As far as Super Bowl halftime shows go, this year’s was heavy on showmanship and shoulda-coulda.
Back in September, the NFL made a bold announcement: pompadoured singer-songwriter Bruno Mars would provide the tunes during the intermission of Super Bowl XLVIII. Then, in January, an update: Mars would be joined by a rock band that formed two years before he was born.
So on Sunday night in New Jersey, Mars sang for the biggest audience of his life alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he should have – and easily could have — done it on his own.
How confident was the 28-year-old pop sensation ? Confident enough to kick the entire thing off with a drum solo. From there, he was as charismatic as he was physical, channeling Sting’s sense of melody during “Locked Out of Heaven” and James Brown’s hamstrings during “Runaway Baby.” And somewhere in the middle of it all, the Chili Peppers materialized to romp through their 1991 hit “Give It Away.”
The alt-rock legends were presumably roped into this gig to quell the jitters of older viewers unfamiliar with Mars and his highly flexible brand of R&B. But Mars is a big deal on his own — and by various metrics.
His two albums – 2010’s “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” and 2012’s “Unorthodox Jukebox” — have sold more than three million copies in the U.S. There are two Grammy awards sitting on his mantel. He has five No. 1 singles – the same number as Prince. And if you measure greatness in sweat, Mars has spilled buckets of it since his “Moonshine Jungle” tour kicked off in Washington last June. (It returns to the area in July.)
But the NFL is still playing it safe 10 years after “Nipplegate” — that fateful evening when millions upon millions of Americans watched Justin Timberlake expose Janet Jackson’s right breast for nine-sixteenths of a second. Since then, the NFL has avoided the edge by tapping the biggest names available: Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, the Who and, last year, Beyonce.
That made their choice to book Mars feel both risky and refreshing. Closing the set with his croony ballad, “Just the Way You Are,” Mars wore a triumphant smile, seemingly aware he was a risk well worth taking.