Sunday night in the midst of Facebook and Twitter posts about the Super Bowl, I made a comment that engendered some very mild protest: while the game was a snore, Super Bowl 48 did feature the best collective music of the game.
I would not say that based on the halftime show alone. While Bruno Mars further established himself as 21st century pop’s great entertainer, I still have a thing for U2’s emotional 2002 halftime show and Prince’s 2007 reputation restoration. But Mars was definitely up there with them.
But there are two big musical elements to the Super Bowl, the national anthem and the halftime show. And when you pair Renee Fleming’s diva turn with The Star-Spangled Banner and Bruno’s showmanship, it was as super a night of Super Bowl music as I have seen.
Now lest you think everyone loved Fleming, like Fox commentator Joe Buck, I will direct you to the Operavore blog by New York’s WQXR where numerous opera lovers aired there disappointment with Flemings performance, “dumbed-down for the masses,” one commentor wrote. (I told you opera people are a tough crowd.) Others quibbled with the tempo-shifting arrangement, which was my one qualm. But overall, it was spectacular to hear a voice such as Fleming’s deliver the national anthem at the biggest American event of modern times. It really ought to set a standard that with the Super Bowl, producers don’t look for the flavor-of-the year to deliver the anthem, but search for truly excellent American artists to present it. Renee Fleming was a logical choice, and there are many more singers and instrumentalists that could be given this stage to demonstrate the United States is a great nation with great artists. The networks wouldn’t lose ratings for giving two to three minutes to, say, violinist Joshua Bell or tenor Lawrence Brownlee, to deliver our nation’s song, and you would pretty much be guaranteed a spectacular performance.
Now the half-time show is a place for pop stars, and with recent performances from Beyonce and Black-Eyed Peas, the NFL has shaken off the Jurassic rock rut it was in with acts like The Who and the Rolling Stones.
The one difficulty in giving newer artists this career-defining slot is do they have a substantial enough body of work to carry it. Mars entertainer chops are unparalleled today. He borrows healthy doses of James Brown and Michael Jackson but uses them to create an act all his own with boundless energy, which is a big part of why I would love to see this guy live. It is just magic to be in the same space when an artist can make that kind of a connection with a crowd, which Mars was clearly doing Sunday night. The addition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was a bit perfunctory, though Mars seemed totally down with it, manically joining in with the band’s hit Give it Away. (Thankfully, the band wore more than strategically placed socks, so no worries about wardrobe malfunctions.) But the stage was Mars’, and he impressed from his drum solo and blast of Locked Out of Heaven to his soaring delivery of his hit Just the Way You Are.
And I do have to say, with apologies to my numerous Bronco fan friends, that as an arts guy, I like that Seattle won the game. It is a city that has given American culture a lot from its innovative opera and visual arts community to rock icons like Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. So good on the Seahawks for giving the city a major sports championship too.
But the game was a blowout with the outcome fairly obvious by halftime, and it featured the worst crop of commercials since Super Bowl commercials became a big deal — the theme seemed to be directors trying to make their mini-movies, whether or not the pitch warranted it.
Had the halftime show bombed, New York’s Super Bowl would would have been a flop. But music saved the day.