Watching the Super Bowl used to be an act of leisure, which made the halftime show a break from a break. Now it isn’t and it ain’t. America has invested so much of itself in this brutal sport, which destroys the bodies and minds of its players, and the damage has become impossible to ignore, even though we’re trying our best.
As for halftime, it remains impossible to ignore for different reasons. It’s the most widely witnessed musical performance in our country each year, but very few artists seem interested in rising up to the moment. So sometimes we get predictable expertise (Prince in 2007). And sometimes we get wacky winks (Katy Perry and those sharks in 2015).
Has anyone approached the gig as seriously and skillfully as Beyoncé did on Sunday night? She came stomping out on the 10-yard line in broad daylight, flanked by 30 dancers in Black Panther berets, singing lyrics that were less than 30-hours old: “Hey ladies, now let’s get in formation… You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.”
She was performing an edited version of “Formation,” a new single she dropped on Saturday afternoon — a song that, in its video form, serves as a love letter to New Orleans and a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement. In the video, a young black boy in a hoodie dances defiantly before a phalanx of armed police while Beyoncé lies atop a cop car as it sinks in Katrina’s flood waters.
These incredible images weren’t a part of Beyoncé’s halftime routine, but the song’s lyrics still felt like a hot blast of black feminine power and solidarity — and she delivered them toggling between a deep speaking voice and rays of bright melody, the magical rebar that holds her music together.
She knows how to make her politics acquiesce to pop’s pleasure principles. Even when our angriest protest artists — Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, N.W.A. — sounded like they were gargling the blood of the GOP, they knew how to make it feel good. Beyoncé goes further, foregrounding the pleasure, pushing it from the celebratory toward the ecstatic.
And for an artist cranking up the politics this far into her fame, she might deserve an entire chapter in the great book of celebrity miracles. Yes, Beyoncé is still a one-percenter, but she doesn’t seem disconnected, or even fake-connected. Her halftime gig reminded us of this. The woman was literally on the ground.
And so a nation of millions tuned in for a song-and-dance extravaganza with extravagant singing and dancing, but above all, a statement. Beyoncé knew everyone was listening. She knew that it was her duty to say something significant. So she did.
Also, a band named Coldplay and singer named Bruno Mars performed.