This year marks the 10th anniversary of Justin Timberlake exposing a little too much of Janet Jackson's body during a halftime Super Bowl performance. It seems like it has taken that long for the producers of the Super Bowl to feel safe about booking modern performers again. Aside from MIA flipping the bird for the camera and the non-controversy-played-as-controversy of Bruce Springsteen performing to a backing track, the halftime performances since Nipplegate have been either a victory lap for reliable veteran performers like The Who and Paul McCartney or a dazzling light and dance spectacle with the Black Eyed Peas and Beyoncé.
For Super Bowl XLVIII, the engaging and entertaining Bruno Mars will take stage with the funky Red Hot Chili Peppers on February 2nd at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Don't expect another Nipplegate, but don't be surprised if a certain sector of the audience (the sector that will tune into talk radio and network TV morning shows the following morning) finds something objectionable about either Mars and/or the Chili Peppers.
Sure, both acts can rock a stadium, as Mars's recent tour proved, but there's something about both acts that says this halftime show is probably not going to be "safe for the whole family." This isn't the Grammys, where recorded performances of all genres are revered with barely any controversy year after year. The Super Bowl halftime show (Presented by Pepsi!) is pure sideshow for the world to see between two halves of one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
And while Bruno Mars, Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Chad Smith, and The Guy Hired to Look Like John Frusciante have some edge to offer, something tells us they'll play it safe for the big cameras and the corporate sponsors.
Mars already has an array of hit singles he could perform, including ones from last year's excellent nod to '80s pop, Unorthodox Jukebox, and his best-known tune, "Just the Way You Are." The deal is, many of his tunes feature lyrics that leave nothing to the imagination. Whether he's talking about how sex with a certain lady takes him to paradise or having a cocaine-kicker in a body full of liquor, middle America won't stand for that kind of expression even if Mars is free to say it. Even if he doesn't sing "Locked Out of Heaven" or "Gorilla," the guy oozes sex.
With the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they might not have set the music industry ablaze with their last few records, but they can still get people on their feet with "Give It Away" and "By the Way." And they do have a history of playing shows with just socks on their dongs and Kiedis's lyrics range from obtuse to explicit. In early February, don't expect to see much more than Flea's torso.Probably doesn't get much better than this.
Criticize the Super Bowl producers' choices, but this year is about as progressive as you can expect. You have a rock band that hasn't hit the classic rock circuit yet and you have a pop star headed rapidly toward a legendary stratosphere. There's no way Kanye West would be asked to perform (too prone to say controversial things on live TV) and Justin Timberlake may never get to perform the show again due to his involvement in Nipplegate. Do you really think a mass audience will stay glued if the hip Chvrches or Savages played? Hip doesn't usually mean mass appeal, and the key is to keep the audience through the performance. Remember, your parents, your grandparents, and your co-workers are watching this, too.
Hopefully, everything will go off without a hitch on the second day of February. But it sure would be an eye-roller if the Super Bowl producers fear taking even these very small chances again down the road. Even worse, they might want to tap more into the good 'ol boys and girls pop country market for 2015. Do we really want that?
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