Arts and Entertainment | Arts and Entertainment Columns

Slightly Off-Key: Super Bowl halftime show condenses music, stifles meaning

Before I go any further, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to those of you from Denver. If there’s anything I can do—anything at all—please don’t hesitate to ask.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about last week’s Super Bowl halftime show. The general reaction seems to be positive, and although I’m not an avid listener of either Bruno Mars or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I agree that they successfully delivered, and perhaps even surpassed, what was expected of them.  

My issue isn’t with this particular performance, but with the halftime show in general. Every year, weeks of hype, millions of dollars, and days of rehearsal are funneled into what amounts to just 12 minutes of stage time. Sure, it’s viewed by millions of people across the country, but it’s just as easily forgotten by all of them. In terms of budget and big names, the show has everything, but by condensing it beyond recognition, nearly all of its meaning is lost. 

Music should ideally be an exercise in expansion. An artist (or group of artists) takes an initial vision and works it fiercely, exploring all of its surprising yet inevitable intricacies, and ends up with something larger-than-life. A simple rock tune, unremarkable in theory, can evolve through this process into something that has a profound effect on many people. Music is more than merely the sum of its parts—it’s the result of intense artistic commitment.

When I go to a concert, I’m unlikely to remember every detail of who played what instrument on what tune. Depending on my familiarity with the band, I may not even remember the set list. What I do remember is whether I leave positively affected and energized (as I did after seeing Neutral Milk Hotel last week) or some combination of disappointed and indifferent. This is equally true when it comes to albums, music videos, or televised concerts.

The Super Bowl halftime show is an exercise not in expansion but in list-making. I can just see the organizers asking themselves, “How many superstars, famous songs, youth choirs, and heartwarming military references can we fit into 10 minutes this year?” By attempting to do too much in too little time, the show is unable to have a lasting effect on its viewers—a flaw that would be permissible if the halftime show wasn’t one of the most widely viewed concerts in the nation. It facilitates a culture of condensation in which vision and coherence are secondary to sheer quantity and, as a result, lowers the musical standards of an entire nation. We’d all do well to remember that music can only get so compressed before it implodes like a black hole.      

David Ecker is a Columbia College junior. Slightly Off Key runs alternate Fridays.

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