How the Super Bowl Halftime Show is Exactly like the Andrews Sisters (Kind Of)
Last year's halftime show pulled a 95 share among viewers 25-54 who thought Caligula was "kind of arousing."
Let me enter these facts into evidence: I enjoy the Super Bowl Halftime Show well enough, and I love the Andrews Sisters. One more: I think the 2013 Super Bowl Halftime Show, featuring the indestructible Beyonce, is liable to be the strongest show in--well, since your favorite of the aging rock stars performed post-Janet.
It's the last and biggest slice of appointment-TV--of broad, monolithic culture--available to pop stars, and as long as sports are the final refuge of live TV it'll stay that way. But being the last of something is an inherently dangerous position, and short of an eventual reimagining I'm not sure what the halftime show can do to avoid an eventual case of Andrews Sisters syndrome.
The Halftime Show is like Elvis: It's such a big deal that it can only be influenced by itself. That kind of feedback loop might eventually mean we'll see it lumbering around QVC in off-white jumpsuits, but for the most part it manifests itself in the way the Halftime Show changes: Always and exclusively as a reaction to itself.
So Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction famously led to a series of aging rock stars; aging rock stars gave way to the Black Eyed Peas, who are apparently our generation's answer to Paul McCartney, or at least Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. When it became apparent that putting apl.de.ap and Taboo in TRON costumes did not make them any more memorable, 2012's halftime show combined both impulses: An impossibly famous aging star (Madonna) and a bunch of recognizable contemporary stars of varying repute (LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., et al.)
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After 11 months of scraping the excess kitsch off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, then, they reacted once more: Class! Only class! Beyonce, fresh off a year so stellar that a lip-synching pseudo-scandal couldn't touch her.
So--the Andrews Sisters. Patty, the leader and the last surviving sister, died last week at 94, and I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with all the things I enjoy about them: The remarkably taut harmonies, the idiosyncratic rhythms and readings, the raucous arrangements. But this is the thing about the Andrews Sisters--the Andrews Sisters Syndrome. No matter how many times I listen to them, I'm not sure I've ever really heard them.
It's having to work to watch this without hearing it as a funny or diverting novelty, or a lost piece of the culture, or a history lesson. Once you can't enjoy a style in the moment--once you have to approximate yourself to it--it's lost something, as pop music, that you can't get back. On some level this is all supposed to be immediate. For the Andrews Sisters, this isn't such a bad deal. All art is of its time, sure, but the melodies and the performances are timeless, even if I'm receiving them differently. If the beats that are supposed to be sexy just come off goofy-sexy, so be it.
For the Super Bowl Halftime Show, though--it might never recede completely into novelty and misunderstanding, but every year it's harder to imagine a single artist appealing to as many people as a beer commercial about three multicultural bros making a bitchin' trebuchet out of empty bottles of Bud Sexhaver.
Beer commercials appear to be unkillable, and football won't change much until we're ready to feel super guilty about concussions. Pull an ad or a few snaps from the 1993 game tape--the Leon Lett fumble if you're a Bills fan, literally any other play if you're a Cowboys fan--and things will look about right.
But music? Pop has never been so balkanized before; even last year's biggest hits burst out of smaller markets--indie rock, Bieber-entourage, South Korea--before forcing themselves into the halftime-show-demographic's ears. People who grow up in those bubbles, who listen to indie or EDM or any of the other genres that stay willfully separate from the idea of 100 million people listening to one thing at the same time, won't find a rococo, pagan art installation starring a 54-year-old billionaire and Barry Gordy's burnout heirs unifying, or provocative--they'll find it ridiculous. Okay, more ridiculous.
In the meantime, the 2014 Super Bowl Halftime Show will have to find a way to utilize its constant reactionaryism on America's least reactionable superstar. How do you make an abrupt, mostly unnecessary course-correction from Beyonce?
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