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Tuesday, 4 February 2014
Bruno Mars' Super Bowl halftime show spiced by much-needed Chili Peppers
Singer delivered exactly what we thought he would – slick, unmemorable pop, ruffled only by his big, fratty brothers
In a GQ interview last year, Bruno Mars’ most lucid moment came when he was asked what the secret to a good song was. He answered: “Hypnotize me in the very first three seconds, wake my ear plate up, give me something that I haven't felt before … and then punch me in the fucking face."
It was an uncharacteristically pithy and astute response. Mars, a former child Elvis impersonator, knows how to write a watertight hit but tends to evince a genial cluelessness about everything else – the world, his place in it, how not to get arrested, etc. His mugshot from last year, following his arrest for cocaine possession, is painfully telling. There’s the uncertain smile and vacant gaze of someone who doesn't quite know how he found himself here, but suspects that they must, nonetheless, persist in attempts at ingratiation.
That might also describe the way he felt about playing the Super Bowlhalftime show, the most illustrious gig in pop, so enormous that its organisers didn’t even pay Mars for that 12-minute performance – they know and he knows, that this is multi-million dollar exposure for him.
It’s a slot that demands an established star with epic wattage. Last year it was the truly peerless Beyoncé; in 2012 it was Madonna, and 10 years ago and most infamously it was Janet Jackson and her wilfully errant right nipple. Mars – diminutive, Fedoraed, a kind of Stepfordian pop-bot with all dials permanently set to “Inoffensively Entertain” – seemed a mystifying choice.
Many, in fact, were more than mystified – they were plain mean. The Puppy Bowl is an annual TV programme on the Animal Planet channel which features dogs messing around instead of men kicking footballs and this year’s halftime show was keyboard cat, the 2011 meme that functions as a coda to online failure. Dressed in a tiny Fedora, the cat bashed out Mars’ Locked Out of Heaven with his paws and from that moment, the sentiment “keyboard cat playing Bruno Mars was better than Bruno Mars playing Bruno Mars” became almost a tweet-cliché.
Mars may not be interesting, but he’s certainly a lot more talented than an animated cat. He began the 12 most important minutes of his career with a paean to a vagina: Locked Out of Heaven is his Police-indebted 2012 hit about “swimming in your water” being “something spiritual”. This didn’t feel like a spiritual experience but, sonically at least, the song seemed appropriately cavernous – a stadium belter that Mars and his fellow gold-suited Hooligans went for, accompanied by all the obligatory son et lumiere.
They followed with last year’s spry disco track, Treasure, in which Mars’ footwork was so fancy and so faultless that it was a little exhausting to watch. No dance move quite yells “I am trying as hard as I possibly can right now to entertain you” the way the splits does.
And then, like a bullying big brother and his fratty friends crashing Mars’ recital, the reassuringly shirtless Red Hot Chili Peppers burst into proceedings to stomp and shout their way through Give It Away.
Throughout, Mars’ grin was tinged with bewilderment, as though he wasn’t quite expecting this, but was going to go along with it and be a good sport anyway. His 12 minutes ended, as everything decreed they must, with, Just The Way You Are, his Grammy-winning, non-biodegradable cornball of a hit about an insecure girl being pretty.
The lack of worldly nous so painfully obvious in that mugshot of his might just be the thing that makes Mars so good at what he does. He was exactly like you – and indeed the anxious, family-friendly organisers of America’s most watched television event – thought he would be: perfectly professional, slick as his pompidour and almost as dull as the football himself.