Ah, the Nationwide Soccer League—a corporation lengthy admired for its progressive, scrupulous, and moralistic strategy to race, cash, participant security, public well being, and fashionable music. Not! When this 12 months’s halftime present was introduced, with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar performing, the lineup felt each thrilling—every artist is a titan—and deeply unusual. Why hadn’t this—a halftime present centered on rap—occurred already? As an alternative it was arriving years after rap had established itself as probably the most commercially dominant drive in American music, and proper within the midst of a number of racially fraught years for the N.F.L., throughout which the league has been repeatedly known as to account for its mistreatment of Black gamers and coaches.
For all the halftime present’s absurdity—and it’s unfailingly absurd, a feral and frenzied twelve to fifteen minutes through which a beloved performer usually lip-synchs, receives friends, performs a feverish medley of each hit they’ve ever produced, modifications garments, cues pyrotechnics, and sometimes straps right into a harness and catches a crystal-covered soccer—it may possibly nonetheless really feel like a form of cultural X-ray, revealing numerous fissures and biases in the best way that we take into consideration music and celeb. This was maybe most evident in 2004, when Janet Jackson was mercilessly pilloried for briefly exposing a small a part of her breast. What is taken into account obscene or past the pale in a efficiency context can change in methods which might be exhausting to foretell, however the pearl-clutching over Jackson’s so-called wardrobe malfunction felt particularly preposterous and merciless. Les Moonves, a C.E.O. at Viacom, banned Jackson’s work from its many media properties (together with CBS, VH1, and MTV). She was disinvited to look on the Grammys. A statue of Mickey Mouse carrying Jackson’s iconic all-black outfit from the “Rhythm Nation” video was eliminated from Disney World. (Paradoxically, YouTube was apparently based when Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim couldn’t simply find footage of the incident on-line; as Jackson languished, a multibillion-dollar empire was born.)
However which artists are pressured to undergo the morality wringer and endure endlessly for it? A number of of the members of this 12 months’s lineup have a historical past of lyrics selling misogyny and homophobia. In 1991, Dr. Dre attacked the hip-hop journalist Dee Barnes, reportedly grabbing her hair and slamming her in opposition to a wall; he was cavalier in regards to the incident in an interview with Rolling Stone, telling the author Alan Mild, “I simply did it, . Ain’t nothing you are able to do now by speaking about it. Moreover, it ain’t no large factor—I simply threw her by a door.” The ghastliness of that quote has haunted Dre, who has repeatedly and earnestly apologized—however, not like Jackson’s transient and seemingly unintentional flash of pores and skin, it did little or no to derail his profession.
Since 2019, Roc Nation, an leisure firm based by the rapper Jay-Z, has co-produced the halftime present; the partnership, introduced a while after Colin Kaepernick was shunned by the N.F.L. for kneeling throughout the nationwide anthem, brought about some consternation. Desiree Perez, the C.E.O. of Roc Nation, just lately instructed the L.A. Instances that the corporate felt it might higher facilitate progress by working straight with the league. “So long as we are able to go in and do issues they might not usually do—if we are able to attain folks that we usually wouldn’t attain with a message—then that for us is success,” she stated. This isn’t an unusual justification, and maybe it’s even an inexpensive one, however the stance does recall the title of the author and activist Audre Lorde’s 1981 essay “The Grasp’s Instruments Will By no means Dismantle the Grasp’s Home.”
This 12 months’s recreation was held at SoFi Stadium, in Inglewood, California, a metropolis recognized for its proximity to Los Angeles Worldwide Airport, for its big concrete doughnut, for having a mayor named Butts, and for having its title lovingly shouted out in rap songs. (On Dr. Dre’s “The Subsequent Episode,” which additionally options Snoop Dogg, Dre gleefully broadcasts his regional affiliations, for anybody who by some means hadn’t picked up on them already: “Compton, Lengthy Seaside, Inglewood!”) Dre, Snoop, and Lamar had been all introduced up close by (Snoop in Lengthy Seaside, Lamar and Dre in Compton), and, at an N.F.L. press convention a number of days earlier than the sport, Dre instructed reporters, “Holding all of it the best way actual, I’m not attempting to be egotistical or something like that, however who else might do that present right here in L.A.?” Snoop reiterated the concept hip-hop on the Tremendous Bowl is itself a radical act: “We admire the N.F.L. for even entertaining hip-hop as a result of we all know lots of people that gained’t,” he stated. “However we’re right here now, and there ain’t nothing you are able to do about it.”
