Prince Super Bowl Half Time Show: Rebuttal

Oh, previous post, you could not be more wrong! My apologies for creating a new post rather than just commenting on yours, but I wanted to include some links.

Video of the actual performance:
Part 1;
Part 2;
Part 3

Other reviews:
Kelefa Sanneh in the Times
Tom Breihan in the Village Voice

I promise I’m not just towing the critical line here when I say that I thought this performance was fantastic. (I was in a car driving up I-5 at the time so I had to watch those YouTube links after the fact, but still). I’ll gladly admit that any of Prince’s recorded output over the past 10 years (or more) has been forgettable at best, and that’s incredibly sad considering the brilliance of his work in the 80s. But in this performance on Sunday, he utterly redeemed himself. Given the miniscule performance time, as well as the short attention span and enormous demographic range of viewers, he did the only logical thing: jam together a string of hits (his own and otherwise) like a prime-time DJ set. I don’t think it’s “pandering” to play a song people know, especially considering every single moment of even the most familiar numbers was altered in some way. He brought completely new melodies and a call-and-response vocal to “Let’s Go Crazy,” basically created a live mashup of the intro to “1999” with “Baby I’m a Star” and “Proud Mary,” and injected every song with a raw, gritty power via those amazing guitar solos. Plus, considering the recent hullabaloo over black musicians playing rock music, there was something both utterly natural and deeply subversive in seeing Prince take on Foo Fighters’ ubuquitous (and mediocre) “Best of You,” and turn it into an almost-unrecognizably great song that straddled arena rock and gospel.

Ultimately, though, it was the casual ease with which he handled the almost unimaginable pressure of the event that made this such a riveting performance. He tossed off lyrics like he was just improvising at practice, walked away from the mic to deliver a one-handed guitar solo, and sauntered back halfway through a line like it just didn’t matter. As Sanneh put it in the Times, Prince “looked as if he were getting away with something,” and whether that was the knowledge that an artist once decried as obscene is giving a safe-but-thrilling performance at a venue now terrified of supposed obscenity, the thought that a quirky, diminutive experimental genius could so easily position himself squarely in the middle of the American mainstream, or just the fact that someone who went so quickly from superstardom to silly-symbol joke could come back so triumphantly, it was amazing to watch. One ticket to the Prince Las Vegas show, please.