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Super Bowl side dishes disappoint fans

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Super Bowl has been criticized as being overblown pomp, and while certainly not a false statement, Super Bowl XLI is noteworthy because the game itself seemed to have more storylines and drama than the surrounding hoopla. Between featuring Prince during the halftime entertainment, Billy Joel singing the national anthem and the normal influx of new commercials, the Super Bowl always promises to be a complete show. Unfortunately, XLI wasn’t as exciting or entertaining as Super Bowls of years past.

Joel’s rendition of the national anthem was above average, simply because he didn’t indulge himself in it. His belting take on “The Star-Spangled Banner” sounded, well, exactly like you might expect Billy Joel singing the national anthem to sound. Yet Joel played it straight and respectfully, which was exactly what was hoped for. The real entertainment was yet to come.

The decision to feature Prince during the halftime show caused a lot of head scratching in the media, yet it makes sense. Ever since the “wardrobe malfunction” debacle of Super Bowl XXXVIII, in which Justin Timberlake famously revealed Janet Jackson’s breast, the halftime show producers have tended toward more traditional fare – Sir Paul McCartney for Super Bowl XXXIX and The Rolling Stones for Super Bowl XL.

Yet Prince isn’t as far in the audience’s cultural radar as either McCartney or The Stones, so his selection was still puzzling. Prince is a performer reputed for his bizarre, unpredictable behavior, which puts holes in the theory that the producers wanted someone “safe.”

Evidence of this is the media day conference, during which reporters were told that Prince would not take questions. When he took the stage, however, he told reporters that, “contrary to rumor, I’d like to take a few questions right now.” As soon as the first question was posed, Prince turned to his band and immediately launched into a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” which featured two white-clad go-go dancers and a brass band. After playing a few more songs, Prince said simply, “Thank you, see you at the Super Bowl, peace,” and left the stage.

The purpled-one’s actual half time show, however, was far less unpredictable, though left much to be desired. The majority of the show consisted of a truly bizarre medley of unrelated songs, including (but not limited to) Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” and The Foo Fighter’s “Best Of You.”

He performed on a stage shaped like his symbol (from the days when Prince didn’t have a name), slinging his guitar in phallic shadowplay that was just downright uncomfortable.

Prince remains a pretty good performer despite the fact that his heyday was over two decades ago, and his take on “Purple Rain” (complete with glow-in-the-dark marching band) was a reminder that once upon a time, The Artist Formerly Known As the Artist Formerly Known As Prince was a great songwriter.

Most disappointing, however, were the commercials. Generally speaking, the advertisements were sub-par by Super Bowl standards, and none stood out as this year’s “1984 Apple” spot. Among the most notable ads were a Nationwide Insurance spot featuring Britney Spears ex-husband Kevin Federline (reminiscent of Nationwide’s ad last year, which featured Fabio), a CareerBuilder ad featuring a fight in a jungle and a Taco Bell commercial featuring talking lions. Somehow, all of these ads, while certainly entertaining, feel vaguely familiar – soon-to-be-has-beens, overblown action and talking animals seem to have become staples of Super Bowl commercials. There’s nothing new, groundbreaking or gritty, which is why that old Apple ad still seems fresh and original two decades later.

More egregious is that a lot of these advertisements (which cost over a million dollars for companies to air) are not new ads. Some, like the video game Coca-Cola ad, have been shown in movie theaters, while others, like a Flomax ad, are already tiresome (not to mention targeted at a niche audience). It really indicates toward a larger problem when the most popular ad, according to a USA Today survey, is of crabs worshipping a Bud Light cooler.

The media surrounding Super Bowl XLI is of the most disposable variety – entertaining and instantly forgettable. Nothing about Joel, Prince or any of the commercials hinted at a sort of timeless or classic status, which is a shame. Every year, the Super Bowl is a chance for advertisers and entertainers to showcase their wares, and it seems that in XLI the only ones who showcased themselves were (for once) the guys getting it done on the field.

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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.