If you concede that these days the Super Bowl is one of the few occasions when you find massive numbers of Americans united in a common goal – in this case, the willing consumption of unquantifiable amounts of beer and snack foods while viewing lots of really neat new commercials during a really boring football game – then the music that provides the entertainment for the Super Bowl halftime show takes on a resonance it might not otherwise have. After all, at what other time are millions of ordinary citizens simultaneously subjected to the sight of Travis Tritt in a turquoise fringed jacket, wiggling his posterior to the wobbly beat of a watered-down Chuck Berry-like riff called ”T-R-O-U-B-L-E”?
On Jan. 30, it was that kind of half-time show. Excuse me: It was that kind of a ”Wavy Lay’s Rockin’ Country Sunday” halftime show. Pity poor commentator Jim Lampley, who had to enunciate that phrase countless times in introducing this garish spectacle. The potato chip company, out to plug its latest rippled oil-and-salt concoction, sponsored what had been promoted as a superstar lineup of country-music acts, then crammed five performances into a scant dozen minutes – and as a further insult forced the singers to lip-synch. It’s a wonder Frito Lay’s didn’t insist that Tritt gobble a bag of Wavy chips while he was lip-synching.
Tritt wasn’t the only grinningly willing victim here, of course. Tanya Tucker strutted out in black leather – with a big jewel-studded cross on the back of her jacket to remind viewers that this was a Sunday, after all – and moved her mouth to her recent single ”A Little Too Late.” Clint Black warbled an unbelievably corny novelty tune with lyrics consisting almost entirely of the names of other, bigger country-music stars. All of which kind of made you yearn for last year’s Super Bowl mega-event: Remember Michael Jackson lip-synching while hugging lots of little children? Now, don’t get misty-eyed on me.
You may have thought that Super Bowl XXVIII’s musical moments hit their climax early on, when Natalie Cole amended the national anthem by adding her own lyric: ”O’er the land of the free – I’m so glad I’m free! – and the home of the brave.” But the potato chip halftime show pulled off the tricky feat of peaking twice. The first time came when Wynonna Judd performed her catchy hit ”No One Else on Earth,” the performance marred only by her choreography: She looked as if she were trying to do a Janet Jackson impersonation while ^ wearing an invisible pair of skis. (Oh yes, there was that outfit: ”Is she supposed to be a pilgrim? She looks like a pilgrim!” my daughter kept chirping.)
But lest we forget that country music has a sentimental streak wider than a football field, the producers engineered a second peak, their trump card: the retired Naomi Judd reuniting with her former partner and daughter, Wynonna, to sing ”Love Can Build a Bridge.” Naomi, who is constantly reminding us of her perpetual triumph over chronic hepatitis, looked great in a gleaming white dress. But the Judd I liked best was the one who didn’t sing: Naomi’s actress- daughter Ashley, who during the Judds’ finale hobbled on stage on a fetching pair of crutches, the result of a recent fall from a horse.
Country music haters forced to watch this spectacle must have had their worst suspicion confirmed: that country is just pop with with less sophistication. The best music to be heard on Super Bowl Sunday was either during commercials (Pepsi spoofing Woodstock while playing Canned Heat’s ”Going Up the Country”; Shaquille O’Neal rapping valiantly while shilling for Reebok) or during NBC’s pregame show, when Stevie Wonder sang a pungent bit of pop-funk called ”Take the Time Out.” Who cared that the network then cut to an American Express commercial that used the exact same song? It was that kind of Super Bowl. F