Madonna at Super Bowl XLVI

February 5, 2012

Image from Yahoo

I was looking forward to this performance. Some might see this halftime show as a step backward since Madonna is an established artist with three decades of albums under her belt. However, just as The Black Eyed Peas broke a six-year streak of boomer-friendly rock artists, Madonna is be the first woman since Janet Jackson to truly headline the show. More so than The Peas, Madge is an expert at identifying trends in dance music and adapting her performance style to stay relevant. I expected a propulsive good time.

If there was a theme to the show, it was a campy subversion of the notion of sports culture. The costuming of the backup dancers in the opening number called back to the Olympics of ancient Greece and the chariot races of ancient Rome – the original mass culture sports. However, those classical forms were covered in glitter and juxtaposed with a mass of Jumbotrons displaying the logo of Vogue magazine. It was weird and refreshing. It also was a neat callback to the early 90s when she was performing “Vogue” at the VMAs dressed like Marie Antoinette – spectacular and Broadway-esque without venturing into taboo transgression like her mid-2000s performances.

“Music / Party Rock Anthem / Sexy and I Know It” (with LMFAO)
The “sports meets glam” theme continued when Madonna began doing runs up rows of bleachers in boots with 4-inch heels. She stumbled at the top, but she gracefully recovered at which point she was greeted by four b-boys in black and white tracksuits. Just when I was expecting a fairly straight forward pop-and-clock routine to classic French house, a highwire performer dressed like a seraph descended and joined the b-boys. As the tracksuits met the togas, the keyboard line of “Party Rock Anthem” wormed its way into the music and Madonna found a fur coat-clad LMFAO onstage. Once they launched into the full on Music/Party Rock mashup, they skipped over to center stage like they were in The Wiz. Musically it was pretty kickass since the blend was so damn good, but the choreography was so silly I couldn’t help but giggle. Also, props to Madonna keeping up with the much younger LMFAO during the shuffling and flexing without coming across as trying too hard.

“Give Me All Your Luvin’” (with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.)
This portion of the performance featured a group of dancers dressed as cheerleaders. It was pretty much a replication of the “Give Me All Your Luvin’” music video, which was ok since its new enough that not a lot of mainstream America would have seen it. The song’s cool dance-rock melody was catchy and uptempo enough that I’m interested in what else in on the forthcoming MDNA. It also featured guest spots from Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. For the most part both women were content to play backup singers, but they showed their chops during their solo raps on the bridge. M.I.A. in particular has me hopeful for a return to her early-2000s form and away from the abrasive and weird material that was on MAYA. She also showed that she hasn’t lost her edge – she seemed to have flipped the bird at the end of her rap. It cut out during the broadcast I saw, but Yahoo confirms it.

“Open Your Heart / Express Yourself / Like A Prayer” (with Cee Lo Green)
The transition into the final fourth of the performance was seamless. A drumline rolled in to back up the cheerleaders, followed by Cee Lo who was dressed as the marching band’s drum major. Madonna and Cee Lo performed a medley of Open your Heart and Express Yourself for what seemed like 30 seconds before everything went dark and it looked like the football field got sucked into a collapsing supernova. That supernova then turned into gospel choir to close out the show old school. Unlike the rest of the show, “Like A Prayer” was quite understated. Madonna and Cee Lo were dressed like sequined Supreme Court justices, but their gospel choir looked quite understated in black and white. Coming off of the peppy drumline section, “Like A Prayer” felt a bit anticlimactic. It was so much slower than what had come before. At least Madonna stayed committed to the end before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Overall I commend Madonna and the producers of this show for pulling off such a campy performance with commitment, excellence, and a sense of fun about everything. It’s cool to see such sparkle in the face of the rah-rah conservatism normally associated with the NFL. I had a great time watching this performance. It was more entertaining than the football game to which it was attached, that’s for sure (up until the end, anyway.) Go Giants and go Madonna!


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