Halftime was designed to be a time for rest and recuperation. Players retire to the locker room to catch their breath and regroup for the second half, while fans at home sink into their well-worn couch grooves, plotting a way to ration the guacamole and free the nacho plate from the clutches of cousin Carl.
Now we have to watch Madonna sing about what it’s like to be a virgin while she justifies her love. Life was simpler last year when the Black Eyed Peas executed a flawless comedic routine rife with microphone and voice malfunctions.
One of Madonna’s dancers has said that she’ll “bring the gay” Sunday night, and statistically we know that’s possible. But can a 53-year-old whose first album came out 29 years ago entertain multiple generations? Probably not, but she has at least one crucial element going for her that’s essential for a successful Super Bowl halftime show (see No. 5 below). And she’s pioneered modern discrete (and very, very indiscreet) innuendo, so maybe this is looking promising as long as fishnet stockings and cone bras aren’t involved.
I once took a high school marketing class, which qualified me to give an educated analysis of what makes a good Super Bowl commercial earlier this week. I took a drama class too, and each year during the holidays I sing Christmas carols, so I’m also qualified to give a detailed break down of the elements that lead to a successful halftime show.
1. Discrete innuendo
One way to make a performance memorable is to do something controversial.
But subtlety is key here, in addition to flirting with a line without showing that line what’s underneath your blouse. We’ve learned that a little bit of harmless innuendo can accomplish this, but we’ve also learned that if clothing isn’t secured in the presence of grabby former boy band stars, a pop culture reference that still won’t die will be created instantly.
A halftime performer needs something that will anger people whose entire existence is based on their unique ability to become angry over stuff no one else notices. Like a phallic guitar.
The ability to move between two locations that are vast distances apart is a rare and unique skill possessed only by truly gifted individuals. If a performer has this gift, they shouldn’t be ashamed. They should embrace it, and dance on top of scoreboards.
3. A well-placed song cover
This is a delicate and difficult area, and one that must be approached with extreme care.
A halftime show is viewed by a wide audience that crosses over multiple demographics, so a singer who covers a song that’s about childhood memories will dramatically ruin childhood memories if it debuted when she was 13 years old.
Kind of like this…
But if the performer in question is an eccentric, sheltered, and yet still legendary artist who can cover anything they damn well want to without permission from anyone (even the band they’re covering), then please go rogue. The sheer swagger and surprise is pretty bad ass.
4. No Phil Collins, ever
This is more of a plea directed at the choreographers and costumer makers, and anyone tasked with deciding the future Super Bowl performers in our post-Janet Jackson de-wardrobing world.
Halftime acts are generally getting safer and more childproof, and we’re cool with that. We can last through Madonna, but Phil Collins’ lip syncing with his black hat that connected with his inner artistic soul ruined other growing artistic souls, even if the underlying message was good and wholesome.
It’s been 12 years, and we’re still recovering from this…
5. Be really old
Collins was old but still awful, so he was the rare exception to this rule, one that wasn’t unofficially in place until Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction anyway. It’s a rule that’s also obviously out of the artist’s control, but generally if you’ve been rocking long enough to know that the 70s were more than just a bad sitcom, you’re bound for Super Bowl stardom.
The Black Eyed Peas and the posse they rolled out last year were the only recent act to break the string of ageless wonders, and that ended horribly. They may not always dazzle and amaze, but the elderly citizens of rock won’t embarrass themselves through self-exposure, or vocals that quickly become painful without digital enhancement.
Since Jackson flashed millions of innocent eyes there have been few performers under the age of 40, and while creaky rockers often don’t sound appealing at first, they’re usually not that frightening after all. The problem for Madonna is that for a stadium to rock it does indeed need rockers, and she’s the first ancient act who fed a generation with pop and sparkles, and that won’t sound like this…