Justin Timberlake's Music Director on Crafting the Perfect Super Bowl Halftime Show: 'We Wanted People to Dance With Us'


Adam Blackstone, JT’s right-hand man for greater than six years, obtained an Emmy nomination for his work on the Super Bowl LII efficiency.

Within per week assembly Justin Timberlake on Christmas Eve in 2011, Adam Blackstone was in rehearsals with the pop celebrity, and since that day the 2 have been virtually inseparable. The 35-year-old – who has served as musical director for JAY-Z, Janet Jackson, Eminem and plenty of extra superstars – has conceptualized JT’s 20/20 Experience Tour, deliberate the awe-inspiring Oscars efficiency “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and now serves because the music director Timberlake’s acclaimed Tennessee Kids backing band. But maybe their greatest collaboration thus far got here on February four, 2018, when Timberlake performed the Super Bowl LII halftime present.

The 14-minute spectacle spanned Timberlake’s 16-year solo profession, overlaying 11 his greatest hits, together with “AttractiveBack” and “Cry Me a River.” Despite controversy over JT’s return to the Super Bowl stage 14 years after the notorious “wardrobe malfunction” incident with Janet Jackson, and offended Prince followers giving side-eye to a rumored hologram the Purple One, Blackstone helped Timberlake craft a music-focused present that was simply as enjoyable to observe because it was to bop together with – and now, it’s Emmy-nominated.

Blackstone obtained a Creative Arts Emmy nomination for excellent music course, marking solely the third time a Super Bowl halftime present has been nominated for the award. Though the award went to Gregg Field for Tony Bennett: The Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize For Popular Song, Blackstone is grateful to even have been thought-about.

“We don't do that for accolades, we do it to be the most effective that we might be for ourselves, and to convey our music to the followers,” Blackstone tells Billboard. “So when an out of doors individual acknowledges it, it feels good. It was a tremendous expertise for us.”

Billboard chatted with the veteran music director to dive just a little deeper into how Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl halftime present got here collectively, his private favourite second, and – controversies and selfies apart – what it meant to be nominated for an Emmy.

Hearing JT Out

One the issues he wished to see was that we might truncate these hit songs in sufficient time to make it impactful. The present and the curse to Justin having so many hits is that typically the verses really feel as standard because the choruses. So while you hear "Cry Me A River," you like "You have been my solar/ You have been my earth." For me, I'm like, "Yo, JT we gotta do this." And he's like, "Nah, I believe it's the identical feeling if I simply go, ‘You don't must say, what you probably did,’” and it labored.

That’s what makes him such a genius, such a real artist — he is aware of his followers, and is aware of how his music can come throughout even skipping a verse. And he's taught me a lot with simply nailing what are deemed the vital elements the songs, or skipping individuals's favourite elements the tune, however nonetheless giving it that very same power so that you don't miss it.

I believe the message that we wished to convey was: these songs provide you with a way nostalgia. These songs make you smile, these songs make you wish to have a superb time. That's the whole message we wished to convey for our 14 minutes. For that point being, escape your troubles, escape the unhappiness, regardless of the world could be going by means of, and let’s get together and have a superb time by means of this present we name music.

Preparing For the Big Show

I watched the final 17 halftime exhibits. I studied them and noticed some issues that labored, noticed some issues that didn't work for us. I used to be in a position to take rather a lot those self same ideas and use them to determine] how I’d provide you with a killer set checklist for us.

I noticed, coming from the stay area, that breaks between songs have been okay. As I watched Prince, Gloria Estefan, Bruno, and Beyoncé, Guns N' Roses, the breaks that they have been placing to cease the songs gave the viewers a breath contemporary air, to variety be ready for the following second. It's strategic — the place you finish music is what tells a narrative.

I used to be on model 16 the present] by the point we bought to Minneapolis. I believe that once I first put our set collectively it was 22 minutes, and I stated, "This is right, so now let's strip it again from this." Mixing, choreography and transition instances have been all being modified as we hit that stage in rehearsals], as a result of if the marching band wants an additional 5 seconds, or additional 5 steps, it's my job to make that additional five-step mark time in our music. The means we work, and the way diligent we’re minute-to-minute with our music, it wasn’t till] after we hit that stage that we have been locked in.

Approaching the Janet Jackson Controversy

My musical experiences with each Janet and Justin] occurred after the Super Bowl nip-slip factor. When I met Janet in ‘08-‘09, she was well beyond that. And once I met Justin in 2012, he was well beyond it as nicely. Now, course, assembly them, I positively wasn’t considering 2018 would have a crossroads a Super Bowl.

