Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Prince and the Superbowl Halftime Show

The praise keeps rolling in for Prince's performance, and although I can see where these accolades are coming from (Prince certainly kills live), I can't say I enjoyed it much more than any other halftime show of recent memory. The Superbowl Halftime Show, like the Royal Rumble, is really tough to screw up. The game happens only once per year, even fairweather fans get pumped up for the event and it would take an unmitigated disaster to ruin that mood. The star plays three or four hit songs that everyone in the country knows and loves, and all of the usual concert quibbles go out the window. Are you really going to complain about the setlist ... for a 15-minute set? Complain that Prince didn't have time to let that guitar solo breathe? Like the Stones closing with "Satisfaction" last year, can you really argue over the choice of "Purple Rain" as the closer, regardless of whether you're bored* shitless by that song by now? The amount of money (enough to send a man to the moon), preparation time (ditto), and gimmicks (lights, fireworks, wacky camera angles) see to it that all the stops are pulled out in order to ensure that everyone watching at home thinks to themselves "wow, that was a good show". I think the halftime show gets as much pre-event advertising time as the game itself, and is probably the most watched portion of the entire broadcast.

Unlike, say U2, Prince strongly unites both the fan and critical spheres (devoted and casual people in both cases). In other words, so many people are praising the show because nobody hates Prince. And for his biggest devotees, the importance and success of the event is a vindication of his under-appreciated talent as an incendiary concert performer (AKA everybody enjoys being correct). Professionally, it's great to be Prince these days. He looks fantastic for Age 48, he can still play the shit out of the guitar and bring the goods onstage, he's come out of the shell that consumed him for most of the 1990's and has helped rescue his legacy with several outstanding TV performances (Grammys 2004, American Idol 2006, Brit Awards 2006, now the Superbowl), looking proud to be playing his biggest hits again (after shying away from them for many years) and armed with solid newer songs to boot.

To contextualize the "best halftime show ever" proclamations, take a look at all the past SB halftime show performers. No wonder I can't remember any of the shows from when I was a kid -- the NFL didn't pull in A-list entertainers until the early-90's. This not-coincidentally happened around the time FOX started broadcasting games, NFL TV contracts became stratospherically more valuable than those in any other American sport, and football tightened its stranglehold on the title of America's #1 sport. I vividly remember the hype leading up to Michael Jackson's performance -- bringing him in felt like a huge coup on the part of the NFL and they haven't looked back since, consistently attracting the biggest names in music to play at the halfway point of football's biggest game.

* I will never get bored of hearing "Purple Rain", and I realized it when he used it to close his 2006 Brit Award performance with a rendition that nearly stopped my heart.

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