Music in the Super Bowl XLV
MuseWire COLUMN: Ahh, the Stupor Bowl, that great annual montage of violent sports and commercials. Sixty minutes of football, obliterating nearly four hours of running time. Sixty-eight commercials, obliterating all vestiges of credibility and good taste.
True, there were some fine-looking spots and some good laughs in some of the others. But by and large, the advertising lived down to its reputation as an annoying and mind-numbing price to pay for watching “free” television. Speaking of price, each one of those proud sponsors was shelling out about $100,000 per second for the right to harangue you in your home.
But we’re not here to rage against rampant consumerism or the worst aspects of a capitalistic culture run amok. No, we are here to talk about the sounds that corporations think the vast wasteland of ‘Murikuns will cotton to in a big way.
Appealing to the unwashed masses is what the Su-Bo producers crave, which prompted the selection of Christina Aguilera to mangle the “Star-Spangled Banner.” A lot of us used to think she could sing, but apparently that is no longer the case. By inserting about ninety-seven extra notes in every line, she seemed hell-bent on turning the gig into a parody of a Saturday Night Live routine that might be called Bad Singer With More Make-Up Than Good Sense.
Lowest-common-denominator music is the goal, for the most part. Crowd-pleasing is the watchword here, which is why a soulless conglomeration of lip-synching and miming “musicians” called the Black Eyed Peas were the unnecessary noisemakers during the mindless and grossly extended Halftime Bathroom Break Strobe-light Fireworks Extravaganza, or whatever it’s called.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the beats purchased by William James Adams, Jr., Allan Pineda Lindo, Jr., and Jaime Luis Gómez (better known as will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo). Yup, the BEP give good beats. And Stacy Ann Ferguson (AKA Fergie), the pole dancer they employ as “lead singer,” is attractive in a slutty Real Girl sort of way. But it seems as if every one of their songs is a mash-up of twelve other producer’s songs. It’s like listening to John Williams’ film scores, where you sit there ticking off the motifs of real composers (a little Mahler here, a little Dvorak there, some Holst every now and then for good measure).
“We’re going to make this a big spectacle,” stated Adams. Really? A spectacle at the Super Bowl. Wow, there’s an unusual approach. If, by “spectacle” he meant “waste of electricity,” then it was a huge success.
The movement of the mini-hoards of dancers who cavorted across most of the playing field was not bad. But it was not good, either, and it paled in comparison to the bigger and grander presentation at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in China, which appeared to have been the inspiration for the BEP show.
This “concert” featured one of the finest jobs of disguising the lipping by using planned mic volume glitches and the occasional bum note. Wisely, there were no cutaways to the customers in the stadium seats, most of whom were probably wondering why the sub-woofers were blasting at such excessive volume.
By then it was time to bring on the superfluous cameos. First was Slash, which of course called for Ferguson to do her Karaoke version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Pretty silly, but it was nirvana compared to the embarrassing appearance of Usher. “Wait, Usher was there?” asked one of the still-conscious studio rats.
Then they went to the obligatory unnecessary song intro. Y’know, where a great song is started and then abandoned in favor of something the production team really wanted to be doing instead. In this case, the teaser was “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the classic Franke Previte, Donald Markowitz and John DeNicola composition from “Dirty Dancing.”
But after a delicious taste of that song, they jettisoned it in favor of something vacuous. “Why do they do [stuff] like that?” came a text from a friend at that point. “Dunno. Deal with the publishing company?” was my reply. “Even a wardrobe malfunction couldn’t have saved that fiasco,” my friend Candice Montgomery posted on Facebook. “The Peas are dead,” posted Bob Lefsetz to the masses on his Lefsetz Letter e-mail list.
Okay, enough of the so-called entertainment. Let’s move on to the other area where music and commerce intersect: the compositions in those propaganda pieces, those mini-movies of hyperbole and half-truth. . . the dreaded commercials and promo announcements.
Couple of notes. First, the music that the evil Fox organization put on most of their interstitials was nicely crunchy rock guitar. Except when it was Something Else Entirely, as in the weird montage of prior Su-Bos, which used “Lido” by Boz Scaggs. That’s a nice song, but allow me to say WTF? Second, there seemed to be more spots for autos, snack food and beer than for all other categories combined, which says something about our great (but waistband-expanding) nation.
Oh, and third: a large number of spots this year featured compositions that seemed more like film scores. The Apple/Verizon and the CGI Coca-Cola spots were good examples, but there were a lot of excellent music in spots both good and bad.
Audi used one of the biggest hacks in modern music history as the sonic joke. The over-produced prison-break parody neglected to adequately display the car, which makes the whole thing stupid and pointless, but at least we could all laugh at Kenny G and his playing of scales. Except that this puts more money into the coffers of a reptilian nerd who has already hoodwinked quite a lot of people with his anti-musical pap.
Budweiser had a western-themed spot with terrific and atmospheric music. When it concluded with Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” I cannot imagine anyone not at least smiling. Everyone in the Golosio studio with me howled and they all decided to have a Bud in honor of the occasion.
Hearing David Bowie’s “Changes” was fun, thanks to a BMW spot for their anti-pollution car designs. I’ve often said that you can’t go wrong with the classics.
Mixing music with sound design to superb effect, the Sony Ericsson Android and Dodge Ram truck spots appeared larger and more important than those around them. Great audio can do that.
The launch spot for Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily featured a new recording of “What a Wonderful World,” the Bob Thiele, George Weiss and George Douglas composition. Inspired choice.
Stella Artois expended a ton of effort taking us to a foreign jazz club filled with incredibly beautiful girls who were worshipping the cabaret torch singing of. . . (get ready) . . . Adrien Brody. Again, WTF? His work was cringe-worthy in terms of acting and singing. Look, if you can’t get Michael Buble, there are some great jazz singers out there who don’t yet have huge pay demands, like Dakota Horvath and Peter Oprisko.
Finally, the Chrysler spot with Eminem was, in a word, magnificent. I have never liked Chrysler cars but this commercial made me want to go get my hands on one of their autos. Music, photography, editing, direction were all at a high level. Man, this one was just great.