Super Bowl

Justin Timberlake Set to Deliver 'Mesmerizing' Super Bowl Halftime Show: Pepsi Execs Reveal It's 'Justin at His Best'

Justin Timberlake
Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty Images

Justin Timberlake performs on stage at The Forum on Feb. 20, 2013 in London.

Football and music fans alike have been anticipating Justin Timberlake's Super Bowl Halftime Show since he and best bud Jimmy Fallon announced it together in October, and Timberlake himself has taken to social media all week leading up to the big day Sunday (Feb. 4) to show his excitement for the performance. Perhaps the most excited about the Pepsi Halftime Show, though, are Emma Quigley and Aziel Rivers, who have been looking forward to this day since long before JT's name was revealed. 

As Pepsi's North American head of music and marketing director (respectively), Quigley and Rivers have been working with their teams to put the brand's biggest event together, almost immediately after Lady Gaga left the Super Bowl stage last February. With Timberlake being no stranger to the halftime show -- this year marks his third appearance, a Super Bowl record -- a headlining performance from the "Sexyback" star is something Pepsi has been anticipating for years.

"Our relationship with Justin goes back a long way, so we personally feel very attached to Justin, and feel like he is part of our family," Quigley tells Billboard. "It's thrilling for us to see him back up there on the halftime stage."

Before Timberlake's big moment, Billboard chatted with Quigley and Rivers about why 2018 was finally JT's time to headline, whether he has surprise guests in store and the "mesmerizing" show JT has put together.

Along with his obvious superstar status, what made you feel like Justin was the right choice for this year’s halftime show?

Quigley: We are all big fans of Justin Timberlake. We’ve kind of felt that Justin deserves, and has for a number of years, to be the main artist for the halftime show because previously he wasn’t the main artist. It was just about the timing. To be honest, we have discussed Justin for the last number of years for coming and doing halftime, and this year just felt really right to us. He is hands down one of the greatest entertainers currently alive, it was a no-brainer. We know he’s gonna bring it.

Rivers: Every year when we do the halftime show, we’re always looking for what’s hot in music, and unforgettable and icon artists to perform. This year is no exception -- Justin’s a triple threat. We’re really excited to work with him, we’ve worked with him in the past and he’s an even bigger superstar now.

This year, what we’re doing with the Generations campaign, basically celebrating the best of Pepsi past, present and future, what better way to do that than to work with someone we’ve worked with in the past that’s still super big today, and is going to continue to be super big with the new album he’s releasing? He’s always doing something fresh and interesting, and that’s how we think of our brand as well. He has better dance moves than I do, but he definitely always keeps it really interesting and cool, so we love working with him.

Did he know or tell you that he had an album coming in early 2018 when you approached him?

Quigley: it was [decided] definitely after the offer went out to him. But he was in the studio making new music, and then basically, strategically -- and again because our planning is a long window of time, and also he’s recording of the album, [which] requires a very long runway -- so strategically they were able to make that coincide with him doing the halftime show. The stars definitely aligned for all of us with this one.

Have you noticed anything different about the excitement for it or the response to it that’s different than from in years past? Or anything that made you feel like this is a really awesome choice?

Quigley: The thing I’ll say about Justin that is different from some of the other half time shows, is that Justin he’s not entirely visible. He’s entirely visible as a superstar artist, but he’s not always doing stuff. He hasn’t toured enormously, he hasn’t released an album in quite a few years, and people absolutely love him. It’s like someone said to me the other day, ‘It’s Justin Timberlake, what’s not to love?’ Everyone loves him, so we’ve definitely seen really high engagement -- there’s rabid fans.  

The beauty of this is there are kids, moms, grandmas, everyone who are super excited. And that’s also because Justin has always set the bar so high for everything he does, so people have really high expectations of him and what he’s going to deliver. So no pressure to Justin there [Laughs]. But we know he’s going to deliver, and I think that’s what it is. Every time he does something, he’s very particular about what he chooses to do, and when he does it, it’s at a hundred and ten percent every time. He never ever fails to completely impress and leave everyone in awe.

Rivers: We were excited to work with him not only because he’s a great artist and performer, but he’s just a funny guy. Even when he did the announcement with Jimmy [Fallon], it was just a fun tongue-and-cheek way to say “Hey, I’m going to be the next halftime show artist.” That was something we really like and engage with him on, because see our role as a brand to bring joy to the lives of our consumers, and not only is he a serious musician, but he also has that lighter side, which made sense for us in terms of how we work with him to promote this year’s halftime show.

Before announcing him as the halftime show performer, were you concerned about the potential for backlash from Janet Jackson fans?

Quigley: We feel that this is his moment and this is the right time for him to be on this stage. We haven’t had any specific conversations, but I would say Ms. Jackson would probably be as thrilled as anyone else to see him on that stage performing. He deserves it. He absolutely deserves to be on the stage.

Rivers: Every year that we do the halftime show, we’re aware of who we’re partnering with and they’re aware of who they’re partnering with as well in terms of working with us. So we’re always talking and discussing things that might happen. I think it’s one of those things where you have to think about, “What’s the right way to address it?” We’re on board with how Justin’s been handling things. We’ve got our own challenges that we face as well, with his help. At the end of the day all we’re really trying to do is put on a really great show for fans that everyone’s going to get really excited about, and that’s what we want to keep focusing on.

Justin has made it sound like he may not have any surprise guests during the show, which would be the second Pepsi Halftime Show in a row without collaborators. Were you concerned about not having any guests last year, and again this year?

Quigley: We work very closely with [artists], but we’re also incredibly respectful of what their vision is for their performance. Lady Gaga didn’t want any guests or surprise guests. Initially -- concerned probably isn’t the right word -- but we were afraid it would maybe detract from what we had experienced in previous years.  And she proved she does not need any guests with her. If anything, her performance last year was so spectacular, that if you added anyone into the mix, it actually could have potentially detracted from the overall performance. She didn’t need it, she was perfection. So I think sometimes the surprise guests are magical and truly additive, and then sometimes like last year, the guest is pure perfection without them.

I can't comment on [Timberlake's] show, but the beauty of the halftime shows is that every year we’ll have something different, and we make sure it’s kept fresh. And we work with the artist to make sure its the best show they’ve ever done, and better and different than the show we’ve done the years before, keeping people engaged and excited.

Rivers: I think, from a marketing standpoint, the thing that we’re always excited to talk about is new news. And Justin dropping an album the weekend of the Super Bowl is a pretty big deal, right? He doesn’t have that many albums, so it’s one of those things where anytime he’s going to drop some new music or if he’s even featured on anything, it’s a surprise and the fans get super excited. And we’re really excited to see how the fans receive the music. As long as we know that there’s something that fans get excited about, that’s all we really care about.

Since you’ve both seen the show in rehearsals, how would you describe what fans can look forward to without giving too much away?

Rivers: It’s Justin at his best. So think of all the things that make Justin one of the world’s biggest performers -- you’re going to see that and more than you would ever expect on the stage. He’s bringing iconic songs that you’re like “Oh my God, I forgot that was my jam from back in the day!” and some really interesting stuff that maybe you haven’t heard before. The performance is one that’s going to keep you dancing.

Quigley: He’s a constant professional and he’s an absolute wonder to watch. I’m as excited, if not more so than any other superfan, to see him on Sunday. He’s gonna kill it, it’s gonna be incredible. It’s the dedication as well from him -- he really gives it his all. His talent coupled with his dedication is mesmerizing. He will not disappoint.

Super Bowl 52