it halfway to Little Canada.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Scampering down from his stage after “Cry Me a River” (a breakup song about the star who just might be next year’s halftime headliner), Timberlake and his dancers did some boogying on an NFL logo, before pulling a Fleetwood Mac and summoning the University of Minnesota marching band. He complemented his man-of-the-woods look with a blazer for “Suit and Tie,” a song from an album with a diametrically different aesthetic.

“Let’s light it up tonight!” cried Timberlake, calling for phones to come out as he climbed atop a circular dais for the performance’s relatively quiet moment. After playing “Until the End of Time,” he told us (meaning Minneapolis), “This one’s for you.”

ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Suddenly, there was Prince, in his own distinctive shirt standing onstage at First Avenue during Purple Rain. His voice was heard singing “I Would Die 4 U” as Timberlake played and sang along, and suddenly the camera cut to an overhead shot of the stadium, with purple lights appearing all around the building and finally that giant glyph.

Was it real? You know, Lady Gaga didn’t really bungee into her own halftime show, but actually she kind of did, so whatever. The point was, it looked great. Before continuing, Timberlake had one more request for us: “Two fingers in the air for Prince tonight!” Peace out.

Update 2/5: Details about the Prince tribute have emerged. That city-sized Love Symbol? Digital magic. The Prince vocals? Actual stems from Purple Rain.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

When dozens of people (including members of local high school dance teams) walked out holding literal mirrors, it was easy to guess what song was coming next. Yep, it was “Mirrors,” which became “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as the lights came up, the mirrors flipped over to reveal multi-hued panels, and suddenly everyone was everywhere. Streamers! Dancers! Phones, phones, all the phones! Timberlake climbed up into the stands, where a kid fumbled with his phone and grabbed a Super Bowl selfie with the star performer, who shouted “Super Bowl selfies!” and basked in the applause.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

“Thank you, Minneapolis!” You’re welcome, JT — on behalf of Prince, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the other Minnesota musicians you’ve more-or-less-humbly paid your respects to. Thanks for playing our party. Next time, want to bring Janet?

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

  • sota-squatch

    If it wern’t for the hanging sheet & purple skyline it would have been a complete bust.

  • Veronica

    I guess it was a perfectly fine performance of microphone flipping and random squawks.

  • Beverly Draeger

    Fantastic, so proud of the Minnesota band and all the youth who had a part in this presentation, along with traditional Minnesota remembrances.

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  • S Smith

    Dance 10, talent 3. Weak voice, no soul.

    • Ray Donovan

      Watching the show drunk, huh? Well, good for you.