The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
The first Super Bowl I watched on TV? That’s easy: the 1980 matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Rams were my first favorite football team, thanks in large part to it being Warren Beatty’s team in the 1978 comedy Heaven Can Wait. (The fact I was picking football teams based on movies was a strong indication where my life was going.) Unfortunately, quarterback Vince Ferragamo and the real-life Rams didn’t fare as well as Beatty’s Joe Pendleton and Co., losing to Pittsburgh, 31-19.
That, I remember.
The halftime show? Not a thing.
It was not the Bee Gees, Donna Summer or some other chart-topper from those days, as we have now. It was two groups that seem unlikely in today’s era of blockbuster, big-name Super Bowl shows: Up With People and the Grambling State University Marching Band.
Both were Super Bowls mainstays during that time. Up With People, the Denver-based educational organization with a performing arm, was the halftime act at five Super Bowls during the 1970s and ’80s.
Yes, there was a time when the Super Bowl was about the football game, and the halftime show was an afterthought, or so it seemed. Today, anticipation for the things surrounding the game — Super Bowl ads, Beyoncé’s halftime show this year — rivals anticipation of the game itself and makes the Super Bowl a certifiable pop culture phenomenon.
A few years back, when the Super Bowl was getting slagged by many for booking Jurassic rockers including the Rolling Stones and The Who for the halftime shows, it could have been worse.
If you doubt that, YouTube is here to testify.
Take, for instance, the 1977 halftime show, when the game was played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The competitors were the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders. The show was produced by the Walt Disney Co. and featured a marching band, cheesy singers in Mickey Mouse sweaters and “the new Mouseketeers!” including a sprite named “Lisa!” whom we would later come to know as Lisa Whelchel — Blair on the long-running sitcom The Facts of Life and runner-up on the recent Survivor: Philippines. The show also was supposed to include a crowd-participation card trick, though here in the Herald-Leader’s features department, we can’t figure out what that was supposed to be.
Probably the most unwatchable clip we could find on YouTube was a two-minute snippet of Up With People playing Super Bowl V in 1971. As an NBC sportscaster announces “Up With the People,” the bright red- and yellow-clad group plays, dances and clearly lip-syncs to Someone Smiled.
(Beyoncé, if you lip-sync on Sunday, there is a precedent.)
It’s not that the Super Bowl halftime shows were devoid of stars.
In 1973, the University of Michigan Marching Band performed with guest Andy Williams warbling a version of Barbra Streisand’s People. Two years later, the Grambling State Marching Band played a tribute to Duke Ellington; his son Mercer Ellington and the Duke Ellington Band rolled into New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium on an A-Train float.
Ella Fitzgerald even made a Super Bowl halftime appearance in 1972 with Carol Channing and trumpeter Al Hirt. We could not find video of that, which might be just as well for the artists’ reputations. Channing also appeared at Super Bowl IV in 1970, and Hirt was on hand for the first Super Bowl, in 1967, along with the Grambling State and University of Arizona marching bands and the Anaheim High School drill team.
No matter how much announcers told us these were “marvelous” and “spectacular,” when you look at videos of some of these shows, it’s hard to imagine many of them kept people from heading to the refrigerator or bathroom or concession stand.
I distinctly remember watching the Cincinnati Bengals’ first Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers in 1982. But if I have a memory of the Up With People halftime show, hosted by Kentucky’s then-first lady and CBS sportscaster Phyllis George (above), I have mercifully repressed it.
For better and worse, Super Bowl halftime shows started to become memorable and engage contemporary star power in the 1990s. They were still trying to fit the performers in higher-concept ideas of halftime entertainment — see the Disney-esque appearance by New Kids on the Block in 1991 (which was actually not shown during the Super Bowl broadcast due to coverage of the Gulf War, which was just starting) and a mismatch of Olympic figure skaters and Gloria Estefan to celebrate winter in 1992 — Miami Sound Machine’s Gloria Estefan? Winter?
The first time I can recall hanging in to watch a Super Bowl halftime show was 1993 (above), also the first time the performance doubled as a rock concert, this time starring Michael Jackson in all his self-aggrandizing glory. He was still charting hits, things had not gotten too weird, and when he moonwalked across the stage, it was 1983 again.
Jackson’s stand was the performance that changed the Super Bowl halftime show forever, setting the template for what happens annually now: a performance by one of the biggest names in pop. There were missteps along the way. The next year, 1994 in Atlanta, was the first of several in which the stage was so overloaded with stars (I can only find an ad for that one) — including Kentuckians Naomi and Wynonna Judd — that it turned the event into a mishmash. That most notably happened in 2004, when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake created the infamous wardrobe malfunction that briefly exposed Jackson’s breast to the world.
In the 21st century, the shows have been at their best when left to one brilliant artist: Prince’s showcase of his greatness in 2007 and U2’s moving post-9/11 appearance in 2002 (above). It doesn’t always work, but that it frequently does is one of the biggest reasons we keep tuning in to this game every year, even if our team is not playing.
There is a game, isn’t there?
I don’t know if The Kinks ever lip-synced a performance of their song Predictable, but it would have been appropriate considering the reaction any time a high-profile, big-arena performance is done with pre-recorded help.
The latest brouhaha comes following Beyoncé’s rendition of the Star-spangled Banner at Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama. The reaction in my house was pretty much the same as everywhere else: Wow! Nailed it! Right up there with Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl! Of course, we know the lifespan of unmitigated praise in 21st-century culture is about a day.
The backlash, it seems, started in earnest about 24 hours after Beyoncé’s final notes faded across the Washington Mall.
