Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mary J Blige, and Kendrick Lamar headlined the prestigious half-time show at the Super Bowl on Sunday, putting hip-hop front and center. But what if there were too many hooks in the pot?
We’ve all been to a house party where no one can agree on what music to play.
You might hear the first verse of a song, and if you’re lucky, the chorus, but it’s never long before someone fiddles with the playlist and changes the track impatiently.
Half-time shows at Super Bowls often resemble this, albeit on a much larger scale, as performers attempt to cram as many of their hits as possible into a condensed 14-minute set.
This year, the problem was expected to be even worse. With five joint headliners, the question looming over the hip-hop half-time show in 2022 was how to do justice to the stars’ extensive discographies.
Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mary J Blige, and Kendrick Lamar, in the end, struck the perfect balance between cramming as many monster hits as they could while also giving each other time to breathe.
The show opened with rapper and super-producer Dr. Dre emerging from the floor in front of a giant mixing desk. Within seconds, The Next Episode’s instantly recognizable refrain played, and Dre’s first co-star appeared alongside him.
“La-da-da-da-dah / It’s the one and only D-O-double-G,” sang one of rap’s most recognizable voices, before Dre and the crowd yelled “Snoop Dogg!” in unison.
Any doubts about this year’s lineup were quickly dispelled as the audience erupted in applause. Hip-hop had made it to the Super Bowl for the first time.
It wasn’t long before the track gave way to the song’s distinctive opening bars. California Love was an obvious choice for a half-time show honoring West Coast hip-hop and featured Dr. Dre rapping some of the late 2Pac’s most famous rhymes.
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While a rumored appearance by a hologram of 2Pac did not materialize, Dre’s performance was a fitting tribute to a rapper who died in 1996 at the age of 25 but is still regarded as one of the best ever.
Audience members who were alive when these songs were first released will recall that live hip-hop shows in the 1990s and 2000s often consisted of nothing more than a rapper and their DJ on a stage.
That wasn’t going to cut it at the biggest US TV event of 2022, so this half-time show featured expensive cars, a full live band, a swarm of energetic dancers, and an effective set design that allowed the hip-hop heavyweights to seamlessly weave between songs.
The stage consisted of five adjacent living rooms, each of which appeared to be hosting a different party.
The rooms were connected by doorways, allowing the five stars to move freely between them to collaborate and appear in each other’s songs.
The entire thing appeared to have been inspired by Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” video (and doubled as a representation of what a retirement home for rappers might look like).
Es Devlin, a British set designer who was recently in the news for her work on Adele’s canceled Las Vegas residency, was responsible for this effective staging.
Songs would overlap as the stars passed through the rooms, with some performing on the roof, others from inside their rooms, and one even hanging from the ceiling, which was the biggest surprise of the night.
As if the five headliners weren’t enough, 50 Cent made an unexpected appearance by hanging upside down in a recreation of his most famous music video, In Da Club. Despite the fact that he was out of breath, the crowd erupted in applause.
Given the backlash over Janet Jackson’s nipple and MIA’s middle finger at previous half-time shows, hiring five rappers with a loose attitude toward swearing could have been a risk, to put it mildly. However, all five kept things surprisingly, if not dissatisfyingly, clean.
Curse words were replaced with family-friendly lyrics, and Eminem’s appearance near the end of the show was the only thing that came close to causing controversy (more on that in a sec).
What were the songs that they performed?
- Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg – The Next Episode
- Dr. Dre’s “California Love”
- 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”
- Mary J Blige’s “Family Affair”
- Mary J Blige – No More Drama
- Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”
- Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg’s Still D.R.E.
The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event in the United States each year. Last year’s game, however, drew the smallest crowd since 2007. (although it was still seen by 96 million viewers).
The Weekend, the 2021 headliner, was generally well-received, though the half-time show lacked punch and atmosphere due to the lack of a live audience due to Covid restrictions.
This year, the hip-hop all-stars took advantage of the 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, bouncing off the energy of the live audience.
If anyone thought some of the performers were past their prime, Kendrick Lamar’s appearance certainly lowered the average age and increased the energy level. The rapper from Compton sped through M.A.A.D. City and Alright, spitting his rhymes at breakneck speed.
The performance was hailed as “the greatest half-time show I’ve ever seen” on social media in real-time, with basketballer LeBron James calling it “the greatest half-time show I’ve ever seen.”
Next up was Mary J Blige, who sang her biggest hit, the pulsing Family Affair, as well as a rousing rendition of her healing anthem No More Drama.
Blige dubbed the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,” has made a career out of singing catchy melodies over crisp hip-hop beats with her powerful vocals. Her addition to the show added variety and audio texture, as well as some much-needed melodies in between the raps.
The anticipation was at an all-time high by the time Eminem appeared. A quick blast of Forgot About Dre’s chorus paid tribute to the producer who was responsible for bringing Marshall Mathers, the greatest lyricist of his generation, to the attention of the world.
Slim Shady wisely chose to stick to his early work for his main song. Despite having three number one albums in the previous five years, he clearly understood that only a classic song like Lose Yourself could get the audience to do so. With a full live band behind him, the song became even more evocative.
In an otherwise politically neutral show, Eminem was seen kneeling near the end of his segment, similar to what former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick did during the national anthem in 2016.
Kaepernick’s action was meant to protest racial inequality and police brutality, but it drew criticism, including from the NFL, which stated that players should not be allowed to take such a stand.
Since then, more high-profile figures have joined Kaepernick in taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the knee has become synonymous with the movement.
An NFL spokesman denied reports that the league had told Eminem he couldn’t take the knee after the game on Sunday.
There was barely enough time for viewers to catch their breath at the half-time show before the night’s big finale. Snoop joined Dre on stage to perform Still D.R.E., one of the most popular songs from the latter’s seminal 2001 album.
As the show came to a close, the two looked like old friends having a good time, and they were soon joined by their co-stars. They were well aware that the show had been a success.
It may have taken a long time to get here, but no one can now forget about Dre after seeing him perform like this.
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