Lady Gaga took it as far as it can possibly go.
As far as massive spectacle goes, the diminutive pop icon pulled out all the stops, appearing to free-fall off the top of the stadium after singing "This Land Is Your Land" beneath a flurry of red, white and blue drones, and landing on the stage below to meet a bevy of dancers working some seriously choreographed moves. It was over the top, it was simultaneously ridiculous and awesome.
And it represented the absolute apex of the bombastic trajectory the Super Bowl halftime show has been following since the 2002 appearance of U2, ground zero for the "biggest gig in the world" philosophy.
The past five years of Super Bowl halftime shows – Madonna, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Coldplay with Beyonce and Bruno Mars - have been all about the glitz and glam, and the music often seems like an afterthought. This has essentially been Las Vegas-style shock-and-awe, writ large. This makes a certain amount of sense, but things are getting a bit stale and predictable.
Sensing that a change in programming is due, I took an informal poll via Facebook, asking a random cross-section of my friend list for their halftime show wish list.
Here are the 15 artists my friends mentioned the most, and tacked on to the end, a few awesome oddities that generated only a handful of votes. I opined on the pros and cons of each choice.
Pro: These guys are mighty. They've got the catalog. People would certainly get pumped by 12 minutes of Metallica at the Super Bowl. The focus would be primarily on the music, which would be a welcome change from recent halftime shows.
Con: Music this heavy might not be everyone in the mainstream's audience's cup of tea.
Dead & Co.
Pro: Hippies would rejoice. The Dead could eat up the whole 12-minute slot with a straight-up rendering of its "China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider" medley. Jam bands have never been represented at the Super Bowl. This would be a cool first.
Con: Does peace and love play at the Super Bowl? Perhaps not.
Earth Wind & Fire
Pro: A lengthy list of well-known, much-loved and uplifting tunes.
Con: None come to mind, save the fact that founder Maurice White is no longer with us.
Dave Matthews Band
Pro: Positive and uplifting music from one of the most successful touring bands of the past 20 years. The mainstream audience would find little to quibble over. DMB, one is comfortable assuming, is offensive to no one.
Con: A rendition of the sensitive singer-songwriter-guy anthem "Crash" might not play too well in the midst of what's essential a Gladiator throw-down.
Pro: Eddie Vedder would own this big stage, and Pearl Jam is one of the most exciting, dynamic live bands going. This would be a slam-dunk.
Con: Vedder, unlike Lady Gaga, would quite likely find it impossible to keep his political opinions to himself. The "shut up and sing" crowd would not be pleased.
Pro: Dramatic and dynamic heaviness. This band would certainly make the most of the slot.
Con: This is a total fantasy. It will never happen. If by some freak chance it did happen, the mainstream audience would probably be mortified. And Tool has no hits, in the conventional sense.
Pro: One of the greatest canon of songs in the history of American music.
Con: Wonder played the gig in 1999, though he inexplicably shared the slot with Gloria Estefan and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Pro: The combination of a smartly curated Phish mini-set and the band's legendary light show would bring a positive and understated vibe to the halftime gig.
Con: There's no middle ground with Phish. People either love the band or hate it - a lot.
Pro: Lamar is his generation's most compelling hip-hop artist.
Con: Lamar's music is aggressive, politically minded and in-your-face. That's a tough sell at the Super Bowl.
Pro: Lol lol lol lol!!!
Con: Its Nickelback.
Pro: The greatest band of hip-hop's first generation.
Cons: Not mainstream enough for some tastes.
Simon & Garfunkel
Pro: A body of work that transcends demographic concerns.
Con: Getting Paul and Artie in the same room at the same time might be tough.
Pro: These guys wrote the book on stadium rock spectacle.
Con: None. Make this happen, NFL!
Guns 'n' Roses
Pro: "Welcome to the Jungle"> "Paradise City">"Sweet Child of Mine" would make a seamless set.
Con: The NFL seems to avoid hard rock like the plague.
Pro: Who doesn’t love Billy Joel?
Con: There are probably many people who don’t love Billy Joel, sadly.
I have to throw some props toward many of the poll's respondents, because they had a sense of humor and their picks for what ended up being the "honorable mention" category (five votes or less) were diverse, interesting and, on occasion, local.
Here's a sample: Radiohead, Rush, Cheap Trick, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Oysterhead, Slayer, Dweezil Zappa, Bob Dylan, Santana, Bad Brains, Tom Waits, Sex Pistols, Los Lobos, Willie Nile, Frank Turner, Yes, Metric, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Nine Inch Nails, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Parliament Funkadelic, the Neville Brothers, Blackberry Smoke, the Flaming Lips, Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, the Police, the Replacements, Grace Potter, Gojira, Snarky Puppy and King Crimson. Also add to that list Buffalo natives Willie Nile, Aqueous and Jimmer Phillips and Bobo.