Like grief, the build-up to the National Football League’s crowning point yields a series of emotional stages to wade through. As a relative NFL neophyte, each year I am cyclically forced to come to terms with the fact that America’s ever-increasingly popular television event has very little to do with bowling – the one sport we can actually understand – and it is annually left to the promise of a glittery Halftime extravaganza to extinguish the disappointment that always seems to follow.
Instead of adhering to tradition by sourcing a dodgy stream of the musical centrepiece after being tipped off about a popstar’s imminent appearance through Twitter, on Sunday we treated ourselves to the full four-hour Super Bowl experience. Maybe it was down to the fact that our coverage came courtesy of Britain’s Channel 4, but the presentation felt devoid of the garish Americana we had been anticipating. The inherently stop-start nature of American Football – ten-minute bursts of ball-chasing sandwiched between pointlessly speculative studio-based commentary – doesn’t exactly lend itself to a thrilling viewing experience, so I had accepted that some tedium was a given, but the overall atmosphere within Phoenix Stadium seemed oddly non-existent.
That was of course before Katy Perry took to the stage. With its notorious aversion to live instrumentation and vocals, the Halftime show may seem tailor made for a star as gloriously unpretentious as Perry, allowing the thirty year-old hit-maker to play to her strengths, which coincidently do not include live singing and strenuous choreography. But what most people do not realise is that Perry has shown herself to be a very competent performer in more intimate settings on more than one occasion, so the best a fan could hope for as the singer’s big moment loomed closer was for her to not to be swallowed up in the spectacle that would inevitably ensue. Her entrance via a silver polygonally sculpted lion amidst a sea of luminous balloons to the tune of “Roar” set the tone of wacky opulence, with Jeremy Scott’s chintzy girl-on-fire dress well matched to the opening number’s call-to-arms vigour.
Perry followed it up with “Dark Horse”, that other megahit from her 2013 album PRISM, strutting atop a giant screen displaying a see-sawing chessboard with some humanoid chess-piece friends. Lenny Kravitz’s dropped in for an unexpectedly electrifying cameo on “I Kissed A Girl”, his thick guitar thrashes adding some welcome meat to the track’s bones. Next up was “Teenage Dream” – the least gimmicky and subsequently best single to be lifted from its behemoth of a parent album – which Perry took to a self-consciously weird, Yo Gabba Gabba!-esque beach set-up to deliver. The soon-to-be-timeless pop-rock anthem deserved its own staging as opposed to being reduced to a glorified preamble to “California Gurls”, but it was hard to not to raise a smile at the sight of Perry, complete with beach umbrella breasts, interact with plush sharks and beach paraphernalia when miming along to her dumbest single. The attention to detail throughout the production was impressive, right down to the microphones that were styled to match each individual outfit.
It is perhaps just as well that Perry had no intention of launching a new single off the back of the performance, as when Missy Elliot emerged looking like Janet Jackson circa Rhythm Nation 1814 to perform a stupefyingly brilliant “Get Your Freak On” / “Work It” / “Lose Control” medley, it suddenly became all-too easy to forget just whose show this was supposed to be. Past performers have been burned in unexpected ways by their guests before, but if Perry was jealous of Missy’s attention-grabbing turn, it certainly didn’t show as she bopped and hooted along like only a true fan could. Some may call their reluctance to segue into the Missy remix of “Last Friday Night” a missed opportunity, but that collaboration was just one of the rapper’s many creative low points since her halcyon days ended with 2006’s singles compilation Respect M.E. and was wise to leave undisturbed.
If the thought of Katy Perry drawing her Super Bowl Halftime concert to a close by ‘belting’ out “Firework” while riding around in mid-air on a – you guessed it! – firework emoji come to life seems a bit too predictable, then perhaps you’re forgetting that the catalyst for her mammoth success so far has been an enthusiastic adherence to formula. Perry has seen what happened to Lady Gaga – whose self-alienation from the public pretty much ran parallel to Katy’s own ascendance to pop’s upper echelons – and has since shown herself to be one of the few popstars who rarely fails to give the people what they want. What those behind the Super Bowl Halftime Show want is predictability, and as an event that must cater to such a humbling array of demographics, it is one of the few events where what the public wants and needs align perfectly. Perry’s somewhat bland reliability may have made her a frontrunner for the competitive slot, but it was the professionalism she demonstrated on Sunday night that proved her to be a worthy choice. RG