On the 2020 halftime present, an infinite fuss was made in regards to the age of the performers (Jennifer Lopez, who was fifty, and Shakira, who was forty-three), so allow us to not fail, this 12 months, to first salute the utter erudition of Dr. Dre (fifty-six), Snoop Dogg (fifty), Eminem (forty-nine), Lamar (a comparably pubescent thirty-four), and Blige (ageless). Between them, they’ve forty-four Grammy Awards and one Pulitzer Prize. Dre and Snoop, who arrived musically within the late eighties and early nineties, had been foundational to the event of West Coast gangsta rap; Lamar and Eminem, protégés of kinds, each write wordy, caustic, cerebral raps that transfer quicker than any thoughts or mouth ought to. Blige is ceaselessly thought of probably the most highly effective R. & B. vocalist of the post-Aretha period. The ability on show felt nearly uncanny, and, unsurprisingly, the present was probably the greatest in current reminiscence: relaxed, joyful, breathless, potent, dynamic, and propulsive. The vibe was chatty, convivial, and most of all crowded—a pointed rejoinder to final 12 months’s lonesome, COVID-era solo efficiency by the Weeknd.
The sector was laid out to resemble the Compton metropolis grid, with an all-white set together with Tam’s Burgers, the night time membership Eve After Darkish, and a sculptural recreation of the M.L.Okay. memorial that sits in entrance of the Compton courthouse. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg appeared—Dre, a legendary producer, rose from a chair behind an infinite reproduction of a studio board—opening with a medley of “The Subsequent Episode” and Tupac Shakur’s immense 1995 hit “California Love,” which was produced by and options Dre. The halftime present is an nearly inconceivably high-pressure second for a musician, but Snoop and Dre appeared chill and comfortable. (Chalk it as much as good weed, perhaps, however I discovered their smiles pure.) Was it surreal to observe Snoop Crip Stroll on the Tremendous Bowl? Positive. Was it additionally surreal to observe 50 Cent (age forty-six), the primary unannounced visitor, unfurl himself from the ceiling, carrying a white brow sweatband, biceps swollen, and start performing “In Da Membership,” a success from 2003? Sure. Blige strode out in thigh-high boots and cascading blond hair, and carried out “A Household Affair” and “No Extra Drama,” each forceful anthems of self-preservation (“Nobody’s gonna make me damage once more,” she guarantees on that observe). Her look was each suave and vigorous; at one level she dissolved right into a primal scream.
Subsequent up was Lamar, who arrived in a scrum of backup dancers carrying inexperienced “Dre Day” sashes and black fits; he carried out components of “m.A.A.d. Metropolis” and “Alright” along with his common quantity of depth and precision. He launched Eminem with a number of bars of “Forgot About Dre,” a observe from Dr. Dre’s album “2001.” Then there was Eminem himself doing—what else?—a spry and spirited model of “Lose Your self,” with a beaming Anderson.Paak seated behind the drum package, pounding away, merrily mouthing the “Mother’s spaghetti” half. On the finish of the tune, Eminem took a knee, an apparent homage to Kaepernick, and a purposeful slight to the N.F.L.
The present closed with “Nonetheless D.R.E.,” a single from 1999 with a refrain that abruptly felt germane, if not profound: “I’m representing for them gangstas all the world over,” Dre rapped. (There have been rumors that the N.F.L. had requested Dre to not carry out the road “nonetheless not loving police,” from the tune’s first verse, however he rapped it anyway.) It feels foolish that it took so lengthy for the N.F.L. to emphasise rap—so lengthy, actually, that it ended up reserving a bunch of legacy acts—but it surely’s exhausting to think about a greater or extra influential group of musicians to characterize the style. Although the night was rooted in nostalgia (Dr. Dre has not launched a brand new album since 2015), it nonetheless felt electrifying, a whirlwind of deft, virtuosic performances. In the long run, the N.F.L.’s resistance to hip-hop merely made the music really feel harmful once more.