Bruno Mars, a massive pop star as he is, stands a diminutive 5’5”. Performing at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, however, he has never looked so huge.
Bringing with him a wall of sound, a stadium full of LED lights, and more energy in five seconds than the Denver Broncos could muster in the entire first half, Mars launched a kinetic, polished, and tireless entertainment assault. Following industry heavyweights Paul McCartney, Prince, U2, Madonna, and Beyonce, Mars rose to the occasion as headliner of the biggest music platform of the year with all the aspiration of his sky-high pompadour, dancing, drumming, belting, and mugging the 50-yard-line stage with a unique energy: he managed to be both manic and suave, spritely and strong at the same time.
Bruno Mars may have been an unexpected choice of halftime performer. (The first this past decade to elicit a “who?” from a large portion of the viewing audience.) Electing to have him share the stage with guest performers the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who, love ‘em to death, haven’t been buzzy in quite a while, may have been even more unusual. But together, and perhaps against some admittedly low expectations—at least from yours truly—Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers produced some strange, but wonderful, magic. (Blood sugar sex magic, of course.)
And, believe it or not, that’s kind of an important thing.
Over 100 million people watch the Super Bowl every year, more than anything else on TV. And the overwhelming majority couldn’t give a hoot about sports. There are people who watch the Super Bowl who aren’t football fans. There are people who watch the Super Bowl who have no idea which two teams were in the Super Bowl until the Super Bowl started. And they have already forgotten.
They are watching because the Super Bowl is more than just a football game. It’s a pop culture event. So while tens of millions are chowing down on buffalo wings, pausing only to scold Peyton Manning for throwing another interception, tens of millions more are only looking up from their feasts to watch the Super Bowl Halftime Show. More than 30 people were in the house I watched the game in. The only time all pairs of eyes were glued to the TV screen was when Mars hit the stage—even though, again, some had no idea who this elfin entertainment phenom was.
They do now.
Portions of his performance—a medley of his hits “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Treasure,” “Runaway Baby,” and “Just the Way You Are”…with a brief Chili Peppers “Give It Away” interlude—were downright weird. Very much so. These halftime shows always are! Remember that crazy Indiana Jones one in 1995? Hell-bent on producing a rousing spectacle, much of the show featured a hodge-podge of utterly random things that, separately, might be considered surprising, but together came off as a questionable jambalaya made from weird leftovers.
There was the creepy choir of children that started the performance, holding hands and singing their way into your nightmares. There was the apropos of nothing American flag plastered everywhere. There were lasers! Sparklers! Video dedications from soldiers to their families!
There was also Bruno Mars. There was Bruno Mars and his impressive drum skills. There was Bruno Mars and his James Brown meets Michael Jackson dance moves. (Did you see that shuffle step where his feet moved seemingly independent of his body during “Runaway Baby?” What was that!?) There was Bruno Mars and his gumption. He was going to Put. On. A. Show. Dammit. And we were going to enjoy it, if it was the last thing he did.
So while you were consuming 4,500 calories in beer and pizza—each—Mars was burning three times that much making sure you were having a good time watching him. Yes, your Super Bowl gluttony guilt trip starts now. (Want another reason to cry? Anthony Kiedis, the shirtless Chili Pepper with the 12-pack abs? He’s 51. How many slices of pizza did you have again?)
It’s the 10-year anniversary of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, and ever since, the NFL has struggled to find a specific identity for this spectacle it puts on every year. Performances on polar ends of the raunch spectrum have been produced, from The Who’s sexless performance in 2010 to Prince’s phallic guitar wailing in 2007. Mars crooning “your sex takes me to paradise” while fie men in tight, tailor pants aggressively hump the air while jumping towards the camera certainly tips closer to the Janet/Prince side of the scale.
But the line through all of the seemingly eclectic assortment of acts who have landed the big gig—old (Paul McCartney), young (Black Eyed Peas), legendary (Madonna), and current (Beyonce)—has been bonafide entertainment. Something that, when all 30 people at the party enter the living room, regardless of their affinity for football, each person can say, “I enjoyed that.”
With that goal in mind, give Bruno Mars the Super Bowl MVP.