How Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl Halftime Performance Will Come Together & Launch Him Into The Stratosphere

Justin Timberlake
Amy Harris/Invision/AP
– Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake performs at Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival in Franklin, Tenn., Sept. 23, 2017.

Whether Justin Timberlake manages to bring divided football fans together with his Super Bowl LII Halftime Show performance remains to be seen, but the man calling the production shots says JT is precisely the superstar to play Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium Feb. 4.  

“Justin’s the perfect act for this because we honestly could just put the camera on him for 12 minutes and no one would care,” Ricky Kirshner, who has executive produced the halftime show since 2007, told Pollstar. “But you know, it’s the Super Bowl so we feel like we have to make it a little bigger.”
Of course, Kirshner and his wildly talented team will do a lot more than a close-up of JT, being responsible for everything from scenery to lighting to audio to screens.
Although the mass media has focused on player protests during the national anthem and Donald Trump’s subsequent commentary, as well as the potential to redeem 2004’s infamous “Nipplegate,” Kirshner’s task is clear: to make the show as good as possible while working with a unique set of challenges. 
“I think any year is the right one to bring [Timberlake] back because he’s talented, but for our purposes I’m not going to even get into the political connotations,” Kirshner said. “As a production guy, I want to talk about the venue. It’s a venue that has its limitations and you need an act that can just go out there and kill it by themselves.”
Kirshner’s six-month process of producing the halftime show begins with visiting the stadium and evaluating the ability to put on a show in the venue, specifically how to get the show set up in eight minutes and then off the field in seven.   
“U.S. Bank Stadium’s in the middle of a city, there’s not a lot of land around it for us to have a big compound,” he said. “Because of the weather we’re trying to build a show that we can actually get inside the venue before we even start. In Houston [Lady Gaga’s 2017 halftime show at NRG Stadium] we actually lined our carts up outside the stadium and just waited for the first half to end and then went in. In this case we can’t take that chance.”
Planning the production is often driven by the song selection. A case in point is Katy Perry’s 2015 halftime show, which closed with a performance of her hit “Firework” and the singer flying above the crowd. Kirshner said it comes down to money, time and logistics: there’s no idea that’s a bad idea until about October or November when it gets into the reality of building the production.  
He made sure to give credit to his team, saying, “A big thing about doing these things is you have to work with amazingly talented people and the team is really important because I’m not good enough to do this by myself.” 

Ricky Kirshner
– Ricky Kirshner
The team is made up a core of six to eight creatives who meet on a regular basis, along with about 250 staffers, about 400-600 locals and another 800 or 1,000 cast members who will participate in halftime, such as the torch-lighters in Gaga’s show. And then there’s Justin’s team of about four or five people. 

“The act is very involved,” Kirshner said. “They didn’t become major stars without becoming involved. It’s their brand, it’s their talent.”  

Nick Whitehouse, longtime Timberlake collaborator and co-founder of creative / design studio Fireplay, told Pollstar. “Having worked with Justin Timberlake for years in a variety of live settings, Sunday night’s halftime performance is sure to be one of the most impressive visual spectacles of his legendary career. We lead creative direction from a visual standpoint, and are always looking to raise the bar and deliver audience members and viewers unforgettable experiences. This year is truly about ensuring a groundbreaking performance, and we’re thrilled to play a role in Justin’s big moment this weekend.”
And how is the NFL involved? 
“Well, there’s this thing called a football game,” Kirshner said dryly. “We think it’s just about a show and they think it’s just about a football game. And somehow on Sunday we all come to an agreement that it’s a little bit about both. … It changes from year to year and team to team, but we work very closely with the NFL on our space requirements inside [and] outside the stadium.”

U.S. Bank Stadium GM Patrick Talty also spoke to Pollstar about working with the NFL and the emphasis on the guest experience. 

“We’re spending a lot of time on the food and the customer experience. We’re working very closely with the NFL … making sure we have portables in the right place and the [point of sale] and the menus. Because the Super Bowl is such a long day people will eat two times while they’re here so we want to be sure that we have the ability to service them.”

He added, “We work a lot on the ingress and egress, making sure that people have a good experience coming in and leaving. … Ultimately, the NFL is really in control of the event and we’re just assisting them, but obviously we’re offering opinions as well. They’re good partners to work with because they recognize that we have the local knowledge and they have the big event knowledge and have a lot of resources that they bring.”

As for security, the Super Bowl is considered a special security event destination, which means the federal government provides resources and the Minneapolis Police Department is the lead agency in planning security for the event.    

Although TV ratings for regular season football games in 2017 dropped nearly 10 percent compared to the previous year, according to the Los Angeles Times, more people than ever have been watching the halftime show. Gaga’s halftime was “the most-watched musical event of all-time across all platforms and the most-watched Super Bowl halftime performance in history through broadcast and digital channels,” according to the NFL. 

While Kirshner gives input, it’s ultimately the NFL’s decision who will headline halftime. That being said, he pointed out that a proposed artist may decline depending on whether they have a new record to promote or if they’re going on tour.

The timing couldn’t be better for Timberlake, who announced his North American tour routing in early January and his new album, Man of the Woods, is due out Feb. 2, two days before the Super Bowl. Being one of the biggest live performance platforms of the year, Super Bowl LII will no doubt be the start of a lucrative touring year for the singer.
Artists have traditionally used the halftime show as a launching pad to heighten already supersized careers, translating into ticket and album sales.

Look at Bruno Mars’ numbers, for instance – in 2013 he ranked No. 19 on the Pollstar’s Year End North American Tours chart with $43 million grossed and No. 17 on the Worldwide Tours chart with $72.4 million grossed. After headlining the Super Bowl in 2014, he wrapped that year with $61.3 grossed in North America and $84 million grossed worldwide, ranking at No. 9 and No. 10 on Pollstar’s charts, respectively. 

The NFL invited Mars back again in 2016 as a special guest at Coldplay’s performance. After taking off most of 2016 to work on his 24K Magic album, he returned in a huge way in 2017, grossing $112.4 million in North America (No. 2 on the chart) and $200.1 million worldwide (No. 4 on the chart).

The halftime performance will surely boost Timberlake’s “Man Of The Woods” tour in March – his first full-fledged outing since 2014. Stay tuned to see how his numbers rank on the charts.