or the British football fan, whose half-time experience is usually limited to eating a semi-warm burger, stretching their legs and, if they’re lucky, maybe even time for a quick wee, the Super Bowl’s mid-match antics can seem pretty surreal; a gleaming, somewhat outrageous example of rampant American excess on the biggest stage.
But ever since 2016, when the NFL’s failure to support players taking the knee — Colin Kaepernick chief among them — reportedly led to a number of A-list musicians refusing to perform at half-time, the political heft of this grand, glossy, 14-minute extravaganza has become more pointed.
And so it was the case with the 2022 edition, which mixed genuine entertainment and undoubted star-power with a dash of artistic activism — even if that last aspect was slyly watered down at points. In the most overt moment of the performance, Eminem, fresh from delivering a fierce rendition of Lose Yourself, took the knee. Reports in the build up suggested the NFL had tried to stop him from doing it, even if the organisation then went on to publicly deny this; whatever the case, it happened.
And then there were the rumours that organisers had tried to convince legendary rapper and producer Dr Dre, who anchored the show, to drop the “still not loving police” line from his performance of Still D.R.E. If that was true, then again it fell on deaf ears. But when it came to Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, the song adopted as an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, it seems the lyric “And we hate po-po” was a sentiment too far, censored as it was (even if the following line, “Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure”, made it in… 1-0 Kendrick, then?)
There’s also the matter of Snoop Dogg, whose polarised week included both the acquisition of Death Row Records and being sued for alleged sexual assault and battery of a woman in California in 2013, a claim which the rapper, real name Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr, denies. On the night, strolling around the stage, he seemed happy to revel in the moment.
And that’s the thing: amongst all the noisy context, this was probably the best half-time show in years. Hosted at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, it was a celebration of the city’s humongous cultural impact. The set design was modelled on a Compton street, and local titans Dre and Snoop performed with all the confidence of elder statesmen — the fact that Lamar, surely the greatest rapper of his generation, started his segment surrounded by dancers wearing “Dre Day” sashes shows just how much admiration Dre still commands.
The cameo from 50 Cent, playing that unabating party classic In Da Club, was fun, even if he did seem slightly out of breath after starting the performance upside down. Mary J Blige delivered typically mighty vocals on Family Affair and No More Drama, and Eminem was elevated by Anderson .Paak’s sharp live band. All the artists ended on stage together — a compelling moment.
We’re assured that, comically enough, the second half of a football match happened after all this, with the LA team coming out on top. Much like the half-time show, then.