Is there anything that Bruno Mars cannot do? During a spirited Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show, the Grammy-award winning pop star sang, danced, did the splits, played the drums, and for 12 minutes made us forget we were watching an overhyped, tedious championship game. He also may have provided a blueprint for future Super Bowl halftime shows: a performance by a young, energetic star who evokes curiosity and relies on charisma instead of a predictable catalogue of hits to engage a global audience.
Usually, watching the Super Bowl halftime show is like watching a manic televangelist on late-night cable desperately beg for your attention. In fact, the show is engineered to fail, sandwiched inside a larger rock concert known as the Super Bowl. The big pop stars, who are used to owning the stage, invariably try too hard to make the most of their brief moment, the Black Eyed Peas being an egregious example in Super Bowl XLV (although sometimes the stars don’t bother at all, as we saw with the Who in 2010). To make matters worse, the NFL shoehorns too many performers into a desperate medley of poorly choreographed music. Just when you’re about to warm up to Aerosmith play “Walk This Way,” out pops Britney Spears to throw the moment off kilter.
To be sure, there have been some notable exceptions, such as U2’s tribute to those killed in the September 11 attacks and Beyoncé’s sensual tour de force in Super Bowl XLVII.
However, for the most part, the NFL plays it safe and trots out classic rockers who perform hits we’ve all heard a million times before, only in a ridiculously amped up setting chock full of useless pyrotechnics. But most certainly in an attempt to court the increasingly important and sizable female audience, this time around the NFL gave us an intriguing star with sex appeal to burn. With Bruno Mars, we got a glimpse at a refreshingly young voice who channeled James Brown with his dazzling bouffant hairdo and evoked the young Michael Jackson with his dance moves and athleticism. He commanded the stage by dint of his smile and energy. He even managed to integrate the appearance of the Red Hot Chili Peppers into his own natural energy flow — although frankly I would have preferred he fly solo.
The NFL still has a lot of work to do in order to overcome decades of mostly crappy productions. Giving us a hungry young artist with something to prove is a step in the right direction. Bruno Mars has opened the door to many other possibilities — say an adventurous artist like Lorde or perhaps an emerging international artist from Latin America. Meantime, between Beyoncé in 2013 and Bruno Mars, the Super Bowl halftime show is actually showing flashes of cool.