Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar took the stage at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium Sunday with the stated purpose of celebrating the comeback of Los Angeles after two years of pandemic and all its attendant strife. To most observers, the fourteen-and-a-half-minute extravaganza featuring 400 perfectly synchronized backup dancers and vocalists, was a thrilling success. But if you believe early media reports, the backstage pyrotechnics that preceded the show nearly rivaled the fireworks onstage.
Writing before the game, Puck’s Eriq Garner reported that NFL execs, worried about offending conservative viewers, repeatedly urged Dre, the event’s principal producer, to tone down some of the more controversial content of the show, which had been billed as a tribute to Compton. “The league apparently didn’t want its premier event to turn into a divisive culture war moment,” wrote Gardner. “In particular, I’m told, N.F.L. representatives indicated to Dre during rehearsals that they weren’t comfortable with a lyric from his signature 1999 hit, Still D.R.E., which states that he’s ‘still not loving police.'”
But Dre—who reportedly put up $7 million of his own money to produce the show—ended up including the lyric anyway. The same article, “No One is Taking a Knee on Sunday,” also reported that “the league nixed a plan by Eminem to kneel, Colin Kaepernick-style.” If that was true, Mathers was not listening. Instead he took a knee for nearly a minute after concluding his set, while Dre went on to cover a song by Tupac Shakur.
Was this all a tempest in a teapot? On Sunday, league spokesman Brian McCarthy firmly denied reports of a backstage dispute, adding that the NFL was well aware that Eminem was going to kneel because officials “watched it during rehearsals this week.”
In fact, even in the midst of the Kaepernick controversy, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had consistently supported players who took a knee. In June, 2020, he encouraged “all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Goodell reiterated the sentiment that August, stating, “We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem and in violation. And I don’t intend to. And I will support them.”
But if the NFL was, in fact, feeling some pre-show jitters, it wasn’t hard to understand why.
In the last years of the Trump administration, COVID and a series of political pile-ons had caused viewership of NFL games to slide precipitously. Last week, the Los Angeles Times produced a poll which, it said, indicated that, “The nation’s relentless culture wars appear to have taken a toll even on the NFL, with a large number of Republicans saying they have soured on the league and expressing disapproval of its efforts to improve the treatment of Black players.”
Nonetheless, ratings for this year’s playoffs were up 20 to 41 percent over last year. And despite a few sensitive moments, the reviews of this year’s half-time show have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with many praising it as one of the best performances of all time. Even some Conservatives were impressed.
Texas GOP Congressman Dan Crenshaw pronounced it the best half-time show ever. “This is an excellent Super Bowl halftime performance,” chimed in Candace Owens. “Undeniable hip-hop and R&B excellence.”
Ben Shapiro did not share their enthusiasm. In a much-derided Tweet on Sunday, he wrote, “Capitalism always wins. Watching the NFL monetize the Left’s radical racial messaging, feature artists with rap sheets longer than your arm (including multiple accusations of violence against women), and even capitalize on Eminem kneeling is…hilarious.”
He was less horrified by 2020’s extravaganza, when he tweeted, “All of this Super Bowl halftime show controversy is so tired and predictable.”
All of this Super Bowl halftime show controversy is so tired and predictable.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 3, 2020
It’s hard to know why Shapiro’s finely-tuned offense sensors were on the blink that year, when Shakira and Jennifer Lopez headlined.
But, according to one FCC complaint about that show, “The 2020 Super Bowl Half Time Show contained indecent, sexual, and risqué content that was unsuitable for all viewers especially young viewers. The performers exposed areas of the lower buttocks, abdomen, and cleavage. This content was clearly obscene, and should not have been broadcast. I believe FOX should be subject to regulatory penalties for broadcasting obscene content not suitable for public viewing.”
Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk might have thought he’d win some love from the virgin wing of the GOP when he tweeted, “The NFL is now the league of sexual anarchy. This halftime show should not be allowed on television.” But even conservatives laughed at his sexual panic.
Former Virginia congressman, Republican Denver Riggleman—a retired Air Force intel officer and NSA contractor—replied, “I was in High School in the 1980s. Weird Science was sexual anarchy.”
Even convicted Trump campaign fraudster and Rudy Giuliani chum Lev Parnas couldn’t help but dump on young Charlie.
Let’s not forget Charlie Kirk bussed in insurrectionists on Jan 6th. https://t.co/OcAh0WiIUc
— Lev Parnas (@levparnas) February 14, 2022
Yet even right-wingers who enjoyed the show found themselves on the wrong side of their compadres.
Candace Owen’s endorsement of the show triggered hundreds of outraged comments from her erstwhile supporters. One respondent complained that show was “catering to 13 per cent of the nation,” while another asserted, “Worst ever, and like usual the NFL has to push the diversity crap but yet there was no diversity. Maybe a rock musician and a hip hop artist each one doing a performance then let the crowd decide who gets the biggest cheer.”
The performers themselves, meanwhile, were wisely ignoring all that noise generated by their performance. By mid-day Monday, the Super Bowl debate had moved on to more pressing matters, like Gwynneth Paltrow eating her vagina creme on that UberEats commercial.
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