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Editorial: The Cultural Significance of The Super Bowl Halftime Show

Musical artists have many goals, whether it's critical acclaim, popularity, staying genuine, staying relevant, making art to pay the bills, or making art as therapy. But in terms of setting a legacy, and standing the test of time, the ultimate accolade for a musical artist is not a Grammy, or any number of Grammys, it is being able to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show. An artist with a significant following can expect to, at the very least receive an invite to the Grammys, and over the span of a decades long career, you're much more likely to win a single Grammy than perform at the halftime show.

Think about it, few events in pop culture guarantee tens of millions of viewers year after year. Not only has performing at the halftime show become one of the greatest opportunities to show off an artist's live performance skill, but also incorporates elements like set design, lighting, pyrotechnics, dance and creativity into the mix. So in the present tense, it is a great opportunity to showcase your art and ability to perform, and more forward thinking, it is an event that will solidify an artist's status in pop culture forever. People will always talk about Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Prince, Bruno Mars and so many others, and how their performances at the Super Bowl were a significant landmark in each of their careers. Being a halftime performer puts you in a very, very exclusive club.

But the tradition was not always this highly coveted. From the first Super Bowl in 1967, to 1992, the halftime show was traditionally performed by various college marching bands and dance teams. It felt fitting, as all collegiate and high school games usually display their band and dance teams at halftime. But as the Super Bowl's status as an event gained more popularity, and even the commercials were given blockbuster status, there arose a need to up the ante. Bringing us to 1993, with Michael Jackson stunning the world with multiple stunt doubles that gave the impression of him teleporting around the stadium, fireworks timed to certain parts of the songs, and all of the fans lifting cards to make the stadium show images of children as MJ sang Heal The World. It set a high standard for live performances everywhere, but especially for the Super Bowl.

For every year since, the NFL would select a list of artists based on broad appeal, and the city hosting the game would actually make the selection.

When the Weeknd was given an ultimatum by Grammys management, perform at the Grammys or perform at the Super Bowl, he chose the Super Bowl, and as a result, had his album After Hours and his #1 Billboard hit Blinding Lights completely snubbed by the awards, not even receiving a nomination. Fun fact, artists who perform at the Super Bowl are not paid for it, as there is no appearance fee. Meaning The Weeknd paid $7 Million of his own money for his 15 minute appearance, giving viewers a high-flying show featuring doppelgangers, a dense hall of mirrors, and lots of pyrotechnics.

Another trend, one that I want to emphasize in this writing, is the Super Bowl halftime show's genre preferences since 1993. Pop and Rock have been the genres of choice, with R&B coming in third, with Janet Jackson, Nelly, & Destiny's Child all appearing. But Hip Hop has really never broken through the mold to headline. Could you point to Diddy in Super Bowl 38 or Travis Scott and Big Boi's performance in 2019? Yes. Should you? No.

Firstly, Diddy was no headliner, and any performance he put on was vastly overshadowed by the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" caused by Justin Timberlake.

Secondly, Travis Scott and Big Boi were not headliners that year either, Maroon 5 was. The NFL was being boycotted by many Black artists for blacklisting Colin Kaepernick whose peaceful protest divided owners, fans, and players alike. Beyond that, the show was considered by many to be one of the worst ever. Hip Hop felt included only as a token, an equity-quota shield to help the league save face. The combination of the three artists didn't really mesh well and in terms of PR, it was odd that Adam Levine taking off his shirt received no backlash from the FCC, CBS, or most people, when the wardrobe malfunction resulted in Janet Jackson being blackballed from the industry for years, and it wasn't even her fault.

And don't even get me started with their attempt to bring the Spongebob song Sweet Victory to the Super Bowl after an online petition. It attempted to appeal to more people by incorporating multiple genres, and it didn't really succeed.

But with Super Bowl LVI coming February 13, there is an opportunity here for the halftime show to be carried purely off the weight of Hip Hop, which would be unprecedented. The show will feature Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Mary J. Blige. This is a lineup that is sonically and historically bound together, and it doesn't feel like they smashed multiple Black artists together just to see what happens. Dr. Dre famously signed Eminem to his Aftermath Records, made a now legendary collab tape with Snoop Dogg (The Chronic), produced Mary J. Blige's Family Affair that gave her universal appeal, and was an early supporter of Kendrick, producing HiiiPoWeR off his debut album Section.80. There is no doubt that the decision was made in part because the city of Los Angeles hosts this year's game, and Dre, Snoop, and Kendrick are some of the biggest names in music, and even bigger names in LA. Hip-Hop will no longer be a sideshow, but rather the headlining event. Further proving that Rap has become the new Pop.

Could the NFL be choosing these artists for PR, continuing their campaign to end league-wide racial discrimination and be more inclusive since 2020? Could it be that Jay-Z and Roc Nation had a hand in producing the Super Bowl halftime show this year? Multiple things can be true.

The Super Bowl halftime show is one of the greatest opportunities for artists to set in stone their life's work, and it puts a pulse to what popular music is year after year. So if you have plans to watch the halftime show this year, whether it flops or flies, the very fact that this lineup has made it to one of the world's biggest stages, is a sign of our changing culture.

Written by Max Olarinde, @mobeige1 on all social media.


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