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This year’s Super Bowl was held at the most expensive, ultra-modern stadium ever constructed, but anybody watching the game other than the 70,000-ish fans at SoFi was treated to an extended exercise in nostalgia on Sunday night (Feb. 13).
Other than, “Hey look, crypto!” the running theme of tonight’s Super Bowl commercials has been, “Hey, do you remember …” with reunions for The Sopranos, Community and Women Who Were Married to Ashton Kutcher. For the most part, I don’t remember what any of the ads were for, and my general sense has been one of pity, or at least recognition of my own aging and mortality — whichever is worse.
If the downside of the nostalgia pandering run amok has been the airing of millions of dollars worth of forgettable advertisements, the upside of the nostalgia pandering would be the Super Bowl LVI halftime show, likely to go down as one of the most entertaining in history, at least if you happen to be in any of the target demographics being aggressively placated.
Leaving aside that Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent are from New York and Eminem is from Detroit, the halftime show was a spectacular tribute to ’90s (and a bit into the ’00s) hip-hop and a very, very good tribute to the musical culture of Los Angeles. It featured the effortless swagger of Snoop Dogg, the largely immobile potency of Dr. Dre, the timeless pipes of Blige, Eminem making a potent political stand and 50 Cent dangling from a hoist like he was the star of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. There was dancing, a modular home set of lined up white mansions and a vast overhead map of L.A. Oh, and Tupac didn’t show up in holographic form, much to the relief of nearly everybody watching.
It was, in general, a hoot, the kind of show that could have held its audience at twice or thrice the running time (or, you know, as a stadium tour). That’s very rarely something we say at the end of a Super Bowl halftime show, where normally the conversation almost immediately shifts to how great Prince or Michael Jackson or Up With People were when they had the coveted slot.
Though the show was designed to evoke flashbacks from Gen X-ers and geriatric millennials across the full 10-plus minutes, I’d assume everybody will have their own favorite moments.
In terms of pure showcased talent, I’m not sure you could top Blige, who got to the end of “No More Drama” with a series of astonishing vocal runs. It wasn’t that Snoop and Dre were bad from the top, but they were coasting on the trademark charisma that made The Chronic and Doggystyle generational landmarks. “The Next Episode” and “California Love” are party jams, meant to accompany endo and/or gin and/or juice, and the artists navigated through the white mansion sets with low-riders below them.
My reaction to Snoop and Dre? “Fun.”
My reaction to Mary J. Blige? “Damn.”
Blige also had the advantage of a somewhat localized performance. She was on one of the rooftops, surrounded by a small group of sparkly dancers, but I didn’t get the impression that 50 or 75 things were happening around her that the director was missing, which was absolutely the case with Snoop and Dre. There were things taking place on different floors of the stage houses and on different sides of the stage and basically all around, and all the director wanted to concentrate on was Snoop strolling around in easygoing Snoop style? It’s a choice.
So first Blige came out and added intensity with her singing, and Kendrick Lamar dedicated his few minutes to easily the show’s best piece of choreography — a sometimes dazzling piece of cutting from on-the-field cameras to overhead shots as he performed “Alright” in the middle of a group of dancers in black suits, who all emerged from boxes reading “Dre Day.” From Snoop and Dre to 50 Cent — seriously, the less said about “In Da Club,” the better, other than to note how viscerally uncomfortable I felt for 50 Cent — to Blige to Lamar, it was a musical passing of the torch.
Chronologically, Eminem showing up and performing “Lose Yourself,” didn’t really fit, and it wasn’t nearly as good as his recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame performance with LL Cool J (much less his after-the-fact Oscars performance from a couple of years back). But who cares? It was solid and it culminated in Eminem kneeling, Kaepernick-style, just to irritate some portion of the at-home audience, which was probably already plenty annoyed that after 50-some-odd years, the NFL finally did a straight-up hip-hop halftime show. At least now that audience has reasons to claim they were outraged.
It wasn’t just the chronology that got thrown off at the end of the show. I’m curious what the negotiations were on who got to close halftime and whether Dr. Dre pulled out his most recent bank statement so that he got to close — and, for some reason, close solo with “Still D.R.E.” I think something bringing Snoop, Dre and Eminem together would have been a more powerful way to end (and that letting Kendrick Lamar wrap things up probably would have been more current and higher-energy).
But we’ve reached the quibbling point for me. The show played into one of my favorite eras of hip-hop and didn’t require the desecrating of Tupac’s memory. That’s nostalgia I can get behind.
And if that wasn’t your preferred flavor of nostalgia pandering, since I started writing this commentary, we’ve seen commercials featuring Jim Carrey’s character from Cable Guy and the available cast of Austin Powers.
Something for everybody, this Super Bowl.
And football, too.
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