Super Bowl Illustrates Divisive Nature of American Music

In the last decade or so, music has become a vital part of The Super Bowl presentation. The halftime show and National Anthem have always been a hoopla for the event, but with the addition of a pre-game concert, a rendition of “America, The Beautiful” and countless other opportunities to cross-market music to one of the biggest audiences television boasts all year, the NFL has made music possibly the second biggest focus of the event to the game itself.

Maybe because I am a music nerd, I paid attention to each music event closely, maybe even more closely than the game. Of course, I’m not the first to report that Christina Aguilera flubbed the words to the National Anthem, and of course horrifically oversang. Forget how good or bad The Black Eyed Peas are to begin with, the audio presentation was terrible–the mix between the vocals and pre-recorded music–and of course there were no instruments to be found, until they were used as props for a marching band dance routine. So in essence, the American public was assembled in one of the most universally attentive moments all year to watch a glorified Karaoke performance.

Maybe all of this was because the music was an afterthought to the horrendously-overproduced stage and light show, with electrified shills and glowing gallivanters making the whole thing feel like a living, breathing cell phone app with no practical purpose whatsoever aside from bedazzling and distracting the American public from their debilitatingly mundane lives. What was Slash doing there? Why was Ozzy in a commercial with Justin Bieber? Follow the money folks.

I’m not surprised at the Christina flub, or the sheer lack off attention to the actual quality of the noise comprising the halftime music, because the American culture has now put such a premium on mediocrity that we expect it, celebrate it, and in some ways, even demand it. But lets just pretend for a second that the half time show and Anthem weren’t completely vomitous. Wouldn’t still half the country be angry at the performances regardless, because the choices for the performers were a slap in the face to their demographic?

Music used to be one of the things that united the American culture. Jazz at the turn of the century, then blues and rock n’ roll and Afro-pop helped integrate the American culture maybe just as much as Civil Rights laws and forced bussing to schools. We all came together in our appreciation of the patchwork musical landscape that spoke to both white and black, urban and rural, rich and poor, educated and uneducated alike. If there was any misunderstanding on a generalized scale, it was generational.

But now look at us. Music is just as much a part of the culture war as anything. It is a tool of it. As music coagulates into two super-genres of country and rap, split right down the lines of race, geography, ideology, religious beliefs, political leanings, and sometimes social status, our approach to music has become very reactionary. For sure, many times the music that individuals identify with has very little to do with how they actually live, but if the Black Eyed Peas start dancing around on your TV in their glittering cyborg outfits, or some old white dude who hasn’t had a hit since Joe Namath was playing gets up there with his gray-haired band, half of the country is going to cry foul, and blame the other half for bad taste.

The NFL didn’t end their string of criticism by ending their string of aging white legacy performers at halftime, they just moved the disenfranchised viewers to another demographic. No performer is going to appease everyone, or even over half of the viewers in this climate, because nothing left in the mainstream possesses enough quality to be universally appealing, and even if it was, the music ignorance of the American public would just render it obscure and inaccessible. And even if people did in secret like it on a majority scale, they may still retreat to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to dismiss it, simply because they feel that it does not fit their tribe mentality.

Toss aside the quality issues of this year’s Super Bowl performances for a moment, and just ask yourself, was there this much anger and resentment toward the halftime performers of the Super Bowl 15 years ago? The American public seems as divided about who plays at halftime as who they want to win on the field. Problem is, there’s no sportsmanship in the culture war, and nobody wins.

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My pick for next year’s National Anthem performer, Ruby Jane:

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