Every time the overhyped monstrosity that is Super Bowl week graces us with its presence, a nation is left wondering, “Can this halftime show really be worse than last year’s?” In the last five years, a spectacle that has become more celebrated than several national holidays (I’m talking to you, Columbus Day) has failed to produce a mistake-free halftime show, let alone one that’s actually entertaining. At this point, it’s difficult to think of a 30-minute event that isn’t more deserving of our time. Even a re-run of Friends provides an opportunity to appreciate the acting repertoire of a young Jennifer Aniston.
That being said, the people who consistently treat their Super Bowl viewing parties more like a religious ceremony than a football game have come to expect a sloppy halftime show. The dying moments of the first half must be somewhat similar to the moments experienced by spectators just before the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome: They know that a gory mess is upon them, yet they can’t look away.
Ever since the controversial “wardrobe malfunction” that rocked the socks of Super Bowl XXXVIII, the National Football League has been very careful to schedule the least sexy individuals available. Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen and The Who have all performed during halftime of the Super Bowl since Janet Jackson’s breast decided to introduce itself to the nation. Anyone who retorts that Prince is still sexy must also consider that his trademark involves wearing skin-tight leather, and that’s just not something that many 55 year olds can pull off (where’s Sharon Stone when you need her?).
Apparently, the NFL feels that seven years is more than enough time for people to forget about a silly Janet Jackson breast, because this year’s halftime show featured the Black Eyed Peas, Usher and Slash. On the surface, this appeared to be a pretty smart move. After all, these are the geniuses that managed to put P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake on the same stage, and if that act doesn’t appeal to the average viewer, what does?
The show started off well enough. Will.i.am resembled a poor man’s Robocop and Fergie was her typical scantily clad self. Then, their mouths opened. William raised his hand in the air and broke into the opening lines of “I’ve got a feeling.” If only he had known what was about unfold. Fergie followed with her best “Here’s James Earl Jones while singing,” impression then did the robot for what was a regrettable amount of time. The other two guys (Bebop and Rocksteady?) just kind of jumped around for the duration, and poor William looked so terrified toward the end that it was difficult to tell whether he was sweaty from performing or thinking about the beat-down that awaited him in the parking lot.
Even Usher couldn’t save the day. That’s the equivalent of Superman showing up to a train crash, saving the people and fixing the train, then watching it crash again just as he walks away.
The only person on stage that deserved any sympathy was Slash, who looked like he was just drunk enough to ignore Fergie’s butchering of “Sweet Child o ’Mine.” It’s a good thing their microphones were cutting out every five seconds, because I could barely tolerate the occasional sound of her voice. The NFL just can’t seem to get these halftime shows right. They’re engineered to either appease hormone-driven 18–24 year olds or their polar opposite.
It was almost like someone in the board meeting that arranged the show’s details said, “Hey, let’s try sexy again this year,” then organized a 30-minute rave.
Why not reach a compromise that involves appeasing every fan, regardless of age? Terrible halftime shows, combined with the sad state of its collective bargaining negotiations, have turned the NFL into a league that finds itself as its own worst enemy.
The league is at a crossroad right now. On one hand, it has the most popular sport in the United States as its product, with a fan base larger than many countries. On the other, it remains blemished by terrible halftime shows, an incredibly unappealing all-star game, overpriced tickets and merchandise and an apparent lack of care for the well-being of its current and former players.
In many ways, this past Super Bowl mirrored the league that organized it. It started with 2,000 ticket holders being told they didn’t have a seat and Christina Aguilera bombing the national anthem, followed by two highly entertaining quarters of football. The halftime show was an epic failure, and then two more quarters of great football ensued. In the week that followed another highly profitable Super Bowl, labor talks between the owners and the players’ union hit rock bottom. Clearly, there’s only one thing keeping the NFL from imploding. At the end of the day, people will do just about anything to watch grown men destroy one another, even if it means watching strep throat Fergie do the robot for 30 minutes.