Continuing in the vein of Madonna in 2012, Beyonce steered the Super Bowl halftime show away from dad rock to embrace girl power.
Forget the clash between the 49ers and the Ravens. Speculation in the run-up to Super Bowl Sunday was all about Beyonce. Would the sizzling human volcano erupt with 12 minutes of booty-popping, hip-thrusting, hair-flipping hoochie-mama fabulousness? Or did being a wife and mother, an Obama intimate and a Serious Artist mean Queen Bey would tone down the sexual heat and shift into pop-gospel goddess mode? Would hubby Jay-Z make a “Crazy in Love” cameo? And would Destiny’s Child reunite on the Superdome stage?
Well, despite advance denials designed to keep us guessing, it surprised nobody that the R&B vocal trio did indeed reconvene, to the joy of ‘90s nostalgists across the country who were more than ready for this jelly. Jay-Z stayed home, perhaps feeding the rumor mill that he is holding out for the 2014 Super Bowl gig in New York. But most importantly, the Bey-boss uncorked a whole mess of molten lava.
Madonna smashed ratings records with her 2012 halftime show by amping up the theatricality and enlisting a backup crew of younger, hipper flavors in the old girl’s tireless bid to stay relevant. So Beyonce had a tough act to follow. But she pulled together a slick, hits-laden performance that combined the tightly choreographed spectacle of Madge’s show with her own thoroughbred vocal pyrotechnics.
After her lipsyncing controversy at the Presidential Inauguration in January, Beyonce appeared to be singing live at the Super Bowl. However, given the physical exertion of her dance routines and the fact that canned tracks are commonly used in halftime shows, some audio assist was quite possibly employed. But when an entertainer has this much command, who cares?
Ever since Michael Jackson redefined the Super Bowl break exactly 20 years ago, the event has become about giant stars capitalizing on the mammoth audience to push new tours, albums, reunions, hits compilations or whatever latest career evolution is in the works.
In the 21st century years especially, the organizers have bounced around all over the pop-rock map in their schizoid choices. The sparks generated by pairing Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake in 2004 were overshadowed by the ridiculously outsize Nipplegate ruckus. And the bid to harness the hip-hop edge missed the mark when the Black Eyed Peas did a belly flop onstage in 2011.
An attempt to cover a broad spectrum in 2001 by throwing together Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly smacked of disharmonious desperation. And the parade of aging rockers through much of the past decade – Paul McCartney (2005), the Rolling Stones (2006), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2008), Bruce Springsteen (2009) and the Who (2010) – were generally considered safe choices that spoke to old-timer football fans without troubling the younger crowd too much.
Perhaps the acts that came closest to hitting a bull’s-eye were U2, whose bombast was made more palatable when deployed in the service of a genuinely moving 9/11 memorial tribute in 2002, just months after the attacks had taken place; and Prince, whose brilliant musicianship and killer guitar licks invigorated the 2007 show. Who doesn’t want to sing along to “Purple Rain?”
Where Beyonce lands in the Super Bowl halftime rankings will doubtless be the subject of next week’s water-cooler debate. But from the moment she appeared as a giant silhouette against a plume of smoke while the late Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s legendary “excellence must be pursued” Super Bowl speech was heard, Beyonce turned on a high-energy, sexually charged performance with exciting multimedia elements. The most eye-popping of these techno-tricks was a double image of Beyonce’s face outlined in lights, with a sea of flowing fabric tresses.