Is it possible for 115 million Americans to have a conscious uncoupling with a 13-minute halftime show?
That’d be the only way to cope with a Super Bowl 50 performance that was as boring as the 30 minutes of football that preceded it. Coldplay, the British pop-rock band inexplicably picked to play the show in California (which is like getting Weezer to play halftime of the Champions League Final) tried so hard, with their thousands of people of varying responsibilities on the field, bigger floral arrangements than a Kardashian wedding and three different acts. Still, it was a musical snooze, and when the post-performance message from lead singer Chris Martin was drowned out, it was the perfect summation of what had just happened: inexplicable, indecipherable and unnecessary.
It all began with Martin kneeling on the 15-yard line like he was in a pregame prayer. Evidently no one heard him. Coldplay started with one of its biggest hits, a song you’ve heard before and know the hook to, but can’t name it. As if Benjamin Buttoning the show, the first song featured a precocious youth orchestra joining the band on stage, something that acts usually save for the final song.
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You tried your best, Beyonce.
The show, so heavily promoted by Pepsi that you half-expected someone to dump a bucket of Mountain Dew on Martin’s head (which might have helped), was billed as a tribute to "past, present and future," but it wasn’t immediately clear which category Coldplay fell into. They’re an older act but not exactly Peyton Manning.
Maybe the past was the marching band and "Up With People" vibe, acts that used to serve as the halftime entertainment until Michael Jackson jumped out from beneath the stage in 1993 and changed everything about the Super Bowl haltime.
It’s nothing against Coldplay, mind you. (OK, maybe it is.) But during the pregame press junket, the band was refreshing, earnest and completely self-aware of its reputation as dad-rockers with some stadium anthems. Martin, in particular, was hilarious. The blokes seem like a perfectly fun group of guys, the kind you’d want to have a beer with as long as Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t around. They even mocked their football IQ with a British sense of self-deprecation. Said guitarist Jonny Buckland:
Coldplay and this Bruno Mars guy really are eating into Beyonce's time. I hate when opening acts do that.
"I think we’re firmly split down the middle between those of us who know absolutely nothing about football and those of us who know almost absolutely nothing about football."
Great line, but unfortunately for Coldplay, the same doesn’t apply to fans’ knowledge of music. You didn’t have to know a hook from a backbeat to make your own judgment about Coldplay’s bland, lifeless performance. Martin kept trying to act like he was having fun, but even he looked like he’d rather be anywhere else but the 50-yard line of Levi’s Stadium. Maybe that’s why he hid behind a group of children and rainbows for much of the show.
This wasn’t a train wreck, mind you. The whole thing was fine — like an Arizona Cardinals game — but had no spark — like an Arizona Cardinals game — and was instantly forgettable — like, well, you get the picture.
As if having a premonition about how this would turn out, the NFL, not exactly kings of foresight, brought out two modern-day stars in Beyonce and Bruno Mars, both of whom have headlined a Super Bowl halftime in the past three years. When bands are forced to trot out other musicians, it’s like they’re waving a white flag saying, "We’re not good enough for this stage." It’s a sign of weakness, one that McCartney, Springsteen and Prince didn’t need. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you don’t, you bring out the guy in the fedora who wrote "When I Was Your Man" and play the intro to "Crazy In Love" because at least those will get people’s toes tapping.
But even these weren’t panaceas. Beyonce performed "Formation," a fine song she surprisingly dropped Saturday and thus was probably unknown by about 114 million of the 115 million viewers. Her performance was good — Beyonce is one of the genre’s consummate entertainers — but when you call up Mick Jagger, you expect "Satisfaction," not a deep track off "Voodoo Lounge."
Mars, as always, was enjoyable, but performing another little-known track didn’t help his cause, nor did the cloying sing-along with Beyonce, Martin and a youth choir. It was like one of those bad Grammy performances that throw together entertainers who have nothing in common and hope for magic but instead get three groups of entertainers who have nothing in common.
Bruno Mars, doing his darnedest to save us from Coldplay.
Coldplay, interestingly, seemed to be the most aware that they weren’t fit for the Super Bowl halftime show. In the pregame press conference, Martin joked:
"Well, we started in Iowa three years ago. We had a bus and at that point not many investors. We barely had enough money to afford a can of Pepsi. Pepsi stepped in […] and we worked our little butts off and lo and behold the voters of America said all right, give it a go."