Namely, the debate continues over rumors the “Filthy” singer, 37, planned to perform alongside a Prince hologram.
Over one hundred million viewers tuned in to Timberlake’s halftime performance, where he sang and danced his way through a medley of hits from his 20-year music career. In one a somber moment, he played piano and sang alongside a projected film of Prince as the stadium and city glowed with purple lights, paying homage to their native icon.
But was this always the set up, or did widespread internet backlash — including comments from Prince’s pal Sheila E. in the days leading up to the performance — force a last-minute change of plans?
“There was never a hologram,” a source close to Timberlake tells PEOPLE exclusively. “It was never in the plan — holograms take months to create. It was always a projection.”
Though Sheila E. took to social media to inform fans she’d spoken with Timberlake ahead of the show and even shared Prince’s disdain for holograms, the source says their talk was simple. “She was being very vocal online ahead of the show and he explained to her what was going to happen with the show, out of respect.”
Adds the source, “This was rehearsed for days and days. You don’t change something like that on Saturday night before the Super Bowl — it’s not possible.”
Some fans also took issue with Timberlake hosting a listening party for his new album Man of the Woods at Prince’s Paisley Park home ahead of the big game. But this backlash was again unwarranted, says the source. “Prince’s family was there that night. Justin was with them at Paisley Park.”
According to the NFL’s Brian McCarthy, the materials for Timberlake’s Prince tribute actually came courtesy of Prince’s estate. “We worked with the estate which was supportive of the salute and helped us obtain all necessary clearances,” says McCarthy, adding that “a hologram was not part of the pre-production process and was never used in any rehearsal.”
The halftime show’s executive producer Ricky Kirshner adds that executing a hologram has never even been possible at the Super Bowl. “We are a 360-degree stadium environment with people at every corner. Every year a hologram company comes to us, but we never even seriously consider it because we don’t believe technologically it could work.” As for this year, “It never even came up with Justin.”
As far as motives go, Timberlake told pal Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, “I just felt like I wanted to do something for this city and something for him that would be the ultimate homage to what I consider the GOAT of musicians.”
Beyond the Prince and even Janet Jackson controversies surrounding the show, many fans spoke out about sound issues throughout the performance. According to the source, “the sound issues weren’t anybody’s fault — it was a technology issue. If your cable provider, box or set weren’t up to speed with the surround sound, there were issues, but most places were fine. The vast majority heard and had a good time.”
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Despite all of the talk surrounding the show, “He’s feeling great,” says the source of Timberlake. “Haters are going to hate but he doesn’t pay attention to all of that stuff. He’s already on to his tour rehearsals.”
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