Prince steps into the cultural madness and freakshow that is the Super Bowl halftime event to show America what it means to blow this motherfucker out.
The Super Bowl halftime show has become as much a part of the event as the game itself. What started with college marching bands filling time between halves has evolved (or devolved, as the case may be) into an entertainment extravaganza that rivals the most elaborate North Korean flip tile spectacle and is a tacit acknowledgement that the performer is a bona fide cultural icon. That kind of elevation is generally a sign that the artist in question has also probably passed into artistic irrelevancy. That’s why it was so great to see The Purple One put on an exhibition of true rock genius.
Like anyone who’s been in the rock and roll game for multiple decades, Prince has had his ups and downs; his phases in and out of relevancy and importance. There was his nasty public battle with his label during which he flamboyantly scrawled “slave” on his cheek and derided evil corporate overlords for quashing art. As much as I loved his defiant stance against greedheads, it was hard to take seriously a man who earned hundreds of millions of dollars and then claimed to be no more than a musical sharecropper. But at least he waged his war with creativity and more than a little understanding of branding and what fuels a franchise, which is what he’d become.
Changing his name (in a corporate sense) from “Prince” to a symbol that had no linguistic equivalent, he effectively removed himself from the marketplace—or at least, he removed himself from marketing a back catalog while promoting new work. It was a genius piece of anti-marketing performance art and promoted his position on contract “for hire” work as it did his new material. But it also made for great fodder on late night shows and cut-rate comedians who dismissed Prince as just another crazy black man who was ungrateful for the success he’d achieved. For a time, Prince as a cultural landmark slipped into the discount bins.
But he always had his live shows. Regardless of legal proceedings or cease and desist orders, Prince maintained his position as the rightful heir to the kingdom built by his heroes (James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, et al). He borrows heavily from those who came before and mashes them into a lightening collage of sound, movement, and unbridled energy. Prince is a performer.
This Sunday’s Super Bowl performance was an undeniable flexing of his muscle, as a performer, cultural icon, and as a VERY profitable commodity. With James Brown’s death in December we mourned the death of the King of Live performance. With yesterday’s half time show we celebrate the life of his heir. Long Live Prince.
Prince / Superbowl XLI