The fiftieth Super Bowl, a mildly-farcical advertising hoarding won by an ageing out-of-place Budweiser-swilling sexual harasser who happens to be one of the finest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League, fell subject to its traditional half-time excursion into the world of popular music on Sunday night in not-San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium. Contrary to the most earnest efforts and headline billing of British quartet Coldplay, the show – or, at least, cultural perception of it – was seized by a duelling Beyoncé and Bruno Mars before an estimated live television audience of, according to an industry insider, “one absolute fuckload.”
Chris Martin and his bandmates took to a temporary stage on the churned field much like any other stadium show they’d put on, surrounded by screaming fans and Pepsi logos atop a chromatic stage shaped like the centrepiece of the cover of recent record A Head Full of Dreams and travelling around it with an assured blend of timidness and arrogance. Martin began by repeating the opening lines of ‘Yellow’ to soundtrack the flooding of the field with peripheral extras, before launching into the more fitting tones of ‘Viva La Vida’ and ‘A Sky Full of Stars.’ Regardless of the context or inevitable financial incentive, to see people – Martin included – rhythmically bouncing to Coldplay as if they were in a Las Vegas superclub with Calvin Harris on deck feels somewhat incongruous yet, as Martin loosened up by removing his patchwork jacket and relieving his knees from their unique gravitational exertions, the frantic medley of the band’s more joyous pop material soon settled into a chromatic groove aided by the card panels distributed throughout the venue.
To hastily distract us from the flamboyance of the Mylo Xyloto era, despite the anthemic hooks displayed with butterfly-laden ‘Paradise,’ DJ and producer Mark Ronson was wheeled out as the first of the prominent special guests. Behind a set of turntables in what looked like a cumbersome cuboid of some functionality, he scratched merrily as an initially-jazzier rendition of his hit song ‘Uptown Funk’ was performed by a leather-clad Bruno Mars. Whether it was genuinely poorly lip-synced or merely another quirk of the television coverage transferred across the Atlantic may remain an eternal point of no consequence, and it was soon forgotten as soon as a percussive roar emerged near the endzone.
Really only Beyoncé inhabits the zeitgeist sufficiently to release a track out of nowhere and, without even an album (yet) to promote, announce a world tour and perform it on such a grand platform within the same weekend. ‘Formation,’ backed by a meticulous equilateral triangle of dancers, was of course performed flawlessly without any apparent need for staging, though the song itself is still yet to settle and feels, at this stage to these ears, mildly discordant and a rough extension of the hip-hop sound she has been prioritising since the birth of the Sasha Fierce persona. Regardless, it kept the energetic notion in action ahead of her strut to join the rest on centre stage.
Neither of the two main features in this spectacle are strangers to such an arena, having each anchored their own half-time extravaganzas earlier in the last five years, but the combination of three such varied musical phenomena as they began to collude for further snippets of ‘Uptown Funk’ and Coldplay records began to bewilder. A moment of tension that looked poised to erupt into a dance-off or, better still, a rap battle was extinguished by the melancholy of ‘Fix You,’ prefaced by ‘Clocks,’ as the display hit its obligatory emotional montage segment.
Recalling half-time shows of Super Bowls past, highlighting the ilk of the Springsteens and Perrys and fully-clothed Jacksons, was hardly a surprise given the commemoratory nature of this year’s Big Game™. However, doing so in such a mournful way, with Martin crooning spoilers from the choruses of Bono and Prince over that same tearjerking melody, seemed an attempt at fabricating the most tedious televisual music obituary since the remnants of One Direction performed ‘History’ on last year’s The X Factor. This one, of course, has zero chance of permanence barring some immense Will Smith-induced assassination of the league’s public and corporate perception.
Martin, Mars, and Beyoncé strolled backwards and forwards as the stage flooded for the grand finale, closer ‘Up&Up’ from A Head Full of Dreams, and a message encouraging us to “believe in love” emerged in the backdrop. Martin, flanked by more fashionable celebrities to either side, became subject of mockeries that ignored Coldplay’s vast success and painted them as the awkward kid in the corner that nobody really wanted to turn up to the party. Their segments, however, largely provided a consistency and spark to the performance that the guests and flashbacks did not entirely reinforce. Consequently come next year, memories will be thin and, by the time we reach Super Bowl 💯, it may be lucky to figure in even the most expansive holographic hallucinations. Yet, as we retreat to discard American football from our consciences until our next excuse to congregate and demolish delicious heart conditions, our memories of this interlude are sufficiently fulfilling to cherish.