Reviews for Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime performance have ranged from stellar to scathing, with fans heaping lavish praise on the singer’s mix of old hits and new releases, to detractors who found it a pathetic attempt at a come-back. But the wide array of comments is really nothing new for the pop icon, who has been wooing as well as angering crowds for more than 20 years.
But for TV critic Hank Steuver, the singer provided one of the only exciting and new elements to the night of entertainment:
After much groaning and lowered expectations, only Madonna can be said to have outdone herself, executing a flashy halftime tribute to her own image (“Y-O-U, Madonna”) but also honoring the concept of longevity and old-fashioned pop stardom, reaching back through her catalogue of hits and enlisting the help of some present-day acts that the kids listen to.
The help came from members of LMFAO, who graciously hoisted Madonna on their shoulders before aiding her in a handstand. The star appearances didn’t stop there, noted Jen Chaney of Celebritology in a play-by-play of the performance.
8:07 p.m.: Now Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and a herd of ladies in fringe skirts are doing what appears to be a pom routine my high school squad did in 1988. Also, did M.I.A. give us the finger? (Uh, yes. Yes she did.)
8:10 p.m.: A marching band is now onstage, drumming while Madonna sings “Open Your Heart.” This is sweet relief after “Give Me All Your Luvin.”
8:10 p.m.: In case you forgot for a half-second that “The Voice” is on after the Super Bowl, Cee Lo Green is leading the band. And, also, outsinging Madonna by leaps and octaves.
8:10 p.m.: Woah, the football field has disappeared and it now appears we’re in outer space. “Like a Prayer” is starting.
8:11 p.m.: Madonna, Cee Lo and a massive gospel choir in black and white robes are all singing. This doesn’t quite redeem that LMFAO episode, but this is pretty strong and looks stunning in HD.
The total effect was strong, said Allison Stewart of Click Track, who called it “the most excellent and unexpectedly subversive Super Bowl halftime show in years.” It did leave a few lasting questions, however:
1. Is Madonna the only woman in the world who can look imperial, and not ridiculous, while clad in full Viking regalia, performing nervously rendered one-legged yoga poses and Steve Martin-style King Tut moves?
2. Did you catch the part where Madonna's stage floor flattened out to show oversized pictures of, uh, Madonna? Is there any other artist so dangerously, so openly nostalgic for their glory years, other than the Rolling Stones?
Simply being a female, let alone one in her 50s, was enough to make Madonna’s performance revolutionary compared to the last eight years, says Lisa de Moraes of the TV Column:
Madonna is, once again, a trailblazer — the first non-guy Super Bowl halftime star since Janet Jackson had a breastplate ripped off her costume by Justin Timberlake, exposing her right breast for about a half-second during the 2004 halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The “wardrobe malfunction,” as the incident became known, resulted in a record $550,000 fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission against TV stations owned by CBS, which broadcast that year’s Super Bowl — and the effective banning of female halftime headliners. Since then, only Viagra Generation guys have been allowed to star in Super Bowl halftime shows, starting with Paul McCartney in ’05, followed in subsequent years by the Rolling Stones and Prince.
Early critics said the only reason Madonna was tapped for the gig was to generate a larger share of women viewers for the Super Bowl, says Suzi Parker of She the People:
Yes, women of a certain age like Madonna. We remember dressing in black lace gloves, rubber O-ring bracelets and leggings, trying to master the moves from the “Lucky Star” music video. For many Generation X women, Madonna opened the door to sexuality – exposing us to topics that even “Cosmopolitan” didn’t address. Remember her 1992 book “Sex” wrapped in silver cellophane? Women weren’t the only ones sneaking peeks of that, rest assured, and they won’t be the only ones watching the halftime show.
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