As soon as Bruno Mars was announced as the headline attraction for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, the naysayers brought up his tender age, his relative lack of experience, and his youthful demographic target market as proof that the kid couldn’t cut it for the big gig. As it turns out, the naysayers were wrong. Mostly.
Mars and his band brought a high-energy, tightly paced mini-set to the halftime slot. Bringing the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the stage was both an incredibly smart move on Mars’ part, and an acknowledgement of the fact that, perhaps, he just might need a little help.
Mars and his band brought fire to their performance, and they did as well as they possibly could have, considering the material itself, which is a smart blend of modern pop, R&B, Motown, and funk, but a bit too mainstream to be particularly remarkable. But the halftime gig is the biggest of the big. With past performers attaining legendary status for their 12 minutes before the TV eyes of millions – among them, Prince, U2, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers from the rock world, and Justin Timberlake and Beyonce from the Top 40 world – Mars had a lot to live up to. He almost pulled it off.
Things started strong, as Mars arrived in the middle of the field behind a drum kit, proving himself to be an adept and funky drummer. Then the drum riser slid back and the rest of his band – with a killer horn section in tow – hit the boards and erupted into an inspired run through “Locked Out of Heaven.”
“Treasure” followed, and here, a strong, vibrant Motown feel pervaded. Mars pulled some James Brown moves, and the funk came fast and was frenzied. Suddenly, the tune morphed into the Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” and there they were, the “funky monks,” bringing their punk-fueled marriage of Hip-Hop, funk and rock to the big stage, and upping the energy level ten-fold. The Peppers killed it, and Mars and his band added to the gloriously nasty groove when they joined in.
The proceedings had risen to a fever pitch by this point, but then the Chili Peppers left the stage, and Mars eased into “Just the Way You Are,” a romantic pop ballad. The energy instantly evaporated. This was a bad decision – Mars should’ve placed this song, one of his biggest hits, earlier in the set, and capitalized on the energy he and the Chili Peppers had generated by either playing another upbeat tune, or leaving the stage on a high note.
That said, Mars did a much better job playing before the biggest audience of his career to date than many had predicted he would. Hopefully, he helped to ease the halftime blues of Denver fans. But I doubt it.