By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The rumors started swirling back in September. Then, on Thanksgiving Day during the Fox broadcast of the Cowboys-Saints game, the NFL confirmed it: Just as had been speculated, the Black Eyed Peas had indeed been selected by the league to provide the entertainment during the halftime spectacular at the Cowboys Stadium-hosted Super Bowl XLV on February 6 in Arlington.
Pardon me for not being too excited. Thing is, once upon a time I was excited—about the Black Eyed Peas and about the Super Bowl halftime show. Not together, mind you. But individually, sure, each had its merits.
You might not remember this, but once upon a time, before Fergie came along, the Black Eyed Peas were actually pretty darn cool. They oozed an underground chic. As a trio of interracial backpacker rappers, will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo were blazing a path as smart lyricists, shrewd beat-smiths and champions of the anti-mainstream. In the early '00s, with songs like "Request + Line," "Weekends" and "Joints & Jam," the threesome appeared to be positioning itself as the antithesis to the 50 Cents of the world, who'd swallowed up the mainstream hip-hop world. Whereas the rest of hip-hop was earning props for the kinds of grunt-filled songs that would eventually set the stage for today's horrendous Waka Flocka Flame types, the Black Eyed Peas were coming across like a new-age A Tribe Called Quest, or, if not that praiseworthy, at least as some sort of next-generation De La Soul.
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Then 2003's Elephunk came along and ruined everything. The group added Fergie, a former child actress who'd appeared on the Disney Channel's Kids Incorporated, into the mix and supplemented its songwriting with all the sultry mainstream schlock that it had capably avoided before. Look no further than "Let's Get It Started" for the first signs of the group's demise: Originally called "Let's Get Retarded" until the group discovered that there was licensing money and promotional placement to be had if it softened its edges, the song was a direct plea for the act to be noticed by the mainstream. And noticed the group would soon become, earning three No. 1 hits with "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling" and "Imma Be" and selling more than 28 million albums worldwide.
There's nothing wrong with that kind of success. Not at all. In today's barely breathing music sales world, those kinds of figures deserve praise. But only to a degree—and to an even lesser degree when you consider the kind of career the group could have had if it continued proffering its conscious style. Instead—and this much is indisputable, if you really look at the facts—the Peas significantly dumbed down both their lyrics and their aesthetic to the point of vapidity. Since when did rhyming "up" with "up," as will.i.am does in "I Gotta Feeling," become a feat worth praising?
And don't even get me started on the misappropriation of the Hebrew terms "mazel tov" and "l'chaim" found in that same song.
I'll give credit where it's due: will.i.am, the mastermind behind the Peas' pods, did have the foresight to realize that in the 21st century there is essentially no difference between hip-hop and pop—hip-hop had pretty much become pop music.
The problem, though, comes with how he and the rest of the Peas went about capitalizing on that observation: By placing style over substance, they found the two genres' lowest common denominator, forgoing sensory overload in favor of sensory overkill.
"Next level shit" their music isn't. Unless we're taking that terminology literally.
The NFL, for all its successes, has fallen prey to the same problem in recent years. After 2004's famed "wardrobe malfunction" during Janet Jackson's and Justin Timberlake's halftime performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII (P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock performed too, although no one seems to remember that), the NFL, backed by the FCC, backed off the hip-hop aesthetic it had been trending toward since 2001's MTV-produced medley featuring Aerosmith, N'Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly. The NFL too started focusing on the lowest common denominator, selecting classic rock acts (Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band and The Who) to perform each of its six post-malfunction showcases, which was all fine and good until last year's universally panned performance from The Who, when classic rock finally started showing signs of its age.
So, no, you can't blame the NFL for wanting to look hip again. And, by that same measure, you can't blame officials for selecting the Black Eyed Peas. The NFL has leaped past the other major sports of the world in providing a product so perfectly produced for television consumption, and that's exactly how the Black Eyed Peas have risen to prominence.
But let's not forget the other, largely unspeakable, reason why the NFL is so popular: gambling. Fantasy football, pick 'em leagues, Las Vegas sports books—those are the reasons why people care about even the most trivial NFL detail. As such, it would have been nice to see the NFL take a gamble of sorts with its halftime performance selection.