The Super Bowl Half Time performance has become one of the biggest, most prestigious honors in music every year for the artist or artists lucky enough to earn the slot. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Prince to Madonna to, most recently, Beyoncé have memorably taken to the stage, bringing us some of the most dazzling spectacles, both visually and musically, you’d ever hope to see and hear. Between advancements in television quality and the instant gratification aspect of the internet, these performances are amongst the highest profile any artist will ever be able to land. This year, Bruno Mars was selected to (hopefully) woo us into putting him up on a pedestal similar to that of his predecessors. It was an uphill battle from the beginning, considering how short his career has been compared to many of the other acts who’ve earned the opportunity to perform, but for an artist this talented, you have to go into it giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Now, you have to put these performances into context in order to properly review them. This isn’t a concert being played for fans, nor is this an award show performance aimed directly at the music-buying public. The Half Time Show takes place in the middle of a football game, and not just any old football game… the most watched television event in the United States (by a landslide) every single year. The entire country is watching, and this performance has become so high profile that the entire world has joined in. The caveat is not to perform for those who are in the know, but for those who aren’t; you have to win them over. Yes, every now and then the show belongs to artists geared more towards the “football crowd,” like The Who, Bruce Springsteen, or Paul McCartney, but, even for some legends, it requires a bit of extra work to successfully pull this show off. For example, Madonna relied heavily on the visual intricacies her performances have become known for, while reaching into her catalog for her biggest hits. Additionally, last year Beyoncé reunited Destiny’s Child to fold in something momentous and nostalgic. The problem with Bruno Mars is that he doesn’t have any hidden tricks up his sleeves quite yet. His catalog is impressive, but limited, and he’s had a heavy presence in the public eye over the last few years that most of his target audience knows what kind of performer he is. These are all things that held him back.
To cut to the chase, Bruno did an incredible job with what he had, but his performance lacked that “je ne sais quoi” required for something legendary. This Half Time Show won’t rank amongst the best ever, but it won’t rank amongst the worst (we’re still trying to forget of the Black Eyed Peas’ show.) His hit selection proved that he’s building an impressive catalog, but he’s not quite at the point where he has much to stand on, and that was increasingly obvious as the show went on. Still, Mr. Mars worked with what he had and made it exciting. “Treasure,” for example, showcased his showmanship and musical intuition, and simultaneously won everyone over with its throwback fun. Nonetheless, he had to rely on an on-point James Brown impersonation to make it remotely noteworthy (and that’s not necessarily a good thing.) Even his opening routine on the drum kit, while impressive, felt a little too intentional to work with the flow of the performance. Additionally, these performances are equally about the visual spectacle as they are about the music, and outside of a killer fireworks show during the finale of “Just The Way You Are,” this element was severely lacking. Playing it safe made for a solid show, but something far too resembling a VMA performance, which is certainly a let down.
Finally, what really brought the show down was the addition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This is a particular shame because they presented the one opportunity to make this performance particularly special. Unfortunately, the pairing wasn’t so much “peanut butter and chocolate” as it was “peanut butter and turkey;” both are great on their own, but together, it just didn’t work. Bruno Mars and his dapper backing band looked completely out of place after the Chili Peppers took the stage along side them, and Bruno himself looked ridiculous singing along to “Give It Away.” Going with something a little more “in the middle,” like the RHCP’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” would have been far more appropriate, successful, and easy to pull off. This also just proved that the Red Hot Chili Peppers should have been the headliners here all along. They’re the legendary act with a catalog that is both impressive, stacked, and well-known, and they’re bonafide performers to boot. Their addition to Bruno’s performance felt like a desperate attempt to appeal to a wider market, and not with the intent of creating a legendary show. The pairing just flat out didn’t work.
So, in the end, kudos to Bruno Mars for a job well done. There’s very little to criticize in the context of a musical performance here, and he will inevitably reap the benefits of it. However, as far as a Half Time Show goes, this was predictably the wrong decision to make. I’m not sure that this will go down as one of the greatest or most memorable, and years down the road, when Bruno is either going to be a legend or a forgotten fixture of the 2010s, it’s going to be clear that the timing was really off. He could have benefited greatly from increasing the visual aspects and tightening up his medley of hits (“Grenade” was noticeably absent,) but all in all, he worked with what he had. This all played out exactly as it should have considering what we knew about the performance. Without an air of mystery or surprise, and with such a small catalog of tracks to pull from, this ended up being completely predictable. For those not familiar with Bruno’s work to date, this was the best introduction you could hope for (I’m sure he won over a good portion of the “mom crowd” watching,) and he certainly did his fans proud, but for the innocent bystanders and music enthusiasts, his show was just “okay.”