Madonna was careful, in interviews before the Super Bowl, to say how nervous she was, how no one had to worry about her plotting to incite controversy. But instead of resulting in a cautious, tedious performance, Madonna gave a joyous, unironic, openhearted one. She deployed guest stars including Cee Lo Green, Nicki Minaj, and M.I.A., but they never stole her glowing spotlight. From her entrance hoisted aloft by Roman-soldier dancers to the massed choir that sent her off, she was both in full command and full of generosity toward her massive audience.
Commencing with a rendition of “Vogue” that used the magazine’s logo as part of the stage set, Madonna offered full-throated vocals coupled with tight choreography. If the visual transitions didn’t have any flow (Roman togas to pulsating stadium-seating steps to space for a tightrope walker), the songs did. After the cool warm-up of “Vogue,” Madonna moved smoothly into “Music.” There was certain mashing-up of music with LMFAO that didn’t add much to the proceedings. She led into her current single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” as a sweet piece of Katy Perry-style pop. It’s not among her best songs, but Madonna rendered the tune with a playful vigor, shaking gold pom-poms with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. Toward the end of the song, a marching band trooped on stage, led by Cee Lo Green as drum major.
Aiming to end on a note of uplift, Madonna and Green donned choir robes and brought forth a large choir for “Like a Prayer.” Singing from a raised platform, Madonna and Green’s voices soared, and just when I thought she was going to ascend to the heavens, she instead descended into…well, not hell — that would have been out of keeping with the mood of this show — but she dropped away in a puff of smoke.
Now the carping will begin in living rooms and throughout the internet: Was she lip-synching? Did she make a few wobbly moves? Was M.I.A. being a naughty girl?
Me, I don’t care. I was happy to see Madonna smiling so much, giving it her all, plugging her product with such gleeful abandon. (Oh, and, right, I almost forgot: WORLD PEACE, people!!) It wasn’t a thrillingly innovative performance, but that’s not what the Super Bowl halftime show is about anyway: It’s a time to hear some hits well played, with more imagination and energy than, say, the Black-Eyed Peas provided last year. By this measure, Madonna’s Super Bowl performance was a bright delight.