The day is Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011.
The Super Bowl is being filmed from the newly constructed AT&T Stadium in Arlington. You and your friends are at a watch party for a pastime more American than a bald eagle picking at Benedict Arnold’s innards while listening to Toby Keith.
“The National Football League presents the Bridgestone Super Bowl XLV Halftime Show,” says the stadium PA man in his baritone voice.
You look at the television screen and see four people zip lining down to a labyrinthine, brightly lit stage. Crowd members dash across the field and circle around the descending performers. The Black Eyed Peas land in unison, dressed like they are part of a cyberpunk version of the Terminator.
The foursome dives into the four-chord party anthem, “I Gotta Feeling,” with Apl.de.ap beckoning the crowd to clap its hands. The backing instrumentals are abnormally low in the mix, making Will.i.am’s and Fergie’s voices slightly off-putting.
As they continue singing the chorus in unified dissonance, Will.i.am’s auto-tuned voice hilariously overshadows the vocals of the other three members. A choppy rhythmic change of the second verse creates a rough transition into “Boom Boom Pow,” and the crowd members disperse from the stage.
“Well that’s weird,” you think to yourself.
But then we see an aerial shot of the stadium, which reveals that — gasp! — those audience members were dancers this whole time!
The dancers nail their arrow formations and dance moves. Fergie’s pipes, while singing “Put your hands in the air,” are just top notch.
There is clearly some artistic merit behind the performance, but that gets buried like Pompeii when, out of nowhere, the guitar riff for Guns N' Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” comes into play as Will.i.am simultaneously sings the words “I be rockin’ the beats.”
It’s bad enough that Will.i.am sees fit to sing that bridge over the riff without having the foresight to understand how tacky that sounds even on paper, but as he continues, he loses his track of timing, causing it to sound more off-beat than the Shaggs.
You can tell that the rapper is struggling, but luckily, Slash himself rises from the middle of the stage, effectively diverting the audience’s attention. You’d think Will.i.am would know to just give Slash the spotlight, but no. He takes it a step further in saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Slash!”
Fergie then circles around the Guns N' Roses guitarist as 808s, for whatever reason, replace the analog drum beats of the original recording, which could have easily been backtracked to at least give the song a more concrete sense of meter.
When Fergie sings the first verse of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” it sounds like she is mocking Axl Rose as she takes on his vocal inflections in the most cartoonish of ways. She slowly redeems herself in singing a decent chorus, but the song abruptly ends with Slash descending back into the stage.
As they sloppily transition the medley to their single “Pump It,” the 808s are the only decipherable instrumental. You can’t even hear that song’s signature Dick Dale sample until the second chorus, which ends on a strange note as the quartet makes a most awkward transition into their 2004 hit, “Let’s Get It Started.” They perform this song with the tempo of a Pentecostal choir, with Fergie providing these Tina Turner-esque backup vocals.
Once you think it’s over, Usher zip lines down the stage. The guy is a special guest, but his name is in big, bold letters that look like they’re the height of three stacked shipping containers. At this point, Usher is acting like those dudes who propose to their girlfriends at other people’s weddings.
As Usher performs his song “OMG (Oh My Gosh),” he and his dancers slay the choreography. About eight minutes in, you even see Will.i.am dancing discreetly in everybody’s peripheral vision, as Usher charms his way into the picture like a complete alpha male.
Eventually, Usher lets Will.i.am take the lead, an opportunity that he acts on by kneeling on one of the steps and giving hands-down the most timid vocal delivery of the entire set. As he kneels, Usher completely one-ups him yet again by leaping over him like an impala. He nonchalantly does the splits, then quickly maintains his upright composure with the posture of Michael Jackson.
Another aerial view of the stadium shows the stage lights projecting red letters that spell “LOVE.” Usher leaves, leaving the Black Eyed Peas with big shoes to fill. Admirably, they take a crack at it.
“Super Bowl XLV, show us some love,” Fergie says.
That may seem like stage talk, but it's meant as a segue to their song, “Where Is the Love?” making it seem like a cry for help.
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They beseech the crowd to wave their arms all at once as they bum everyone out with the lyrics, “People killin’ / people dyin’ / Children hurtin’ / I hear them cryin’.”
The Black Eyed Peas then sing the Dirty Dancing refrain they use on “The Time (Dirty Bit),” and Fergie’s vibrato actually gives this performance a moment of redemption. But then they detract from this and go back to singing another verse of “I Gotta Feeling” in closing the performance. The crowd erupts into applause.
You and your friends look at one another with a slight grimace that indicates confusion. You then look back at the TV and watch a GoDaddy commercial with Danica Patrick to distract yourself from the watershed moment of DFW music history you were lucky enough to witness in your lifetime.
The Black Eyed Peas return to AT&T Stadium on Saturday, May 11, for KAABOO Texas. Tickets on sale here.