There’s a lot to think about with regard to the Black Eyed Peas’ Super Bowl halftime performance last night. A lot to unpack. The Tron getups, the box-head dancers, the question of whether or not Usher had been drugged and forcibly brought to Dallas to perform, and what remains of Slash. Twitter was up in arms at how ludicrous it all was. Justifiable, then, that at least BEP didn’t get paid.
Apparently, doing it pro bono is common practice for bands that perform during the halftime show, because it’s really all about exposure. Which BEP totally didn’t have enough of before? Anyway, the consensus right now is resoundingly negative. Twelve minutes of nonsense that was so 2008, as Fergie admitted herself. Come to think of it, though, I’m on Martha Stewart’s side here: “Love the half time show. Fergie looks great.the staging is really exciting,” she tweeted with a straight face, just as the rest of my Twitter feed was overrun with haters.
This is what halftime shows are for. We can’t expect a tasteful, intellectually pleasing affair featuring Alvin Ailey dancers cavorting as Joanna Newsom bangs away at the piano. The whole point is that the show in the middle of the biggest television event of the year must be massive and tawdry, for better or for worse. And it delivered on all counts. For those of us who watch the Super Bowl with the actual football on mute, it may have been the best thing about the broadcast besides Lil Wayne’s liveblogging the game for the Wall Street Journal. And for those of us who appreciate camp on top of that, it definitely was.
It’s not every day that you get to witness Fergie bleating “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as Slash presses the button that allows his fingers to still play that guitar lick and Axl Rose weeps quietly at home. It’s not every day that Usher is airlifted into a stadium, still in his pajamas, to sleepily perform the same dance routine he’s been hawking since “My Way” with the added bonus of a full split. And it’s certainly not every day that we have visual evidence indicating that Will.i.am is now mostly made out of polyurethane.
Were there elements that could have been done away with? Obviously. The best song from Dirty Dancing is now ruined for everyone forever. Most of the dancers were totally unnecessary, except for when they lit up bright neon green. There’s an argument to be made that Slash actually did way more harm than good, not just to the show but to the legacy of Guns n’ Roses; as the Village Voice‘s Rob Harvilla put it, “Slash is the Akon of hair metal, and that is no kind of thing to be.”
If a Martian came to Earth and saw that halftime show, you would never in a million years be able to explain it to them. It would probably traumatize them, actually. And in the future, historians may point to what happened last night as a symbol of our imminent cultural decline. But the key word is camp. Embrace it. The drag queens currently sewing their own version of Fergie’s costume definitely will.