Some Thoughts on Super Bowl LI

skyline-with-football

I’ll be truthful that this year I wasn’t really feeling the Super Bowl. I just wasn’t that excited for the game and part of me just wanted to stay home and watch a new episode of The Young Pope (I am seriously obsessed with that show). Part of the problem was that I wasn’t feeling all that great and other than going to brunch on Saturday I had spent most of the weekend watching Black-ish on Hulu. I am also most definitely not a Patriots fan; you can put me in the category of “hater.” Now I come by my dislike of the team honestly, as they are in the Bills division and have been beating them on the regular for the last sixteen years, usually in humiliating fashion. So while the fact that they win a lot and the Trump connection didn’t really help matters, I was decidedly anti-Patriots. That made me tentatively pro-Atlanta, but that didn’t really gin up much enthusiasm for the game. But as attractive as the idea was of staying home and going to bed early, I have an image to uphold so I made the trek out to watch the game at my usual football watching spot.

The game itself was pretty exciting, despite it not being the outcome that I was hoping for; I’m pretty happy that I held off on sending some snarky text that would have been appropriate after the first half, but would have come back to bite me. I don’t know what it is about Boston teams that make them love a dramatic comeback. Last night’s Patriots recovery from a 28-3 deficit was historic and I’ve heard something about a Red Sox comeback in 2004, but I’m a little fuzzy on those details. But football is really only a portion of what makes the Super Bowl exciting. Even not-sports fans tune in for the Super Bowl to see the spectacle. Between the halftime show, the commercials, and the tacit agreement that calories don’t count during the Super Bowl, there’s a lot to enjoy even in years when the game is kind of a snoozefest. And since this is a pop culture blog and not a sports blog, I thought I’d weigh in on some of the non-football related highlights of the night:

  • I really enjoyed Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones, aka the original Schuyler sisters from the Broadway show Hamilton, and their rendition of “God Bless America.”

They looked and sounded amazing and I appreciated their addition of “and sisterhood” to the lyrics. And not surprisingly, there is not necessarily a huge overlap between football fans and Hamilton fans, as I had to explain who these women were to a lot of people at the bar (though even the clueless football fans thought they were great).  It also led to one of the first funny moments of the night, as the camera cut from their flawless performance to a stone-faced Bill Belichick, who I don’t think is impressed by anything:

  • I was less impressed with Luke Bryan’s rendition of the National Anthem. It was fine, but it didn’t blow me away, though admittedly every performance of this song at the Super Bowl (and everywhere else, really) will forever live in the shadow of Whitney Houston’s 1991 powerhouse version. That’s pretty much the gold standard; they should just play a recording of that at all events and be done with it (unless Adele wants to take a crack at it).

Lady Gaga’s halftime performance was fantastic. Beyoncé straight up killed it last year (even if it was officially Coldplay’s halftime show) so my expectations were high. I knew Gaga is incredibly talented, but I wasn’t sure if she could make her performance more mainstream for the general Super Bowl audience; one of the things I love about her is her willingness to take artistic chances and push the envelope, which doesn’t always work well with Middle America’s sensibilities. I was also interested to see how political she would get; given a national stage, I was sure that she would make some commentary on the current political climate. How far she’d go with that was a whole other question.

 

What she pulled off was absolutely perfect; it was an energetic and exciting performance that was covertly political without being totally in your face. Her juxtaposition of “God Bless America” with “This Land Is Your Land” might have seemed innocuous unless you know the history and context of the latter. Woody Gutherie’s 1940s tune is a protest song that was actually recorded in response to the omnipresence of “God Bless America.” It was a subtle choice that a lot of people wouldn’t have picked up on, but the message was there. Slightly more obvious was her inclusion of her song “Born This Way,” which celebrates people’s differences and has become something of a LGBT rights anthem.  I knew that her performance was going to feature hundreds of drones, but they wound up being a non-factor in her political statement.

Politics aside, it was a really memorable performance. When she started the set on top of the NRG Stadium with a harness on, I knew that she was going to do something dramatic, but it still was something of a shock when she just casually jumped off the edge to lower herself down to the stage. You’ve got to have some real trust in the stunt coordinators (and the strength of the wires) to pull that off. But Gaga did it like it was no big thing. She was flipping all over the place like she was Pink (spoiler alert – turns out that segment was per-recorded. Everything is a lie). Once she hit the ground, her dancing was on point. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Lady Gaga put on such a physical performance and she nailed it. Even the people at the bar who were pretty meh about Gaga beforehand had to admit that she was really great.  No surprise that she announced a major tour in the wake of this appearance. I’d pretty much decided to take 2017 off from concerts, but I may have to go check her out.

  • The commercials overall were not that impressive this year. Not surprisingly the ads were slightly more political this year than in previous years, if you consider tolerance, immigration, and equal pay to be controversial subjects. While I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment, that didn’t result in very many memorable commercials. Usually companies release some banger advertisements during the Super Bowl, but most of the ads this year left my consciousness almost as soon as they ended. The only commercials that received any sort of audible reaction from the crowd were Kia’s ad featuring Melissa McCarthy and the newly sexualized Mr. Clean, which honestly kind of made everyone uncomfortable.

 

I did chuckle at Snoop and Martha’s T-Mobile ad and the 10 Haircare spot, but they didn’t get a huge reaction otherwise. Someone helpfully made a compilation of all the ads that ran during this year’s Super Bowl, in case you missed some during a bathroom break or when you were grabbing some snacks:

 

  • A surprising number of people have no idea what Stranger Things is. When that commercial aired, people were very confused, thinking that there was a new Ghostbusters reboot featuring children. LOL – it’s a good reminder that people aren’t necessarily as obsessed with pop culture as I am.

So another Super Bowl is in the books. For once, the game was actually what most people are talking about, which is a good thing even if, like me, your rooting interests took the L. I’ve only heard universal praise for Lady Gaga’s halftime performance, though my sample size is probably not statistically significant. I weirdly have collected a lot of Pats fans as friends over the years (I need a better screening process), so I am happy for them that they got to see their team win another championship. Sigh – Tom Brady has to retire eventually, right?

 

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