I Might Be Wrong: Super Bowl halftime is an art that takes a real artistBy Colin St. John | December 8th, 2011 | 3 comments
I can remember it like it was yesterday: Michael Jackson appearing and then reappearing in corners of the Rose Bowl as if he were part of the climactic scene of “Three Amigos.” Jackson busted out tunes like “Billie Jean” and “Black and White,” scored higher ratings than the blowout 1993 game between the Cowboys and Bills and ushering in a new era of Super Bowl superstardom. All of the elements were there: wild explosions, a mass of paid actors pretending to be actual fans, lip-syncing, hardcore choreography and a gigantic figure at the center of it all.
This week, the NFL announced that Madonna would be in that spotlight; it’s a fantastic choice. Not only is Madonna a consummate entertainer with a stellar back catalog, she’s always been controversial. And if JT and Janet’s “wardrobe malfunction” taught us anything, it’s that the Super Bowl halftime show plus controversy equals great television.
But, as the major labels gasp for their last breaths, so too do major stars like MJ and Madonna. And, so with it goes mega, over-the-top performances. The stage on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl couldn’t be larger. It needs legends.
Take, for instance, last year’s performance from the Black Eyed Peas: It was dreadful. Not only is the band — hyperbole alert — all-around one of the worst on the planet, they don’t have the presence to command in that setting. And a year before that, the Who made for a few moments of glee but, really, seemed more like a bunch of sad, old guys who just don’t sound or move like they used to. The same goes for the Rolling Stones (‘06).
Still, the powers-that-be did well to select the Who and the Stones, as well as Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. I’d even go as far as to say that U2 was a solid choice and I’ve made it perfectly clear how I feel about them. No matter what you think of these acts, though, they have that larger-than-life je ne sais quois. They can pull of a performance that’s 95% fireworks and 5% music. An upstart who sells millions of records — which really doesn’t happen anymore, anyhow — can’t cut the mustard. To put it another way: Would you like to see Adele take the reins this year?
Where does that leave us? The big stars of the 1960s through 2000s have, for the most, played the show. Neil Young was stunning at the Olympics; he could still be tapped. Bob Dylan’s live show is about as energetic as North Korea at nighttime, but he still is Bob Dylan. Brian Wilson, David Bowie, Elton John and Van Morrison come to mind. A Talking Heads, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd reunion would do the trick, too. And Janet’s nipple teaming with the likes of P. Diddy and Nelly might have doomed hip-hop in the near future but a duo like Jay-Z and Kanye West could shoulder the affair.
The point, here, is that the list is quickly dwindling. As the majors fall apart, so too does the arena rock star. The Super Bowl halftime show — and gigantic stadium shows in general, for that matter — will have to start to think outside of the box. What about Radiohead, the Strokes, My Morning Jacket, the Flaming Lips or Beastie Boys? Or what about Cass McCombs? (Joking.) Seriously, though, why didn’t the producers include Daft Punk in the Black Eyed Peas’s “Tron: Legacy”-themed show? They crushed the 2008 Grammys with Kanye.
And this brings us to Prince. His 2007 performance at Dolphin Stadium was the best the Super Bowl has ever seen. Not only is Prince the ultimate showman, he exhibited guitar prowess on another level, absolutely shredding. And that’s what it takes for such an event: a Herculean pop icon who can actually play some decent tunes. Who is left to fill such shoes? For now, we can only hope that Madonna decides to fill her “Like a Virgin” wedding dress.