This Year’s Super Bowl Highlight: The Commercials

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by Kate Mettetal

Prince’s magical performance of “Purple Rain” during a downpour; Janet Jackson’s full-frontal “wardrobe malfunction”; Beyonce and her army of women in Black Panther-inspired costumes—these are the moments that define the Super Bowl Halftime Show as one of the most highly-anticipated television broadcasts year-after-year.

The halftime performances have become synonymous with the Super Bowl game itself but, with popular music trends rapidly changing and the NFL’s ongoing racial controversies, the organizers are growing desperate to maintain the show’s notoriety.  

Recent performances provided audiences with Justin Timberlake’s experimental country phase, Maroon 5’s attempt at “social justice” with an impromptu, chaotic guest appearance by Travis Scott and Big Boi and this year, fans will be entertained by Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo) and Shakira. 

A significant decline in viewership exemplifies the struggle of the National Football League (NFL) to maintain the extravagant legacy of its halftime shows. Spiking at 114.4 million viewers in 2015 with performances by Kate Perry and Missy Elliot, halftime viewership plummeted to 98.2 million in 2019 and is projected to decline another 3 percent for Lopez and Shakira, according to Billboard.     

Lopez and Shakira are household names for dance clubs and college students, many of whom have now added Lopez’s “On the Floor” featuring Pitbull and Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” to their 2010s throwbacks playlist. Lopez’s Latin pop tunes dominated the Billboard charts in the early-2000s, releasing four consecutive No. 1 hits from 1999 to 2003. Shakira’s Oral Fixation, Volume II received two MTV music awards the year after its release in 2006. However, a five-year drought in their releases since brings to question their relevance in contemporary popular music. 

J-Lo consistently dropped albums for 15 years but her most current, A.K.A., released in 2014, failed to make waves due to flat production and stale features by rappers like Iggy Azalea and T.I. Throughout her five-year music hiatus, Lopez postponed the popstar gig for a career acting in major releases like Hustlers (2019) and The Boy Next Door (2015).

J-Lo has not released a charted song since “Booty”, peaking at No. 18, in 2014 and appears content with her descent from mainstream popular music as she is now a fashion designer and full-time judge on American Idol.    

Shakira embarks on her thirtieth year in the music industry come 2020 but the anticipation for her performance is even less than that of Lopez. The 14-time Grammy Award winner released “El Dorado” in 2017 but, like Lopez’s A.K.A, its haphazard collaborations sound more like a shaky leap into genres ahead of her time. 

This commercialized lifestyle is not uncommon in some of the NFL’s recent halftime show picks. Adam Levine, frontman of last year’s performing band Maroon 5, drifted away from the crooner-style jazz sounds of hits like “She Will Be Loved” for his cash cow of judging singing competition show The Voice back in 2011 and has been releasing lackluster pop songs ever since. The past two years reveals a pattern of NFL desperately contacting artists that will salvage the reputation of both the league and the halftime show after significant controversy, even if they are no longer relevant or influential to contemporary music. 

While the halftime shows have always banked on nostalgia—The Rolling Stones performing in 2006, for example—Lopez and Shakira’s sounds are dated compared to the contemporary artists of their associated genres and lack the prolific nature of previous performers like Prince and Bruce Springsteen. Although Prince, Springsteen, and the Stones performed decades after their “heyday”, their performances provided audiences with unmatchable visions of the essence of American rock’n’roll and its culture. 

The two Latina seasoned performers are renowned for their high-energy choreography and alluring stage presence, which is sure to provide for an entertaining set. However, the Super Bowl halftime is an exhibition of the pinnacle of American music, which Lopez and Shakira have had little influence over since the early-2000s. A plethora of previous performers—Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna—not only exemplified the best of the American industry talent, but proved to be cultural symbols through redefining norms and setting trends beyond the music world. If J-Lo still identified with her “Jenny from the block” persona that raised her to stardom rather than a common popstar, reactions over social media probably would have been more enthusiastic. 

A switch from analog to digital technology, such as streaming services like Spotify, is also partly responsible for the NFL’s bid choices in recent years to be deemed archaic. Prince’s Purple Rain, which was released 23 years before his halftime performance in 2007, sold 1.18 million copies in the United States before being released in a digital format, which is a convenient signifier that Americans love Prince and would love, even more, to see him on the Super Bowl stage. Now, what defines an artists as successful and abounding is far more muddled. Not only are “top recording artists” determined by the number of streams, but streaming companies’ “pro rata” model place artists with the largest market share—major recording artists—at an advantage.   

So why did Lopez and Shakira get the bid? It is no coincidence that the NFL chose two Latina artists to perform in Miami, which is 68.2 percent Latinx residents. In the wake of Colin Kaepernicks’s collusion suit against the NFL involving racial discrimination and Maroon 5’s scramble to perform with any possible artist of color that would take their offer (hence, the mismatched pairing of Travis Scott and Big Boi), J-Lo and Shakira are looking like pawns to prove the NFL’s illegitimate progressivism. Shortly after top recording artists of the decade—Rihanna, Cardi B, and Pink—declined bids to perform at Super Bowl LIV in solidarity with Kaepernick, it was announced that the two Latina artists will be taking the stage on Feb. 2. 

While it is imperative that artists of color are represented in the most highly-televised event of the year, J-Lo and Shakira’s choice to accept the bid raises a question of profitability over ethics. Lopez, in an interview with Variety, stated that she hopes the performance will “bring everyone together” but prospective audiences appeared perplexed by the paradox of outspoken women of color patronizing a controversial institution.  

Each passing year, the Super Bowl halftime show becomes increasingly decentralized from the music trends of the present day. J-Lo and Shakira’s performances will no doubt be tainted by the ongoing controversies surrounding the NFL, as the organization struggles to rebrand. With their declining viewership and American football fans’ collective exhaustion with the Patriots, it looks like the commercials will be the saving grace of Super Bowl LIV.