Coldplay and the national pastime of hate-watching the Super Bowl halftime show
February 6, 2016
You may love it. You may hate it. But if you're like most Americans, you love to hate-watch it.
The Super Bowl halftime show, with its bloated production, ludicrous pageantry and random guest performers, has become a time when we all gather around the tube and laugh at pop stars.
Think of the gifts it's bestowed upon the culture in the new millennium: Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," Katy Perry's dance party with Left Shark and friends, Flea — one of the great bass players of rock history — dancing around pretending to play an unplugged bass as speakers blared a pre-recorded track. In the age of on-demand TV and binge-watching, the crappiness of the halftime show offers one of the few true Monday morning water-cooler moments we have left.
Good Ol' Days
In times past, the show was a relatively modest affair. It featured marching bands and local performers (clarinetist Pete Fountain headlined games at the Louisiana Superdome — twice) and weird, chintzy skits (New Kids on the Block and Disney characters in 1991) and Up With People (really: the morally upright edu-tainment outfit headlined four times between 1976 and 1986).
Back in 1992 on "The Simpsons" — in the episode when Lisa assists Homer's football betting — Bart echoed the feeling of many Americans as he watched an interminable and cheesy Super Bowl halftime show featuring costumed aliens, pleading: "Come on snipers, where are you?"
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But Michael Jackson changed that. His 1993 performance of "Heal the World" and other songs led to record ratings and ushered in our age of mega-hyped stadium rock shows. The problem, of course, is that most performers are not charismatic-early-'90s Michael Jackson. Up With People, Pete Fountain or some guys in alien suits might be an improvement on the over-stuffed, gaudy pop fare of recent halftimes.
There have been a few exceptions. The 2002 show by U2, including a tribute to the victims of 9/11 during "Where the Streets Have No Name," was genuinely moving (and I may be biased, because I was at the game working as a beer vendor). Props to Prince for his phallic purple guitar in 2007. Springsteen rocked in 2009. I admired Madonna's over-the-top Cirque du Soleil show in 2012.
What's happened recently — as musical tastes have fractured with the onset of streaming — is that there aren't many genuine stadium-sized pop stars anymore. Few musicians are joining the stable of MJs and Springsteens and U2s and Madonnas (Taylor Swift or Adele, neither of whom have played a Super Bowl, are about all we've got at that level of pop music world domination in 2016).
And so we get Super Bowl halftime shows of either aged rockers (The Who in '10, Tom Petty in '08, The Rolling Stones in '06, Paul McCartney in '05) or weird combinations that network producers hope will hit all their advertisers' demographics (Katy Perry with Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliot and Left Shark last year; Bruno Mars with the aforementioned lip- and bass-syncing Red Hot Chili Peppers the year before; the Black Eyed Peas, Usher and — but of course — Slash of Guns N' Roses in 2011).
'Get Kid Rock'
So this year, as our Broncos take on the Panthers, we get Coldplay. They're one of the few new-ish acts that can fill stadiums, sure, but is Chris Martin's emo croon fit for American football? I think Bill Maher put it best recently on "Real Time," noting with his characteristic snark: "The NFL needs to remember when it's booking the halftime show: We're watching football! This year's Super Bowl act is Coldplay. Because nothing screams football like drippy piano noodling and a good cry. Come on, we're celebrating a bunch of violent meatheads with brain damage: Get Kid Rock!"
Which isn't a bad idea. But instead, the NFL has announced cameos from halftime alums Bruno Mars and Beyonce (who reunited with Destiny's Child at halftime in 2013) to join Coldplay and, one presumes, cheer us up a bit. And that might not be so terrible — Bruno Mars and Beyonce are pure, old-school entertainers.
Of course, instead of complaining, we can always switch over to the "Puppy Bowl" on Animal Planet (which features cute puppies in competition and continues a tradition of counter-programming against crappy Super Bowl halftime fare extending back to Fox's "In Living Color" and MTV's "Beavis and Butthead" alternative shows in the early to mid-1990s). But, honestly, it'll probably more fun to stay tuned in and mock whatever they give us.