The former Destiny’s Child member recorded the performance Sunday night and possibly lip-synced to the track Monday afternoon. (As I get ready to hit “publish” on this post, the story is in flux.)
The news was touted with headlines like E! Online’s “Inauguration Shocker!” Even NPR was covering this in its top-of-the-hour newscasts Tuesday afternoon.
OK. If you have followed this sort of thing for any length of time, you should not be shocked — you do follow these things, don’t you, E!? Big-arena performances like Super Bowls and inaugurations are usually pre-recorded, sometimes with the full intent of performing to the track, sometimes as a backup. These are very high-stakes, high-profile, unpredictable venues, and people are wary of risking a big embarrassment if something goes wrong artistically or technically.
According to available reports, it appears that this was a backup that someone might have decided to go with at the final second. Who knows why? Maybe Beyoncé or someone directing the production listened to James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson struggle with a few bum notes in the massive, open, chilly venue and decided not to risk the finale. Maybe after sitting quiet in the open air for more than an hour, Beyoncé decided she wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent without a warmup. Reports say she never rehearsed with the Marine Band, which appeared to play with her Monday, although she did record her track to the band’s recorded performance.
(Her dramatic removal of her inner-ear monitor does make me wonder whether this was a live performance, because artists usually do that when what they’re getting in the monitor is detracting from their performance.)
If she did lip-sync, forgive me if I don’t get too worked up about this and declare it further evidence of the decay of our culture.
There are times when I will be less forgiving of Memorex performances. Ashlee Simpson’s infamous Saturday Night Live non-performance was ridiculous. If you bill yourself as a live performer, you should be able to go into a venue like SNL’s Studio 8H and sing live — even though artists as big as Paul McCartney and Kanye West have struggled on that stage.
Then there have been moments when artists maybe discovered that a track might have been a good idea. Lexington’s own Laura Bell Bundy found herself out of breath during an aerobic, live performance of her single Giddy On Up during the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Ideally, every performance we see would be live, because it is certainly most satisfying to watch someone excel while hanging it all out there when everything is on the line. Maybe that’s what Beyoncé will do Feb. 3 as the halftime act for the Super Bowl, along with a reunion of Destiny’s Child.
Live would have been ideal and a bit more impressive, but that still was Beyoncé’s performance Monday. It was not as if someone else recorded the song and she just went out there and looked good mouthing it. This was not Milli Vanilli. And it was a tasteful, beautiful rendition of our national anthem, with just enough ornamentation to make it distinctly hers, not one of those travesties we so often see from pop stars.
So if she lip-ynced, so what?
Apr28Filed under: Derby, Film, Louisville, Music, Television; Tagged as: 2009 Barnstable-Brown Gala, 2009 Barnstable-Brown Party, Barnstable-Brown Gala, Beyonce, Bobby Flay, Boys 2 Men, Chris Tucker, Damon Wayans, Eli Manning, Emily Cox, En Vogue, Evander Holyfield, Grand Gala, Gretchen Wilson, Idris Elba, Joe Piscipo, Joey Fatone, Kathryn Joosten, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Kid Rock, Kim Kardashian, Marg Helgenberger, Maria Montgomery, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Jordan, Mint Jubilee, Nick Lachey, Paris Hilton, party, Teena Marie, Tom Brady, Tom Joyner, Travis Tritt, Tyler Perry, Valarie Bertinelli, Woody Harrelson
Derby mode got a little delayed this year at Copious Notes because it seems like every arts group in Lexington decided to have an event in the last couple of weeks. But here we are at the big week, and I am having a hard time resisting cheering for the Chocolate horse, which is not surprising.
But our first order of business is to see which celebs are coming to the Derby and the Derby Eve parties.
Topping the list — and in terms of being a paparazzi magnet and all that, she will be hard to top — is Paris Hilton, who is a confirmed Barnstable-Brown Gala guest with her boyfriend Doug Reinhardt, and will also host an after party at the Sports and Social Club on Louisville’s Fourth Street.
Barnstable-Brown spokesman Corky Coryell said a formal announcement will be out Wednesday, but did confirm Woody Harrelson, Gretchen Wilson, Kid Rock, Bobby Flay, Joey Fatone, Nick Lachey, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Travis Tritt, En Vogue and Boys 2 Men.
Other bashes, have announced their guest lists including the Mint Jubilee, which will welcome CSI star Marg Helgenberger, former One Day at a Time star and current Jenny Craig pitchwoman Valarie Bertinelli and Desperate Housewives star Kathryn Joosten.
The event at the Galt House Hotel also lists some dudes, including under-appreciated actor Mekhi Phifer (always makes me think of that line from Lose Yourself), comedians Damon Wayans and Joe Piscipo and a bunch of athletes including former Heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield. Maybe the coup for the Mint is getting both of the Bluegrass State’s Misses: Miss Kentucky America Emily Cox and Miss Kentucky USA Maria Montgomery.
The Grand Gala always waits until Derby night to throw down. It’s guest list is topped by Idris Elba who stars opposite Beyonce in last weekend’s No. 1 movie Obsessed, Rush Hour star Chris Tucker and NBA legend and Derby perennial Michael Jordan.
Also announced is radio host Tom Joyner and Cosby Show star and one of Tyler Perry‘s go-to actors Keshia Knight Pulliam. Entertaining at the event will be ’80s R&B star Teena Marie.
Kim Kardashian, who’s kind of in the famous-for-being famous group with Hilton, is hosting a Derby Eve bash at Louisville’s Glassworks.
So that is the confirmed guest list thus far. There are rumors out there, and there are always last-minute announcements. Stay tuned.
We will, as always, be at the Barnstable-Brown Gala Friday night, and between now and then, will be on the look out for other Derby fun.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich