Madonna’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl last night was an exercise in self-promotion and a potential catalyst for her possible comeback as a multimedia superstar. And, after the critical drubbing of her 2011 film W.E. (which currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 16% rotten) and its slow performance at the box office, Madonna’s career is in desperate need of a jump-start. Her Super Bowl performance, which featured her new iTunes single “Gimme All Your Luvin’” – no, it’s unfortunately not a misspelled and poppy cover of the 1982 ZZ Top song with the same title – and five other songs from her catalogue of past hits, attempted to remind her loyal fans of her past glories and make her relevant to today’s pop music scene. Her new album, M.D.N.A., comes out on March 26 and includes “Gimme All Your Luvin’.” Below is an overview of the songs that she performed last night.
When a posse of eunuch-like slaves donning glittery costumes inspired by the clothing of the classical world and mythology of the Mediterranean basin (a pastiche of ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece) dragged Madonna on a giant barge to the center of the field, the performance announced itself as being more about visual spectacle than about actual songs. But that’s okay because this was a Super Bowl half-time performance – and, if you really think about it, the Super Bowl half-time performance is one of America’s greatest gifts to world culture. Madonna herself appeared as a cornucopia of Greek goddesses, including Aphrodite and Athena. But the appearance of the barge reconfigured her as a sort of postmodern Cleopatra – a figure who’s at once powerful, sexual, feminine, and masculine. Of course, Madonna for years has been doing this kind of reconfiguring, which allows her to be at the same time an eroticized commodity and a dominant figure of power. When the eunuchs dropped their ropes to dance, they didn’t even vogue.
Madonna removed her Greek goddess hat for her second song, and the set became another pastiche – this time of a disco, dance studio, and football stadium with bleachers. This part of the performance emphasized dance, gymnastics, and even tight rope walking. The stage set was minimalistic in comparison to the “Vogue” set, and this allowed Madonna and her dancers, many of whom wearing white track suits, to emphasize their choreography. The ancient world made a brief reappearance, with Roman soldiers with long hair serving as DJs. The tight rope walker wore a toga and reminded me of Mercury.
“Gimme All Your Luvin’”
Madonna retained the use of the bleachers for her performance of her new single, which emphasized football a lot more than the evening’s previous two songs. Cheerleaders with pom-pons surrounded Madonna, danced on the bleachers, and hyped the song in a way that made me think that the Material Girl was attempting to manufacture buzz for her new song. The appearance of Nicki Minaj wasn’t as surprising to me as that of M.I.A., the politically charged and critically acclaimed British hip hop and electronica artist. Even though I know that I was supposed to focus on Madonna and her new single, I kept asking myself, “What’s M.I.A. doing there?” At any rate, the single seemed like an attempt at teen pop – like Madonna was going for a new and very young audience while using the artistic credibility of M.I.A. as a crutch.
Bonus controversy: Here’s M.I.A. giving the finger that people are so worked up about.
“‘Open Your Heart’/‘Express Yourself’”
The “‘Open Your Heart’/‘Express Yourself’” medley served as a transitional piece to “Like a Prayer,” the performance’s closing number. Keeping up the football theme, a marching band came on stage and the tempo of the performance slowed down. Cee Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley and The Voice joined Madonna and provided some vocal theatrics.
“Like a Prayer”
Still joined by Cee Lo, Madonna, now wearing a black dress, sang “Like a Prayer” with him on a rising platform that glowed as it rose above the choir. The stage now looked like an altar – and the half-time show had gone from the decisively pagan performance of “Vogue” to the pseudo-Christian performance of “Like a Prayer.” Madonna’s black dress matched the equally black choir robes donned by Cee Lo and the choir. While Cee Lo stood and sang, Madonna knelt on the stage at his feet, shaking her hair and thrashing. The performance ended when Madonna disappeared in a cloud of smoke and the lights on the field formed the words, “World Peace.”
As a whole, Madonna’s performance beat out last year’s Black Eyed Peas’ half-time extravaganza. But that’s not saying much. Whenever I watch a Super Bowl half-time show, I don’t really understand its purpose. It sort of reminds me of the fighter plane flyovers that begin many NFL games. Yes, it shows the world what the USA is capable of doing and how much money it can spend. It’s also not really necessary, especially in the interest of “World Peace.”
Here is the entire performance.