When it got here up that Justin] was doing the Super Bowl, I assumed concerning the Janet] controversy just a little bit. But, it was actually simply my job to concentrate on making him have the most effective present doable. And one the issues surrounding] Janet is that persons are going to speak and have detrimental issues to say anyway, so I simply wished us to go and have the most effective present doable and simply know that we had put all the pieces out on the desk.

Gaga had the catalog to hold it. We have been completely entertained by her, and didn't miss friends. We felt like we had sufficient catalog to hold out these 14 minutes — if something, we had an excessive amount of. We wished to guarantee that if we did add a visitor, it will be impactful, and be warranted with what we have been making an attempt to convey. I can't do Janet, we will't do Coldplay, we will’t do Ricky Martin, we will simply do us. And that's what I wished to drive house to Justin — do the most effective that you are able to do.

Incorporating a Prince Tribute

It was insinuated that we modified our present as a result of someone instructed us to not use a hologram, however that by no means was the case. It was all variety rumour – it was by no means gonna be a hologram.

It would've nearly been simpler to do a hologram, as a result of what we determined to do was take uncooked footage Prince singing “I Would Die four U” and sync it to our music — that was a more durable job than simply creating one thing from scratch. Prince has been an enormous affect on Justin, and an enormous affect on myself. We toyed round with tips on how to do a Prince tribute, and the way to not make it the clichéd “Purple Rain," "Let's Go Crazy…” We wished to do one thing just a little extra obscure that folks hadn't heard for a Prince tribute. He was at all times in a position to inform his story by means of the present music, and he taught me to imagine in your reality — be taught the language music so you may convey it to anyone.

Once we stated "Die four U," and make it right into a ballad to make it very emotional and mawkish, I used to be in a position to attain out to Troy Carter — who was in cost Prince's property — and clarify to them what we have been doing. They have been all in for it. Troy gave us his blessing, and it was all good.

Justin, his workforce, Hamish Hamilton, longtime Super Bowl halftime present director], and Nick Whitehouse got here up with the stay video idea. People don't understand that I didn't play an MP3, that was really my band taking part in to Prince's vocal. We have been in a position to get the masters and the ISO vocal, so we really created a musical association round Prince — it was like we have been backing up Prince stay. It felt actually good.

Celebrating the “Super Bowl Selfie”

That was a spur–the-moment genius second for Justin. That has turn into a second in time the place our Super Bowl halftime present] will likely be thought — no person has gone into the viewers, and as prevalent as cell telephones are proper now, and simply the time period “selfie,” all that. We're aligned with that second. Now, even my Three-year-old son says, "Super Bowl Selfie!” Laughs.]

Looking Back With Pride…

My favourite half would positively be the top the “Cry Me A River” dance break, the place I come to the center the stage and cue the whole stadium on the final observe and the lights exit. I felt, in that 5 seconds, that the whole stadium was watching me, and that's what I do for our band anyway — I used to be in a position to carry that to life at this grand stage, cue everybody, and growth, lights out.

What’s humorous is that, as a result of we're within the second, I'm not watching the angle the digital camera or something like that. I'm actually technically simply doing my job. So to observe it again and to understand the affect that the visuals, the lighting, the particular results and the video screens carry, and to be doing my job up there, I'm simply blessed to be concerned with such high-caliber expertise.

I assumed we did a superb job conveying what our future message is for after the Super Bowl, however we additionally wished individuals to bop with us, and get together with us, and ensure they knew that now we have these jams. I believe typically individuals overlook what number of scorching songs Justin] has.

The preparation, the poise that we displayed, the quantity work put in], after which to be acknowledged by the Television Academy for this Emmy nomination for excellent music course — this must be my crowning achievement to date, for certain.

…And Looking Out For Bruno

My boy Bruno Mars has put himself down as musical director for himself for his CBS live performance particular, Bruno Mars: 24Ok Magic Live on the Apollo]. Off identify recognition alone, individuals might say Bruno could possibly be the favourite or the largest competitors. With all that being stated, I’m a real believer that what God has for me is meant to be for me — win or lose, the wave that I've been in a position to journey all through this entire nominations marketing campaign has simply been unbelievable. And I'm so grateful. This is pushing me to work even more durable to get a number of nominations sooner or later.