We’ve all been to one of those house parties where nobody can agree on the music.
You might hear the first verse of a song, maybe even a chorus if you’re lucky, but it’s never long before someone is fiddling with the playlist and impatiently changing the track.
Super Bowl half-time shows often feel a bit like this, albeit on a much larger scale, as performers traditionally try to cram as many of their hits as possible into a tight 14-minute set.
That problem was set to be even more pronounced this year. With five joint headliners, the question hanging over 2022’s hip-hop half-time show was how to do justice to the stars’ sizeable back catalogues.
The show opened with rapper and super-producer Dr Dre emerging from the floor in front of a giant mixing desk. Within seconds, the instantly recognisable refrain of The Next Episode broke out and Dre’s first co-star appeared alongside him.
“La-da-da-da-dah / It’s the one and only D-O-double-G,” sang one of the most distinctive voices in rap, before Dre yelled “Snoop Dogg!” in unison with the crowd.
Any scepticism about this year’s choice of performers was instantly extinguished as the audience erupted. Hip-hop had made it to the Super Bowl.
While a rumoured appearance of a 2Pac hologram failed to materialise, Dre’s performance of this song doubled as a fitting tribute to a rapper who died in 1996 aged 25, but is still considered one of the greatest who ever did it.
Audience members old enough to have been around when these songs were originally released will remember live hip-hops gigs in the nineties and noughties often consisted of little more than a rapper, and their DJ, on a stage.
That clearly wasn’t going to cut it at the biggest US TV event of 2022, and, as a result, this half-time show came complete with expensive cars, a full live band, a swarm of energetic dancers, and an effective set design which let the hip-hop heavyweights weave seamlessly between songs.
The stage consisted of five adjacent living rooms, giving the impression of a different party happening within each one.
There were doorways connecting the rooms, providing a fluidity which meant the five stars could move between them to collaborate and appear in each other’s songs.
The whole thing looked like it could have been inspired by the Destiny’s Child video for Say My Name (and doubled as a representation of what a retirement home for rappers might look like).
This effective staging was the work of British set designer Es Devlin, who was most recently in the news for her work on Adele’s cancelled Las Vegas residency.
Songs would overlap as the stars moved through the rooms, with some performing on the roof, others from inside their room, and, in the biggest surprise of the night, one even hanging from the ceiling.
As if five headliners weren’t enough, 50 Cent made a surprise appearance by hanging upside down, a recreation of his most famous music video for his most famous song, In Da Club. He might have been a little out of breath, but the crowd went wild.
Considering the outcry over Janet Jackson’s nipple and MIA’s middle finger at previous half-time shows, it could have been a risk to hire five rappers with a carefree attitude to swearing, to put it mildly.
But all five kept things surprisingly, maybe even disappointingly, clean.
Curse words were replaced with family-friendly lyrics, and the only thing vaguely approaching controversy came when Eminem took to the stage towards the end of the show (more on that in a sec).
Which songs did they perform?
1. The Next Episode – Dr Dre & Snoop Dogg
2. California Love – Dr Dre
3. In Da Club – 50 Cent
4. Family Affair – Mary J Blige
5. No More Drama – Mary J Blige
6. M.A.A.D City – Kendrick Lamar
7. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
8. Forgot About Dre – Eminem
9. Lose Yourself – Eminem
10. Still D.R.E. – Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
The Super Bowl is traditionally the most-watched US TV event of the year. However, last year’s game attracted the lowest audience since 2007 (although it was still seen by 96 million viewers).
The 2021 headliner, the Weeknd, was generally well-received, although the lack of a live audience due to Covid restrictions meant the half-time show lacked a certain punch and atmosphere.
That was firmly rectified this year, with the hip-hop all-stars bouncing off the energy of the live crowd at the 70,000-capacity SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
If anyone thought some of the performers were looking a bit past their prime, the appearance of Kendrick Lamar certainly lowered the average age and heightened the energy. The Compton native raced through M.A.A.D. City and Alright, spitting his rhymes at break-neck speed.
Mary J Blige was next up, performing her biggest song, the pulsing Family Affair, as well as a rousing rendition of her healing anthem No More Drama.
Known as the queen of hip-hop soul, Blige has made a career of using her powerful vocals to sing catchy melodies over crisp hip-hop beats. Her contribution to the show was valuable in terms of variety and audio texture, adding some much-needed melodies between the raps.
By the time Eminem appeared, anticipation was at fever pitch. A quick blast of Forgot About Dre’s chorus paid homage to the producer who first brought Marshall Mathers, the greatest lyricist of his generation, to worldwide attention.
For his main number, Slim Shady wisely chose to stick to his early work. Despite releasing three number one albums in the last five years, he clearly knew that only a classic song like Lose Yourself could make the audience do just that. A full live band behind him made the song somehow more evocative than ever.
In a show which otherwise steered clear of political statements, Eminem was seen taking the knee towards the end of his segment – the same thing former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick did during the national anthem in 2016.
Kaepernick’s gesture was intended to protest against racial inequality and police brutality, but it also sparked a backlash –
including from the NFL, who said players should not be allowed to take such a stance.
Since then, more high-profile figures have taken the knee in solidarity with Kaepernick, and it has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.
After Sunday’s game, an NFL spokesman denied reports that the league had told Eminem he couldn’t take the knee.
Back at the half-time show, there was hardly time for viewers to catch their breath before the night’s big finale. Snoop returned to the stage alongside Dre to perform Still D.R.E. – one of the biggest song’s from the latter’s seminal 2001 album.
The pair looked like two old friends having the time of their lives, and were soon joined by their co-stars as the show drew to a close. The performance had been a success, and they knew it.
It might have taken a long time to get here, but after a performance like this, nobody could now Forget About Dre.