I’ve written repeatedly in the past about what a thankless gig the Super Bowl halftime show is. Most people are only paying attention to make fun of it and to complain about how Prince did it better. But if ever there were a year to make a risk-free appearance nestled between the commercials and football on TV’s most-watched night of the year, it’s this year, because the chances of anybody outside of the Adam Levine Extended Family looking back on 2019’s Maroon 5 performance with anything resembling positivity is low.
Most Super Bowls, you have to rise to the level of “Slightly less good than Prince,” but for Super Bowl LIV, it was probably enough to be “Slightly better than Maroon 5.”
To their absolute credit, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira came far closer to the former than the latter. In addition to the unimpeachable awareness that a Super Bowl halftime in Miami absolutely needed some Spanish-language content, the NFL made a correct call that it didn’t matter if the halftime show was a showcase for live singing or for songs that topped the charts in the past year or two. Somebody said, “For the love of Up With People, can’t we just have a Super Bowl halftime that’s entertaining?” Somebody said, “What is the most sheer joy and energy that we can put on the field for 15 minutes?”
And on that count, J.Lo and Shakira delivered beyond any reasonable expectations. That halftime show was just pure fun, unless you want to acknowledge that it’s righteously and wonderfully political for two Latinx singers to have shared and dominated the stage on TV’s biggest night, especially when one of them sang — or “sang” — the chorus of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” while draped in a magnificent Puerto Rican flag boa/robe.
Let’s get real: Nobody really sings at the Super Bowl halftime show, and I don’t know if Shakira sang appreciably less than previous acts, but you can’t fake her dancing and stage command. She ran through a litany of her hits — from “She Wolf” to “Hips Don’t Lie” — negotiating complicated choreography with a mad gusto that hasn’t been approached since Beyoncé upstaged Coldplay in 2016. And as much as she was or wasn’t doing her own lead vocals, she also “played” the guitar and the drums and fronted a full troop of dancers who definitely weren’t tooting on their brass instruments but definitely were wielding those brass instruments like rhythmic weaponry prepared to go to war against anybody with the temerity to pretend that Shakira — singing chunks of several songs in Spanish — isn’t “relevant,” whatever that even means. For heaven’s sake, there was a year that the Super Bowl halftime show featured Miss Texas on a fiddle. Shakira is amply relevant.
Shakira was followed cleanly by Lopez looking for all the world like she wanted to make every single member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences feel guilty, or at least out-of-touch, for not giving her an Oscar nomination for Hustlers. Bursting onto the stage in leather chaps and fronting her own platoon of militaristic backing dancers — these dressed like black-and-white cookies each boasting a cane that I’m going to assume they pried from the cold, dead hands of the late Mr. Peanut — Lopez continued, after one of at least three costume changes, to showcase her Hustlers-honed pole-dancing skills — the strength of J.Lo’s core borders on supernatural — and then preformed a duet with her daughter Emme, who appeared as part of a chorus of young women. There was even a brief tribute to Kobe Bryant.
Want to know the absolute best part of the halftime show? No Pitbull.
I’m not saying that there wouldn’t have been an excuse to have Mr. Worldwide cameoing at a Miami Super Bowl halftime show (he performed during the preshow), but one also should never look for an excuse to leave Pitbull out of your show. Sometimes the simple absence of Pitbull is its own best excuse. Instead of piling on various unnecessary male cameos, the show had brief appearances by a guy I’m told was reggaeton superstar J Balvin and another who my entire Twitter feed simply decided was Lube Man from Watchmen, which I’m now accepting as gospel. [UPDATE: No offense, truly, to Bad Bunny.]
Presumably there will be some grumpy folks out there complaining about things like the utilization of Spanish and the thrusting of Shakira’s crotch, as well as perhaps a few musical snobs lamenting those bygone years when artists they liked lip-synced at the Super Bowl.
Get over it. This is not The Marriage of Figaro at La Scala. It’s not Aretha Franklin at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. It’s 10 minutes of entertainment while you’re waiting for your Totino’s pizza rolls to crisp, and this was one of the most lively, smile-inducing pauses in Super Bowl action in many years.
Consider the demons of Maroon 5 to be exorcised. And whoever does next year’s Super Bowl halftime show, if you can’t shake like Shakira or plank like J.Lo, you’d better find some way to compensate, because the bar that was down on the turn has been comfortably raised and J.Lo is probably swinging from it.
Now I’ve got some pizza rolls to extricate from the oven.