East Rutherford, N.J. — The fans here needed to be entertained on Sunday night.
Even the diehard Seahawks fans reveling in their team’s 22-0 lead against the Broncos at Super Bowl XLVIII’s halftime were in need of something unexpected, something flashy, something that was more engaging than their beloved Seattle footballers running over the floppy, flat-footed team from Denver.
Enter Bruno Mars with a gold sportcoat, sky-high hair-poof and, unexpectedly, a drumkit.
And that’s how the halftime show started — with pop star Mars slinging sticks on an elevated drum riser. Regardless of the first-half blowout (that continued through the game’s end), it was a smart way to get things moving at halftime — percussion!
The only problem? Mars, who first seduced the pop/R&B spotlight in 2009-2010 when he co-wrote Flo Rida’s “Right Round” and Cee Lo Green’s “F—k You,” isn’t much of a drummer. But since the Denver Broncos set such a low bar, the New Jersey crowd was wowed as Mars transformed an overblown drum solo into a medley of the biggest hits from his still-very short career.
The halftime show started with a children’s choir singing a small taste of Mars’ “Billionaire,” a solemn moment before the gold-clad pop star popped out behind the drums for a quick transition into “Locked Out of Heaven.” A large, soulful band backed up Mars, who appeared to be singing live, and the transition into his “Treasure” was an easy and smooth one.
Watch Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at the Super Bowl halftime show below:
Hearing shortened, chorus-centered versions of “Locked Out of Heaven” and “Treasure” back to back like that served as a potent reminder of Mars’ familiar formula. His hook-heavy retrofitted R&B is plug-and-play — the kind of music you can almost immediately sing along with on first listen. On 100th listen? Yeah, it gets a little old.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers (with singer Anthony Kiedis and bassman Flea going shirtless on the seasonal New Jersey night) added much-needed originality to the halftime with their single shot, “Give It Away.” The hit might be 23 years old, but the post-punk pre-grunge alt-rock jam still has a sting — especially when held in comparison to Mars’ polished and produced throwback sounds.
But of course Mars was headlining for a reason — definitely the right call for the super-safe Super Bowl. Mars represents mainstream music in America in 2014, and while he lacked the wow-factor marquee-billing of a Rolling Stones or Prince or Who or Janet Jackson (whose nip-slip celebrated 10 years at this year’s big game), his profile worked — with a little help from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
A lulling piano solo played after the Chili Peppers’ departure to the touching monologues of American soldiers’ shout-outs from abroad to their friends and family, leading into Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” The familiar tune was a fitting close for a halftime show that will never be remembered as one of the greats — but it won’t go down as one of the worst, either.