Every year the Super Bowl Halftime Show has a theme.
In 1969, at Super Bowl III, it was “America Thanks.” Super Bowl X in 1976 hosted “200 Years and Just a Baby: A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial.” The theme of Janet Jackson’s 2004 performance might have been overshadowed by a thing or two—can’t imagine what—but its theme was “Rock the Vote.”
Things evolved over the years. Madonna’s theme in 2012? “Polytheism.” (OK, sure.) And when Beyoncé first headlined the gig in 2013 it was “The Woman/Female Empowerment.”
And if we were going to unofficially assign a theme to Super Bowl 50’s Halftime Show, it appears that it was… “Super Bowl Halftime Shows of years past that were way better.”
Headlined by Coldplay, this year’s halftime show aggressively called back on the greatest moments from spectacles of yesteryear. It’s fitting, I suppose, given the monumental nature of the 50th annual production, which has evolved in leaps from its humble beginnings with a few marching bands to its current status as the biggest gig in showbiz.
But by the time Chris Martin crooned “Fix You” over a montage of past halftime shows you wondered whether he was celebrating the pomp and circumstance of the showcase or eulogizing the death of the whole darned thing.
Whether it was the trip down memory lane—from that 1967 marching band performance all the way through Michael Jackson, McCartney, and Missy—or bringing on guest performers Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, respectively responsible for arguably the two greatest halftime performances since MJ, Martin and Coldplay were overshadowed by the legacy of the very gig they were saluting.
Heck, Beyoncé’s costume was even an on-the-nose homage to the one Jackson wore during his iconic Super Bowl performance.
Silencing the groans of those miffed that Coldplay—a pop-rock group that itself has seen its scope evolve from uber-hip alt band, to crowd-pleasing stadium rockers, to falsetto’d ninnies who have overstayed their musical welcome—headlined this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, the show still was suitably epic.
Hello, this is the Super Bowl. Epicness is intrinsic. Plus, Beyoncé performed. Epicness is Bey.
But excessive navel-gazing and a jarring bit of sunniness meant that Coldplay couldn’t live up to the Halftime Show reputation it was constantly reminding us of. Thankfully, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were there to ensure that, at the very least, the two of them did.
It all opened with Chris Martin crooning a few bars of Coldplay’s best song, “Yellow,” before transitioning into one of its worst, “Viva La Vida.” Cool move, Mr. Goop.
“We’re in this together!” he told the camera on a break from his elfin stroke-prancing across the stage. Kids dressed in Pepsi-themed windbreakers playing the violin jumped up and down chanting “whoooaaa!” Marching bands in neon outfits spilled onto the field as the band moved from “Paradise” to “Adventure of a Lifetime.” Dancers holding rainbow sunflower umbrellas skipped around the field.
Finally, Bruno Mars was there to save us.
There’s not a human in America, cynical they may be, who doesn’t find their inner groove thang awakened by the opening bars to “Uptown Funk.” People say they hate that song. They are filthy liars.
A direct pop descendant of Michael Jackson, Mars put on a show. He danced. He funked us up. He looked like a tiny MC Hammer. He was wonderful, the amuse-bouche to our Beyoncé feast.
And Beyoncé? She was serving it up.
One day after dropping “Formation,” a scorching black power anthem that marked her ferocious, necessary transition from entertainer to activist, she called ladies into formation to sing the track. On national TV. At the Super Bowl. Slay, Bey, slay.
“I might be a Bill Gates in the making,” she asserted, before getting down to lyrics about her roots and unapologetically owning her blackness. This Halftime Show as a whole might have been an incoherent mess. But damned if Beyoncé didn’t just do something immeasurably meaningful and powerful by performing that song at this venue.
And damned if Beyoncé didn't thrill us all, too, by engaging in a dance-off with Bruno Mars—Michael Jackson’s disciples performing in the showcase he used to become untouchable, the pop messiah. With the memories of those stars’ own epic turns on the stage, whoo-eee was that fun to watch. Particularly, in that costume: Bow down to our Queen as she pays respect to our King.
The whole thing came alive when Beyoncé and Bruno Mars arrived. Then Chris Martin came back again.
The footage of all the past halftime shows were a hoot to see again, all playing as he sang “Fix You”—which regardless of your probably irrational feelings towards Coldplay is and forever will be a perfectly produced pop ballad.
But remembering the singular vision of this monstrous task—entertain the largest audience in the world for 15 minutes, without controversy—did the group a disservice. It’s hard to muster the same enthusiasm for a join-hands-and-sing finale led by Chris Martin when we know what kind of power the showcase is capable of producing. Heck, we just witnessed a glimpse of it minutes before with Beyoncé in “Formation.”
Recognizing just how valuable the halftime show is for an artist, the NFL tried to charge them a percentage of the income they earn thanks to the exposure from the gig, a reaction to artists like Beyoncé, Madonna, and Mars releasing tickets to world tours days after performing at the big game.
This year, Bey didn’t even wait a minute. Her Twitter-breaking “Formation” world tour was announced seconds after the screen cut to black.
So while the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, overall, disappointed, at least it ended with hope. #Slay