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The Black Eyed Peas at the Super Bowl: Pop absurdity at its finest


As the Black Eyed Peas' Super Bowl halftime performance in Arlington, Texas, halted and revved up for its final act, there was a brief glimpse at the band that could have been. The retro-future stage -- outfitted with multiple moving platforms and a multitude of lights, as if the Peas had blown up Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade -- rearranged itself to spell out the the word "Love." 

Peas ringleader will.i.am stood straight and looked directly into the camera. Outfitted to look something like a cross between an astronaut and a "Star Wars" character, will.i.am updated the lyrics to "Where Is the Love?" and called upon the president to "create jobs so the country stays stimulated." As political commentary, it was far from divisive, but the 2003 hit was a brief reminder of the Los Angeles act's roots. The Peas were once a socially-conscious hip-hop act, and as recently as eight years ago were interested in more than simply overly stimulating their audience.

But that shift in direction -- these days, the Peas have time for only mindless partying -- is largely what made the act quite possibly the most perfectly suited contemporary group for a Super Bowl halftime show. Since the 2004 Janet Jackson disaster, the NFL has targeted the boomer crowd, with little success. Bruce Springsteen hammed it up in 2009 to pander the mass audience, and the Who ran out of gas last year, trying to play the part of an act that still mattered.

The Peas, however, didn't really have to change a thing. The Peas of 2011 embrace all things commercial and ridiculous. Corny? Please. In the world of the Peas, nothing is too silly and everything is built for exaggeration.

Fergie, who plays the role of "the one with sex appeal" in the group, wore a glittery top that looked like butterfly-shaped battle armor. It was absurd and somewhat laughable, yet the Super Bowl isn't the place for subtlety or veteran rockers trying to garner headlines.  

So, as dancers with lampshades on their heads surrounded the band, the Peas once again proved that there is no outfit, no dance move and no lyric ("Mazel tov!") too silly to be shouted to the hinterlands. The Peas, love 'em or hate 'em, are the group this game of hype deserves.

Smartly, the Peas largely stayed away from their stinker of a recent album, "The Beginning," dipping only briefly into "The Time (Dirty Bit)," with will.i.am and Fergie copping a prom-like embrace. Yet the tune isn't really a song as much as it is an excuse to show off some nifty digital sounds, a compilation of parts that approaches songwriting as if it's a commercial.

Indeed, the band can do those too, as will.i.am even directed his own Super Bowl ad, and unavoidable songs such as "Let's Get It Started" and "Pump It" are little more than a collection of game-day slogans. The Peas largely stayed still during the performance, letting the backup dancers in "Tron"-like get-ups do much of the work and provide the eye candy. And eye candy it was, as -- and all apologies to Daft Punk -- there's nothing in Disney's "Tron: Legacy" as goofily surreal as a band singing the phrase "Boom Boom Pow" in Lazer Tag fashions.  

The whole performance wasn't a winner. When Slash emerged from beneath the act's rotund stage/space shuttle launch pad, it was a turn for the worst. Here come the overcooked guitar lines and moment of nostalgia, but as Slash and Fergie ran through a snippet of "Sweet Child O' Mine," it was a small consolation that Fergie can do a better Axl Rose than Axl these days. 

Usher then descended from the ceiling to show off his dance moves, and the verses for his "O.M.G." were the only moments when the halftime show approached anything near risque. Much has been made of the Peas appearing at the Super Bowl, as pop-culture pontificators wondered whether the former rap group would do anything controversial. But no worries, as even Fergie's skirt was at an appropriate length. Really, the Peas had zero interest in alienating, even if they persuaded Usher to wear a suit that was missing only a Stormtrooper mask. 

Plenty may bemoan the absence of a more straight-ahead -- and, let's face it, artful -- act such as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, but the Peas' music is made for short bursts. This is the rare band that can shine with a medley.

Also, as far as music entertainment at this Super Bowl goes, the Peas were something of a revelation at Cowboys Stadium. Christina Aguilera bungled a line of the National Anthem, and stretched and yelled the word "brave" as if she were giving a lesson in what tinnitus sounded like. Pregame, Maroon 5 was adult-pop at its most bland, and Keith Urban, despite his stylish guitar playing, was indistinguishable country-pop. 

The Peas, however, are singularly unique, even if they're far away from their more thought-provoking early days. The set came to an end with "I've Got a Feeling," and Fergie chest-pumped as she sang the words "pa-pa-pa-pa-party everyday." Nonsense? In the hands of nearly any other chart-toppers, yes, but the Peas approach partying as if it's some sort of battle cry. Their weapons are little more than tuneful chants, and their army is fluorescent, but it's built for stadiums.

-- Todd Martens 

Photo: Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (160)

The Black Eyed Peas were horrible? What were you watching? I can only imagine how many people changed the channel when they came on. Their singing is not that great live and the mash up of songs was annoying and the light up people we have all seen before. Christina Aguilera wasn't good either, did she not practice the song? Her screaming made my ears bleed.

Fine and well that you analyzed the history of the band and of former acts, but in the overall analysis of tonight's half-time performance there was a blatant overuse of technology. All of this went to compensate for one of the poorest displays of musicality I think I've ever witnessed.

I'm more willing to forgive the old dogs who just can't sing anymore (although rightfully they should know that it's time to call it) than a young star that uses auto-tuning to remedy a superficial voice to allow "sex appeal" be a marketing aspect of the group.

