The rumble of the bass line, the crack of the finger snaps, the thump of dozens of beefy guys in breastplates marching across the field, and there she is: Madonna. Pulled along in a litter carriage and heralded by dancers who are presumably less than half of her 53 years, she's giving us Cleopatra realness and -- as we always expect -- an epic spectacle.
After years of trying to idiot-proof the halftime show in the post-"Boobgate" era with a lineup of graying rockers who have been safely confined to pop-culture's sidelines, Madonna's high-energy medley of dance floor fillers from "Vogue" to LMFAO's gleefully brainless "Party Rock Anthem" was a much-needed spurt of well-choreographed yet still freewheeling fun -- especially for the under-30 set.
The pop veteran went into the show with the elaborate game plan of a star with a preternatural knack for both pleasing crowds and getting into trouble. With 30 years of hits to her name, Madonna could have "Vogue"-ed in, crooned "Hung Up," clapped to "Holiday" under some jets of pyro and called it a night.
Instead, she enlisted younger stars like hip-pop hitmaker Nicki Minaj and electro agitator M.I.A., whose middle-finger salute the press is trying to make into a thing. She also smartly nestled a bit of LMFAO's club smash into her twitchy disco track "Music," very likely aware that she hasn't had a new song on the charts since the 2008 release of Hard Candy. She also used the 100 million-viewer audience for the first live performance of her unabashedly peppy single "Give Me All Your Luvin,' " a risky move that hasn't been attempted in recent memory.
Sure, she was a little rickety on those pins, but athletic nonetheless, pulling off a decent leg extension, doing back walkovers with the Cirque Du Soleil dancers, busting out a whole bunch of whatever this move is, hopping onto the shoulders of LMFAO's RedFoo and later wriggling into some handstand twist maneuver as he gripped her ankle. And in case you didn't want to see her do all the crazy footwork, she had tons of dancers working rhythmic wizardry, including that insanely agile and adventurous tightrope acrobat.
For those who think she was good for her age, consider if you would expect this level of theatricality from say, Rihanna or Katy Perry. And yes, she definitely appeared to lip-sync the whole thing, but really, who buys a Madonna record for her voice? But if you really wanted to see Madonna at least try to sing, she trotted out a choir, donned on a glam, beaded Givenchy robe, and got on her knees to belt out "Like A Prayer," with Cee Lo riffing away in his own fabulous beaded gown.
If you're not into her music or image, that's fine, but this is the Super Bowl. It's a moment of excess, pageantry, guts, will, and triumph -- all in a wholesome, Disney-movie way, of course. Madonna brought it, corralling two female rappers, a circus act, gladiators, cheerleaders, a choir, and more for a seriously exhilarating 12 minutes. She also found ways to invigorate 26-year-old tracks like "Open Your Heart" by throwing a marching band in the mix. And on top of all of that she looked like she was having a ball. With that performance, the real Super Bowl winner is arguably Team Madonna.
Pictures: Halftime highlights and star sightings
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ContributorsSarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.