It’s hard to think of a bigger stage to perform on than the Super Bowl halftime show; with hundreds of millions of captive viewers, the exposure the event provides is the ultimate statement of commercial success in American music.
So today, when rumors began circulating that Madonna is the likely host of Super Bowl XLVI in February, it’s hard to stop shaking my head. Last year’s categorical disaster of a show with the Black Eyed Peas was the closest we’ve come to a halftime show with a hip-hop group front and center (and it’s pretty hard to make the case that the Peas, in the past few years before their break-up were really a hip-hop group at all). The most featured hip-hop artist in Super Bowl history? Try Nelly, who has hit the stage twice (once during the ill-fated Janet Jackson performance, which explains why you didn’t remember he was ever there).
The Super Bowl programmers’ reluctance to schedule big name hip-hop acts for the halftime show is getting to be pretty puzzling. While the aftermath of the Janet Jackson scandal has forced the organizers to skew towards more conservative, classic rock bands (before the Peas we saw The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney–hardly at the top of today’s Billboard charts), the extraordinary resistance to hip-hop’s rise to widespread popular acceptance has largely torpedoed the half-time show’s relevance. Madonna’s selection is perhaps the most ludicrous choice yet.
This is altogether more ridiculous because there have been perfectly reasonable, marketable choices for a number of these shows within hip-hop. Why not Eminem for 2006’s Super Bowl in Detroit? Would, say, Jay-Z and Beyonce be so offensive? And why the Black Eyed Peas in the first place?
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Hopefully, there’s progress on the horizon. While this year’s host city, Indianapolis, hardly lends itself to a hip-hop salute, the next two years could produce stellar shows. The first Super Bowl in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina will take place in 2013, so provided he hasn’t actually retired, Lil Wayne should be a safe pick to headline the show (what, does he not know enough about sports?). The following year’s Super Bowl will be in New York (well, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, but let’s be realistic); if Hova isn’t out there, I’m done with football.
The issue here isn’t really about the quality of the performances (although the thought of another group of sexagenarian “rock stars” stumbling around on-stage is hardly thrilling) but rather whether the performance is an accurate reflection of American music at the time. Clearly, the lack of recognition for hip-hop is at odds with what Americans are actually listening to, as a quick glance at this year’s album and concert sales will tell you. What’s particularly dispiriting is the fact that the best rationale for bypassing hip-hop artists is the fear of “controversy”–a kind of subtle racism cloaked in PR-language. Wayne is not going to light a blunt on-stage, Eminem is not going to punch anyone, and God knows Jay-Z won’t do anything controversial that might stop the cash flow. This is about a view of what the American public wants to see that is fairly at odds with the facts.
So another year goes by, and another pop-star decades removed from their prime is placed under a fairly unflattering microscope. Hopefully, we are also one year closer to the point where the Super Bowl finally comes to its senses. Until then, we’ll always have those Nelly performances.
Photo Credit to the AP’s Amy Sancetta, a fine visual reminder at how ridiculous that show truly was.
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