When you’re busy firing off jokes with your friends on Super Bowl Sunday and pretending to be unfamiliar with Coldplay’s discography, it’s easy to forget that an appearance at the Big Game® — whether it’s a halftime set, an anthem performance, or even a big commercial — is close to the pinnacle of anyone’s career. It’s one of the world’s biggest stages, and its audience is full of people who don’t typically pay close attention to music and culture. When else do musicians have a chance to play for people who don’t know Bruno Mars from a Bronco?
Beyoncé was last night’s headliner in everything but name, but plenty of other performers managed to squeeze their way into the conversation surrounding the game. For some, that meant shredding on guitar in a room full of lit candles; for others, it meant shilling for various global corporations and being compensated accordingly. Who made the most of their Super Bowl 50 screentime?
Beyoncé is a force of nature as a musician and performer, but I’d contend she’s even more formidable as a businesswoman. She became the halftime show’s savior, launched an international stadium tour, announced a new charitable initiative, and turned the internet’s collected denizens into rabid superfans, and she did it all with one new song. Her timing was perfect, the rollout was immaculate, and I want to cry when I think about the revenue she’s going to generate through ticket sales and "hot sauce" hats. She even managed to turn a certain tumble into a dance move during her set. There’s just one lingering question: when’s the album coming out?
Mars cemented his reputation as the world’s hardest-working contemporary pop star with an affable appearance. He tucked into "Uptown Funk" one last time — if I hear it again before 2020, it’ll be too soon — and gave the halftime show its most exciting moment by having a little dance-off with Beyoncé. He hasn’t released an album in over three years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses his Super Bowl momentum to give his next musical project a boost in the next few weeks.
It’s not a great sign when the best reviews of your Super Bowl headlining set are mostly uninterested in your music or presence. (At least they’re not actively hostile?) Chris Martin doesn’t need my defense — he is still very rich and successful, no matter how many people on the internet think he’s corny — but I’m going to offer a few points anyway. His decision to sing live while hopping and squatting around the stage was noble, if a little misguided; "Fix You" is a perfect song for a "past, present, and future" montage; he has the self-awareness and the confidence to willingly cede the spotlight to other, more magnetic stars. It looked like he and his band were having a total blast on stage, and that was nice to see. You’re getting to play your music for hundreds of millions of people around the world. You should be having fun!
Drake wasn’t present at the game itself, but he still took the opportunity to collect a few hefty checks. Americans had the pleasure of watching him revive the "Hotline Bling" video on T-Mobile’s behalf, and Canadian viewers (like me) watched him talk about his first pair of Jordans like a true Jumpman brand ambassador. I can’t blame him: he’s a hyper-popular, charismatic figure, and pools nicer than Kanye’s don’t come cheap. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before he’s playing the big show himself.
Monáe embodied the halftime show’s "past, present, future" theme with a joyful, time-traveling Pepsi ad that kicked off the proceedings. She doesn’t have the fanbase or the widespread appeal to carry a headlining set herself, which is a shame. When it comes to creativity, visual flair, and musical talent, she’s not that far behind Beyoncé. Let’s hope her corporate connection turns into a guest spot sometime soon.
February is a big month for Lady Gaga: she’s performing an "experiential" David Bowie tribute at the Grammys next week, and she’ll sing her Oscar-nominated ballad "Til It Happens to You" at the Academy Awards a few weeks later. (It's the first time anyone's performed at all three events.) Gaga’s steamrolling her way back to relative normalcy through sheer vocal power after leaving her ARTPOP period behind, and it’s something to behold. When she finished her rendition of the national anthem last night, party guests around the world turned to their acquaintances and said, "I had no clue Lady Gaga could sing like that!" (I heard it a few times myself.) She didn’t blow the stadium away like Whitney — then again, who has? — but ripping through "The Star-Spangled Banner" was a big step toward commercial redemption for pop’s leading weirdo.
Was Maroon 5 involved in last night’s festivities in any way? No. Did Taraji P. Henson enjoy their performance anyway? Yes! If you’re looking for sharp Coldplay criticism, it doesn’t get much more damning than Cookie Lyon confusing them with the other group of pop-friendly white men.
While all of the confetti bits and instruments were being shuttled off of the field, CBS turned to an icon to soothe and relax exhausted viewers around the world with a quick interstitial. Who needs an elaborate halftime show when you’ve got 20 candles, a small amp, a leprechaun’s hat, some first-half footage, and a guitar-shredding legend? Bless you, Santana. I hope you get promoted to the main stage next year: the world needs six minutes of "Black Magic Woman," and it definitely needs six minutes of "Smooth."