The Black Eyed Peas: Death of a Super Bowl halftime show

Tony Libera

Watching The Who pay homage to impotence during last year’s Super Bowl half time show was painful, to be sure; but this year’s performance, courtesy of The Black Eyed Peas, was so excruciating — physically, emotionally and spiritually —  that it made me question the basic underlying decency of humanity at large. Granted, I wasn’t expecting much from Fergie and co., the same group of “artists” whose idea of wordplay consists almost entirely of repetitive slant rhymes and thinly veiled sexual euphemisms. Yet no amount of detachment or stockpiled derision could have prepared me for the noxious affront to music that took place on Super Bowl Sunday, the greatest of all American holidays.

The Peas began their assault on harmony by lowering from, I imagine, Jerry Jones’ floating castle of doom — a turreted spheroid concealed within Cowboys Stadium’s giant Mammonic TV screen. I was at a loss for why the group was dressed like futuristic S&M robots — especially in this fractured, post-Nipplegate world — but a quick Google search offered that the show was actually “Tron”-themed and not, as it were, the realization of my deepest and darkest fantasies.

Once safely planted on stage, Mike Tomlin doppelganger will.i.am* began his Auto-Tuned crooning of “I Gotta Feeling,” which Reuters.com informs me is “the No. 1 smash from their 2009 album ‘The E.N.D.’ ” I immediately drew a pentagram on the floor and crushed a grapefruit in my left hand, thereby laying a curse upon both the inventor of Auto-Tune and all its proponents (except for Kanye, because damn that last album was good). Fergie began to sing, but technical difficulties caused her microphone to cut out. For one brief, glorious moment I experienced pure elation, thinking myself spared from the overblown warbling that had so far marred literally every single female performance of the evening**. It’s called moderation, ladies; you don’t need to force a trill every third of a second to make up for the fact that you’re completely vapid or to dispel the widespread rumors that you’re actually soulless store-bought mannequins brought to life by some horrific Frankensteinian experiment.

Alas, some jag roadie “fixed” Fergie’s mic, thereby dashing my personal hopes and any dreams I may have had for lasting Pax Americana. Her shrill voice must have also destroyed my tenuous hold on sanity, because the next thing I knew, Slash was onstage playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and my face was melting off à la “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — my just punishment for listening to Fergie’s desecration of that hallowed metal classic. When did Guns N’ Roses — outcasts and anathema of parents everywhere from 1985 to 1993 — become family-friendly? When did Slash, former paragon of debauchery, become the antithesis of Janet Jackson’s bare tit? I mean, whither goest thou, America?

Slash exited stage left for a shame cigarette and, I hope, a fat check, while the Black Eyed Peas transitioned into “Pump It,” a recording of Dick Dale’s version of “Misirlou” with imperatives shouted over it. This song could warrant some close postmodern reading if it were just a tad less stupid — not because it’s of any artistic merit, but because its blatantly and idiotically self-referential. The song is primarily about listening to the song that you’re already listening to. They want you to turn up the stereo so you can better hear them telling you to turn up the stereo. Since when does that constitute a song? And I don’t know how high your stereo goes, will.i.am (if that is your real name), but at a certain point mine just cannot go any louder, no matter how hard you yell at me.

Suddenly a figure descended from the ether, draped in messianic white cloth. Could it be? Had Jesus Christ returned, thereby signaling the apocalypse and freeing us from both this mortal coil and this paltry charade of a halftime show? No, sadly. It was just Usher.

Now, I detest Usher for, if nothing else, creating the chimera virus known colloquially as “Bieber Fever,” but I must admit he brought me the tiniest sliver of joy. His terrible song made me guffaw loudly, and his dancing served as the perfect contrast to the Black Eyed Peas’ awkward shuffling. What’s more, Usher — who actually has some decent pipes (compared to Fergie anyway) — highlighted the shoddiness that plagued the entirety of the halftime show, which ended up sounding like a second-rate karaoke performance rather than a million-dollar extravaganza. Poor sound engineering melded with the lackluster talents of will.i.am, Fergie and those two weird guys, culminating in one of the worst Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

At this point I’d like to ask a serious question of any diehard Black Eyed Peas fans, if such people exist: What traumatic childhood accident caused your primary auditory cortex to become malformed? Perhaps that’s too harsh and snootily verbose a question (it is). How about a simple explanation for why the Black Eyed Peas are of any value whatsoever, because as far as I can tell, every other popular song they have is either a four-on-the-floor train wreck or just a better song that the Pea-wees simplified and then further dumbed down by adding lyrics that a Border Collie could have come up with. And I know what you’re saying: Border Collies are the smartest of all dog breeds — but the fact remains that the Black Eyed Peas are basically repackaging songs with subpar Dr. Seuss rhymes (I apologize, Theodor, for even mentioning you in the same breath as the BEPs).

Honestly, do you really like “The Time (Dirty Bit)” because it’s an innovative addition to pop music or even because it’s a stand-on-its-own party tune that gets you grooving when you’re hammered drunk? Or do you like it because “Dirty Dancing” drilled “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” into our collective unconscious forever? I know the reason I liked it: Because it signaled the end of the travesty that Fox told me was a halftime show, but which I knew was really a video recording of the ninth circle of Hell.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not the kind of person to decry sampling or pop music outright. And I’m not so dumb as to ignore that Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” is just a rock ‘n’ roll take on an old Greek song. But it’s the way the Black Eyed Peas do it — poorly and with an overt laziness — that grinds my ear gears.

As T.S. Eliot wrote (yeah, I’m busting out some Tommy Stearns): “One of the surest tests [of a poet’s inferiority or superiority] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”

But perhaps Jean-Luc Godard said it best (and of course I’m blatantly swiping this quote from an old Jim Jarmusch interview): “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”

Where do the Black Eyed Peas stand in these contexts? I’ll let you be the judge. Some may be in complete disagreement with me. Some may think the BEPs’ artistic merit ranks highly in the contemporary music world, and others may think I’m being too critical — that I simply need to “pump it” and not scrutinize the music so harshly. Who knows? They might be right. But either way, be you fan of the Peas or foe, it’s hard to deny that Super Bowl XLV offered one lousy halftime show. If anyone has a compelling argument for why I shouldn’t travel back in time to stick pencils into my ears prior to this past Sunday night, I’d like to hear it (while I still can).

Oh well. C’est la vie, I suppose. The Black Eyed Peas ruined music, then the Packers ruined football. A black cloud rolls over Minnesota, the land of mist and sorrow.

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*Seriously, will.i.am and Tomlin even have the same birthday — Mar. 15. And Tomlin was nowhere to be seen during the halftime performance. Coincidence? I think not.

**And yeah, Xtina, we noticed that you botched “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I may not know what a girl wants, but what a girl needs is to learn the damn words to the national anthem.