Super Bowl XLV: Night of the Yellow Pants

I hated all the Super Bowl ads last night (except for the Darth Vader kid, which I loved because that is exactly where my 4-year-old son is at right now. It’s amazing how expressive he is even when he has his Iron Man helmet on and we can’t see his face.). Every ad was so totally, transparently gimmicky– every single commercial I was just waiting for the “turn” when it was going to go for its watercooler moment. When you’re waiting for that to happen, it doesn’t even work when it does happen. And every ad is so obviously trying to top the others (without knowing what anyone else is going to do), they’re working backward from “be outrageous.”

For example: when the cowboys start singing “Tiny Dancer” (in whatever ad that was, I don’t remember. Bad sign, ad guys, bad sign) I’m not thinking “Oh that’s so clever!” I’m thinking a) “That’s the best twist they could come up with?” and b) “What took so long to get to it?”

And what is with all the ads with people getting clocked with Pepsi cans? In the first place, they were obviously CGI, which takes me out of every cinematic moment, whether it’s comedy or drama or whatever. If I’m thinking about computers, your film isn’t working. Secondly, it’s not really funny even if it does look real (which it doesn’t). And thirdly, repeating a joke, as every ten year old eventually has to be taught, doesn’t make it funnier.

I was never particularly a fan of Eminem, but it was still a little sad to see him in two (2) different commercials. Just like that, old Marshall turns in his chips. It would have been better if they’d been in reverse order, and the Detroit car ad had come first. At least it would have read like he was a hometown boy trying to save his city. Instead, the claymation Eminem explaining why he always turns ads down because he hates the products, only to reveal that he gave in to the flavor of Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, was unspeakably depressing. Next year: Rage Against The Machine bobbleheads for Snickers!

But all of that was just prelude to the awful, awful spectacle of the Black Eyed Peas’ halftime show. I have never been a fan, or even more than passingly familiar with the Black Eyed Peas — I knew Fergie was in their band, but I couldn’t have named any of their songs. I bartend a couple nights a week, and last night I learned that all those crappy songs that I can’t stand that the DJs play every Friday and Saturday night and I don’t know what they are? Yeah, those are all Black Eyed Peas songs. (Okay, to be fair a couple of them are Katy Perry.)

Where to begin with this trainwreck? The costumes were awful. Fergie made history as the first drag queen ever to headline a Super Bowl halftime show, and will.i.am’s helmet made him look like a black Max Headroom (not a compliment). The moment they hit the bare stage armed with nothing but microphones, I feared the worst, but I couldn’t have imagined what a flat, crappy-sounding performance they were about to give.

The Super Bowl is no stranger to sound challenges. The last few years have seen the Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Prince at the fifty yard line. These are all complex productions with dozens of mics and instruments to mix, and whatever you thought of their performances, all of those acts sounded fine when they had their turn. The Black Eyed Peas had five signals for the sound guy to contend with: the four “vocalists” (for lack of a better word), and the prerecorded track they were “singing” (for lack of a better word) to. And yet, the track was barely audible and except for the autotune they drenched will.i.am with, the vocals were totally dry (meaning no reverb or echo to smooth it out), making the whole thing sound like karaoke. Bad karaoke.

Oh wait, I guess the sound guy had six channels to mix– I forgot about Slash rising out of the stage with a sequined top hat to play “Sweet Child O’Mine.” Fergie really outdid herself in this section, warbling like she was doing an Axl impression (never a good idea) for sixteen bars before Slash disappeared back into the stage, presumably to make an angry call to his agent.

Worse than the sound or their terrible voices, though, the “band” (for lack of a better word) seemed totally disengaged from the biggest gig of their lives. It was awful, a total disaster, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the first time ever, I wished I was on Twitter, so I could keep up with what I assume was an avalanche of hilarious remarks about the debacle. I still haven’t signed up for Twitter, but I did start a blog, which is a start, I guess.

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