The half time show is always lame, no matter who's performing. I've never seen one I really liked.

I like the Black Eyed peas. To me, they are entertainers. I don't want to see old timers standing on the stage playing songs. I like dancing and "techno magic". Like another said, no super bowl show seems to ever measure up. My favorite show to date is when Prince performed.

Please, as long as there is music, the writings of Pete Townshend will be of relevance. Far more than the pop twattle that poured out of Dallas tonight. Listen to "Love Rain O'er Me", which I always thought should be "Reign", and tell me that message is lost to time. Even will.i.am asked where the love went!

Auguilera is so overrated. Modern day Cher, has that monotone voice, cant go high.

She was too busy doing that...'whoaaaaaa" after each note and forgot where she was in the song.

The halftime shows would be better if they did complete songs. Maybe 2 or 3 songs. I hate the medley thing

This was one of the worst halftime shows I've seen, the only decent part of it was slash(and usher), however this article claims that Fergie was a better axl rose? WTH? this was a terrible performance, the vocals were awful, and the sound quality was lacking. Now to be fair i don't particularly like the black eyed peas, however they sound better on CD. not live.

bad mix

I have to say I did enjoy the show but only because it is much more interesting to me than Bruce Springsteen in the past or other performers. Of course my favorite was Janet Jackson ;o) . Pop music is appealing because it gives people confidence and comfort. Of course during a horrible recession the only thing you want to hear is "party every day..." to think of good times in the past or future. That is what pop music has become, the cheerleading music to getting ahead, getting rich and then partying, which is the American mantra, right?

Re-heated Olympic Opening Ceremony effects, bad sound and a group that is barely relevant at the moment. The Guns n' Roses bit was one of the most cringe inducing moments of all time. I would have been happier watching a rerun of Prince's performance.

The Who might not have been a great choice for the Super Bowl, but at least old people know how to rock.

I want those 20 minutes of my life back. That entire "performance" was absolutely horrible.

This was the most horrendous and laughable performance I've ever seen. I don't understand why anyone who has access to auto tune can become famous. The super bowl is all about talent. The musical guests should have the same standards. Anyone could have gotten on stage and done the same exact performance. The super bowl half time performers should at the very least be able to play instruments. Anyone can talk in to a microphone that changes your voice to be less offensive. The NFL should find someone to play who has to actually put forth effort and possess some form of talent, not just have a computer generate futuristic sounds and beats to match the ridiculous outfits.

Did you write this while watching on mute? I actually like the Black Eyed Peas and will readily admit that that was the single worst halftime performance ever. They bested Ashley Simpson's Rose Bowl performance. The sound engineer should be locked in a room with Ben Rapistberger. Fergie's version of Sweet Child of Mine sounded like MY sweet child singing Sweet Child of Mine but worse. Screen that performance in Tahrir Square and democracy will die within half an hour. Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh My God it was bad.

Christine A.'s version of the US anthem should be viewed as an assault on the viewers and the music. GAWWWWD, it was awful. A 100 x better anthem version was performed at the Kings vs. Leafs game last month at the Staples Center, by a member of the Canadian military!

When will singers recognize that drawing out 'brave' into 9 syllables does not make it better, it mangles it!

BEP = comical, was that the point?

No single musical act will appeal to everyone across such a broad audience of tens of millions of people. However, it would certainly be refreshing to see and hear musicians who: can write and perform their own music instead of sampling; don't rely on computers to correct their pitch; aren't digitally altered to sound like 'droids to compensate for poor singing skills. Frankly, instead of BEP or Springsteen or anyone named Jackson, I'd rather see a great big marching band at halftime. But that suggestion is laughable to the entertainment money machine--who on earth would buy the product? No worries. America's bottomless appetite for mediocre pop culture food has been sated.

The Peas were ok. I thought they were more entertaining than the boring oldtimers that try to get up and turn people on with songs that just have little life to them. The BEP's music is just too commercial to evoke any real passion. I agree with the previous poster that an artist like Prince's SuperBowl show came off as the best in most recent times. Prince's act was just more artistically rich and modern and not watered down with all the commercial hype.

The halftime show was awful.That's the best we can do?

Worst Super Bowl performance I've ever seen.

I would like to populate Mars with Fergie....I think the show was silly but she is HOT!

Except for the super bowls I missed while in Africa with the Peace Corps and the one I missed while in Vietnam, I've seen them all. This one had to be the most boring, under-talented one of them all. This Fergie has about as much vocal range as I do first thing in the morning while taking a shower. Visually, boring! Music wise, Boring. I would have rather Jeff Van Gundy, the paid by the word NBA announcer, rambled on in his channeling of Howard Cosell spiel rather than this waste of time. It sounded like the greatest moment of applause was at the very end, followed by a big sigh of relief that is was over.

whack eyed cheese

Overrated halftime "entertainment" The NFL would probably be better off running the best commercials that ran in the first half of the game.

Christina Aguilera can't remember the words to the national anthem! She's an overrated singer. Too bad Robert Merrill passed away.

Prince was the best half-time performer in a dozen years.

A auditory slop fest at best

This was a fun show. For those who say " over the top" or too much technology: Criminey, that's exactly what the Super Bowl is. (And I enjoyed the Petty-Springsteen-Who half-time run). But Prince's show was still the best.

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