It’s pretty inarguable that Katy Perry is one of the biggest forces in pop music over the last decade. Despite failing to live up to her culturally significant contemporaries like Beyoncé or Lady Gaga, she has racked up more number one hits than both of them combined (plus a few other big hits to boot.) Needless to say, she was a fair choice for the coveted Half Time performance at the Super Bowl, or at minimum an obvious one. In this post-Nipplegate world, the powers that be have been highly selective of their Half Time headliners, settling for a streak of safe classic rock performers such as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and the Who, all of which were successful. However, the last 5 years have been far more pop-oriented, almost as if they are attempting to ween us back into the MTV-run hey day. This has been a hit or miss route. On one hand, the likes of Madonna and Beyoncé are widely considered to have put on two of the greatest Half Time performances ever, while the Black Eyed Peas are widely ranked as the worst; last year’s Bruno Mars snooze-fest…err… show has mostly been lost in the sands of time. For better or worse, Katy Perry’s performance falls somewhere in the middle.
Overall, Ms. Perry did a good job at focusing on the spectacle aspect of the show. This was always going to be her saving grace, as her catalog isn’t particularly stacked with classics (despite being piled high with big hits,) and she is hardly renowned for her dancing ability. The cheesy, whimsical props would generally come across as tacky, but this is true to form for the artist, and you have to respect her for sticking to her integrity; it actually worked. There were big props, and lights, and costume changes, and dancers, and fireworks, and elaborate staging, and pretty much every required facet of “the spectacle,” but the problem is that none of it was particularly unique. The light up floor is nothing new, and the “giant lion” entrance was hardly chill-inducing, but it was definitely visually pleasing. For being her only real crutch, though, she definitely should have gone for it and at least tried to pull off something truly magical. Musically speaking, her vocals were nothing to complain about, but with songs so singsongy and candy coated, she never really had much of an opportunity to wail and blow us away. Additionally, her song choices were good ones… six upbeat, number one hits. She was smart to keep it fun and unapologetic, but it was unfortunate that she didn’t have anything compelling to throw at us. The major flaw here was quite apparently that her catalog just isn’t quite “there yet;” Bruno Mars suffered the same fate last year. It isn’t that Katy Perry hasn’t racked up plenty of hits, but she hasn’t really racked up any particular classics, and it really showed.
Another huge flaw in the performance was how it lacked a real flow. It really didn’t have much to do with the segueing or sequence, but there weren’t many peaks or valleys, and she never gave herself the time to really bask in her own glory; pop music thrives on ego. On the same train of thought, her special guests absolutely absolutely ruined any redemption she could have found for herself. First was Lenny Kravitz, who actually added an awesome edge to the very brief “I Kissed A Girl,” but you couldn’t help by scratch your head as to why he was there. How about a mash up with “Are You Gonna Go My Way?;” that would have been cool and tactful. It all just read as completely random. However, his guest spot was nothing compared to Missy Elliott’s shameful hi-jack. Don’t get me wrong, you have to give it up for Misdemeanor and her contributions to hip hop, but it was absolutely horrendous how large of a SOLO slot she got. Katy standing there through two of the three songs adding in a line or two on top of Missy was painfully awkward, and it reiterated how irrelevant the rapper has become; all of the songs she performed are a decade or more old. Had they not completely overlooked their previous collaboration (“Last Friday Night” Remix,) maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so downright awkward and pointless. Beyoncé’s only guests were her Destiny’s Child bandmates, which (obviously) made sense, but Madonna made the “random guest” thing really work. Outside of her collaborators Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., she integrated LMFAO and Cee Lo Green into her performance strikingly well. Not to mention, she never surrendered the stage to them; she stayed with the performance from start to finish. Katy Perry surrendered her moment.
All in all, there are plenty of nice things to say about the show, but nothing overwhelmingly positive. Quite frankly, it was quite predictable and rather boring. Obviously, she was going to have an “explosive” finale to “Firework,” and obviously she was going to cheese it up a bit for a handful of Teenage Dream hits, but she missed her chance to really raise the bar. It has never been more obvious that while she is a massive star and an outrageously successful force on the pop charts, she isn’t the compelling artist she has the opportunity to be. Maybe she’s reached the summit more than Beyoncé or at a faster pace than Madonna, but she doesn’t have the same presence in pop culture or music in general, and she certainly didn’t command a Super Bowl Half Time show in the same way. Luckily for her, this isn’t something to throw stones at, it’s just a performance that didn’t live up to the hype and didn’t capitalize on a once-in-a-career opportunity the way it should have. Katy Perry should still hold her head high, and give Missy Elliott a big ol’ “thank you.”