"Haters gonna say it's fake," Justin Timberlake sang with an audible sneer to open his halftime show at Sunday's Super Bowl LII, and it was easy to wonder who precisely he was complaining about.
Always eager to point to the imagined chip on his shoulder, Timberlake was singing the words to "Filthy," the first song on his iffy new album, "Man of the Woods," which came out Friday in strategic coordination with his appearance on music's most-watched stage.
But the lyric also seemed to apply to a quick-fire controversy that ignited over the weekend on social media after TMZ reported that Timberlake -- already a problematic figure in Super Bowl history thanks to his role in the 2004 "wardrobe malfunction" that famously exposed Janet Jackson's breast -- planned to perform alongside a hologram of Prince. (This year's game, broadcast live on NBC, was played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis.)
Almost immediately, Prince fans took to the internet to proclaim that this was a terrible idea, not least because the late legend was on record referring to holograms as "demonic."
A privileged white pop star summoning a ghoulish simulacrum of an unwilling black genius?
You don't have to be a hater to see the problem here.
Whatever Timberlake's original intent was, no hologram appeared in Sunday's halftime show -- though the singer did attempt a beyond-the-grave duet of "I Would Die 4 U" with Prince, whose projected image flickered slightly more tastefully across an enormous piece of billowing fabric.
Yet that merciful bit of good judgment hardly redeemed Timberlake's lackluster performance, which only confirmed what "Man of the Woods" had established earlier: that today this guy has nothing to say and just won't stop saying it.
OK, sure, the tightly choreographed production was impressive from a logistics standpoint.
The show began in what looked like an intimate nightclub, with Timberlake onstage before a small crowd. Then he moved up a set of stairs and -- voila! -- he was suddenly inside the stadium, surrounded by tens of thousands of people, moving down an illuminated bridge (as he sang "Rock Your Body") toward a series of small platforms on the football field.