As the Super Bowl has become something of a national holiday in the U.S., much attention has been focused on lots of the non-game content that comes along with “Super Sunday.” Every year, the pricey commercials become an even bigger deal, often available ahead of time for consumption and sharing.
But it's the halftime show that always garners talk, controversy, praise, or brickbats – depending on your point of view and taste in music. For several years, Classic Rockers ruled at the half, featuring premier bands that included the Stones, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and others. But on recent Super Bowls, it's been a return to pop with the likes of Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake.
The NFL has been the pro sports juggernaut, always standing out as the biggest and most popular league of them all. But in the last few years, ratings are off and controversy continues to rage over controversial issues like the National Anthem, domestic violence, and player concussions and health. No, don't cry for NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell (who reportedly makes north of $30 million annually).
Strangely, there is no “face of the NFL,” a dominant player who symbolizes all that is great and wonderful about the league. In fact, in the last two years, it's been Colin Kaepernick (when he isn't selling running shoes), much to Goodell's and ownership's frustration.
Pepsi (sponsor of the halftime extravaganza) and the NFL love the speculation surrounding who will take the field at halftime, especially as “the drama” virally makes the rounds on social media.
And the leading rumor is that Maroon 5 will take the Gargantuan stage at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And that has already angered millions who were hoping for a more dynamic act. In fact, the locals are wondering why an Atlanta-based performer like Ludacris, Outkast, or Usher isn't the consensus pick.
Strangely, the NFL doesn't work that way. When the game was in Detroit back in 2006, the Stones played, rather than Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin, White Stripes, Eminem, or the many Motown artists indigenous to the Michigan music scene.
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The NFL was a fat and happy league back then. They couldn't get out of the way of the fan fanaticism or the money. Sunday afternoons (as well as Monday and Thursday nights) had become communal cultural events, shared by fans of all ages, races, and genders.
Not so much today, given all the controversies, along with declining attendance and ratings. The only previous NFL hiccup of the magnitude occured way back in Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. That was the year that become known for the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake‘s set, produced by MTV (who was relieved of its Super Bowl halftime duties ever since).
Strangely, that kerfuffle sent shockwaves through the radio industry, as the FCC became more vigilant about going after morning shows for inappropriate content, from Howard Stern (still on broadcast radio at that time) to Drew & Mike to Lex & Terry to Bubba the Love Sponge.
Everyone doing “shock radio” (at it was called back then) felt the chill, not to mention all those perplexing conference calls with the legal department trying to determine the words that were Kosher and those that were “fineable offenses.” And the fines were stout, magnified by many companies informing talent that if they slipped up, they had to whip out their personal checkbooks to make things right with the Commission.
So for the NFL, the Super Bowl that next year was crunch time. Everyone was buzzing about how the league would be able to recover its dignity and equilibrium given the goings-on of the previous year.
Who would they put on the 50-yard line to quell the critics in 2005? What act could possibly appeal to fans of all ages, minus anything offensive, shocking or controversial? Who could they find that was absolutely bulletproof?
Of course, they opted for Paul McCartney – the perfect choice. While the Beatles were stepped in controversies of their own way back in the 60s and 70s, time heals most wounds and makes us forget. And by the mid-2ooos, Paul had already been knighted in Great Britain, while becoming a national treasure here in the U.S. He was perfectly cast to smooth over the broughaha of the moment.
And Sir Paul didn't disappoint at Super Bowl XXXIX. During that halftime show, his set list consisted of “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” Live and Let Die,” and “Hey Jude” – four of the all-time great McCartney classics that occupy many “safe lists.” No, there was nothing from solo albums. No currents either. It was straight-ahead Classic hits to please the crowd, the audience, and the critics.
So, here we are in 2018, and the NFL finds itself steeped in controversy yet again, but this time, it's not about showing a little skin. Much of it coming from an angry and savvy White House. This time around, the league's problems are much more intense, problematic, and long-lasting. Janet Jackson was an apparent mistake; Colin Kaepernick is a condition. Between those who are pushing back hard against the #TakeAKnee movement, and Millennials who couldn't be bothered with pro football, the league has headwinds like never before.
And with all respect to Adam Levine and band mates, Maroon 5 isn't going to make anyone forget the current wave of controversies and discontent. Nor will young people stop their lives to watch a short set of songs in real time at a football stadium.
The NFL, once again, needs serious healing. And there's only one artist who can bridge the generations, while making us forget our angst and woes, no matter the halftime score or the political polarity that will no doubt be raging on in early February of the new year.
Of course, I'm talking about bringing Paul McCartney back for an encore. And a dose of what America will be jonesing for as the new year and winter slog along in early 2019.
Paul almost seems like a current artist these days. He has a new album to hawk, and he's showing up just about everywhere – with James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, at Grand Central Station, and at Austin City Limits.
I'm working on the set list now, but I'm thinking “Imagine” (a tribute to John), “Let It Be,” “Revolution,” and “All You Need Is Love” to close it out would provide the perfect soundtrack for the “Big Game.”
And a country that could use a jolt of both.
Sorry, I can't stop “programming.”