Why Prince Fans Are Not Happy About Justin Timberlake's Super Bowl "Tribute"

If you're one of the 100 million or so people who watched the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII Sunday night, there's a pretty decent chance that you caught some of the halftime show, which was headlined by pop megastar Justin Timberlake.

During his performance, Timberlake took some time to pay tribute to Prince (the game was played in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis) with a half-cover/half-duet with a recording of his 1984 hit, "I Would Die 4 U." Though Timberlake publicly said that the Prince cover was meant to pay tribute an artist he saw as "the pinnacle of musicianship," many of Prince's fans are furious about the performance, and for good reason.

As it turns out, Prince—who passed away in 2016—explicitly voiced his disgust at the idea of digitally jamming with an artist from the past in an interview with, you guessed it, Guitar World.

Speaking to the magazine in October 1998, Prince—when asked if he would ever consider using digital editing to jam with an artist from the past—said "Certainly not. That's the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and as it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing...it really is demonic. And I am not a demon."

"Also, what they did with that Beatles song ["Free As a Bird"}, manipulating John Lennon's voice to have him singing from across the grave, that'll never happen to me," he continued. "To prevent that kind of thing from happening is another reason why I want artistic control."

It was initially rumored that Timberlake was planning to jam with a hologram of Prince during the Super Bowl halftime show, which Prince himself headlined—in what is often seen as one of, if not the greatest halftime shows of all time—in 2007. After speaking to Timberlake though, Shelia E.—Prince's former drummer and longtime friend—confirmed on Twitter that there would be no hologram.

While Timberlake did not exactly use a hologram of Prince, what he did certainly falls under the "digital duet" category. Though Prince's estate issued a statement (opens in new tab) praising the performance, it's just the newest chapter in the blooming, controversial subject of late artists being brought digitally back to life to perform with living, breathing musicians. Chances are, it won't be the last.

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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player (opens in new tab). Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder (opens in new tab) and Unrecorded (opens in new tab). Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.