I would like to start by saying that I am writing this well before the Superbowl broadcast even begins, even more so for the halftime show. That’s how sure I am, that Rihanna’s halftime show, good as it will be, will never top what Prince blessed the world with in 2007. He created a “where were you when” moment that night in 2007 and will always be mentioned alongside the great moments of that particular game like Hester’s return, Peyton silencing the skeptics, and Rex deciding to go deep. Prince’s halftime show had the same level of gravitas and impact as a major news tragedy, but in this case, viewers could only see and hear an epic win for humanity that left them optimistic with how far we had come as a species, and how much further we could still go.
No performance before this could overshadow it. Names in the pantheon of music’s greatest contributors find themselves with arms too short to box with God when stacking themselves against this show, not Bono – assisted by the overindulgence of post 9/11 emotion –, not McCartney – carried by the clout of being in the world’s biggest band –, not even the King of Pop – riding the crest of his career renaissance – could compete in this contest. For that matter, no show since has had as much success as this one. Last year’s show had to assemble an all-star crew Avengers style just to be mentioned in the same breath. Beyonce’s performance may have shot the lights out in New Orleans, but it was ultimately remembered for the blemish that Queen Bey’s publicist tried to scrub from the net.
Coldplay even had to try and team up with Formation-era Beyonce and Uptown-era Bruno Mars as a way of siphoning their clout from previous years into the performance at Levi Stadium. Much in the same way, Justin Timberlake clung to Prince’s image during his 2018 performance in Minnesota, like The Artist was a life preserver and he was drowning in one of the ten thousand lakes.
Prince may get a great deal of credit for the performance, but the true glory, the true valor is shared among an eclectic crew who came together like pieces of a pagan ritual to summon an act of God. The first name that ought to be mentioned is the man behind the scenes, Don Mischer, who was the executive producer for the whole event. Visual concepts like the FAMU Marching 100 wearing glow-in-the-dark tape, and Prince’s massive silhouette on the billowing curtain came from him.
FAMU themselves don’t get enough recognition for their significance as a part of the performance. Easily the biggest HBCU in Florida, their role not only kept the performance grounded as a football-adjacent event, and they also showcased the tradition and aesthetics of HBCU marching bands to the biggest possible TV audience. With a booming brass section and thundering drums, they punctuated every single note of Prince’s hits like 1999, Baby I’m a Star, and even a cover of Proud Mary.
Though the song came from CCR, Prince sang in the cadence and style of Tina Turner’s cover, before transitioning into All Along The Watchtower, written and originally sung by Bob Dylan, but made awesome by Jimi Hendrix, and then The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince does a cover of Dave Grohl’s The Best of You, which is authentically his own, almost as a way of reclaiming Rock and Roll as something Black with soul.
Even the unsung and un-singing heroes deserve recognition, as one of the members of the lighting crew had to hold two ends of a broken power cable together for the entire duration of the show just to make sure everything went over without the slightest noticeable error. Imagine holding an electric wire while literally having water rain down on you for more than ten minutes.
All that occurred while dancers wearing pointed heels somehow landed each step without so much as a stumble through the frenetically paced performance.
Prince himself showed a heroic level of gusto with his hair tied down, shredding away on live-guitar, belting out lyrics, even making an ad-lib looked like a plan, as if he was in direct cooperation with The Almighty through the entire show.
And then there’s the intervention from the forces of nature. Sports is renowned for its interaction with weather as a force. Sometimes weather can outright ruin a game, like Miami and Pittsburgh’s clash in a muddy turf on Monday Night Football, or Tampa Bay’s division clinching win in the Monsoon Bowl. Other times though, weather and acts-of-God elevate mere sporting contests into triumphs of the will, like the NHL’s first winter-classic in a snowy Buffalo, or the infamous Ice Bowl. Everything that weather had done for those games, it did for the halftime show and more.
In a way, the halftime show displayed a level of confidence that the NFL could never show again. Rain as a possibility has been ruled out by the Superbowl’s reluctance to work in outdoor stadiums. Even a great deal of the instrumentation is dubbed in. A moment like Prince playing Purple Rain in actual, purple-colored rain thanks to the field lights of Miami’s stadium, could never happen if the NFL didn’t also acknowledge the possibility of the rain completely and totally tanking the show. Prince’s performance was more than just an amazing 12-minute mini concert placed in-between commercials for Pepsi and Doritos, it was a reminder that humanity can only achieve true greatness if they embrace the challenges that life rains down on them, rather than trying to cover themselves up.