The Los Angeles Rams won the game, but the Halftime Show won the Super Bowl.
At least, that was the feeling from Generation X and Y (Elder Millennials), who grew up blaring “Parental Advisory” CDs and are now old enough to be Parentals ourselves.
The entire night was made for us — and we smelled what the producers were cooking.
The broadcast opened with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson lifting the People’s Eyebrow to quote his WWF catchphrase, “Finally, the Super Bowl HAS COME BACK to Los Angeles!” Yes, I said WWF on purpose, because Gen. Z would almost certainly call it WWE. The only minor letdown was that The Rock didn’t pause to sniff the air after saying, “The millions.”
After the urban contemporary gospel duo Mary Mary sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” R&B soprano Jhené Aiko performed “America the Beautiful,” while country star Mickey Guyton delivered one of the best renditions of the national anthem in recent memory, no surprise to those following her rise through the country ranks with “Black Like Me.”
The commercials featured plenty of nostalgic ’90s pop-culture references, including an electric Chevrolet Silverado callback to “The Sopranos,” a Peacock trailer for a spinoff of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” a General Motors ad featuring the cast of “Austin Powers,” and a Verizon commercial featuring Jim Carrey reprising his role from “The Cable Guy.”
Best of all, the much-anticipated Halftime Show was the literal soundtrack of our lives, the exact tunes that we burnt CDs of in high school (“The Chronic 2001”) and danced our butts off to in college (“In Da Club”) courtesy of MP3s downloaded from Napster onto our iPods.
Thus, you can imagine our ear-to-ear grins watching the entire performance revolving around the legacy of Dr. Dre, who’s been the architect of West Coast hip-hop for 35 years.
It was only fitting to open with Dre rising up from a studio console to join his pal Snoop Dogg on “The Next Episode.” “La-da-da-da-dah, it’s the one and only D.R.E.” Props to Snoop for creatively cleaning up his lyrics for the kids — “Dr. Dre, little busters!”
“California Love” was perfect for a Super Bowl played in Inglewood. The only thing missing was a 2Pac hologram, which I wagered $5 on in a family Super Bowl pool. I was hoping the late great would appear digitally from beyond the grave like previous hologram concerts through his estate. Sigh, at least Snoop was a worthy stand-in for Pac.
Dre’s Aftermath protégé 50 Cent was a pleasant surprise, dangling upside-down like the music video to “In Da Club.” Social media is ragging on his “Dad Bod,” but let’s see y’all hang upside-down 20 years after your prime. 50 can surely handle the disses. He’s been hit with a few shots, but he don’t walk with a limp. No body shaming on my watch!
Same for Mary J. Blige, who crooned atop dollhouse dioramas that resembled ’90s house parties and symbolized Black music entering white homes. Blige’s “Family Affair” was the perfect selection (“Don’t need no hateration, holleration in this dancery”), followed by “No More Drama,” collapsing on stage like the Oscar-nominated star she is (“Mudbound”).
Next up was Kendrick Lamar, who clearly had the coolest choreography of them all, moving in rigid, syncopated movements inside a bunch of boxes marked “Dre Day.” As Lamar emerged from the pattern with his microphone, he delivered his signature “To Pimp a Butterfly” track “Alright,” before repeating the phrase, “Forgot About Dre” as a setup.
Enter Eminem, who rapped a small snippet of “Forgot About Dre.” I’m disappointed the top-selling artist of the 2000s only got one song, but his epic rendition of “Lose Yourself” reminded us of why it’s the quintessential underdog rap story. Eminem proved a Detroit guy could win in L.A. — just like ex-Lions QB turned Rams champion Matthew Stafford.
You’ll notice Eminem took a knee after his performance, something the Super Bowl folks warned them all not to do. On the one hand, it’s an example of privilege (Eminem knew he could get away with it, while the others couldn’t). On the other hand, it was a defiant statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and Colin Kaepernick.
It all culminated with Dre returning to the stage to play a white piano, tickling the ivories for a bit of 2Pac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” before going into his catchiest riff, “Still D.R.E.,” also off “The Chronic 2001,” proving he’s the mastermind behind a generation of bomb beats.
After a standing ovation, my joy turned to rage realizing how sad it is that it took this long for a hip-hop halftime. Each one of these artists could have easily headlined on their own years ago. If you have a gut reaction to cringe at that statement, I invite you to carefully crawl out from under the willfully ignorant rock you’ve been living under for way too long.
Look, y’all know that I defend classic Boomer music and movies all the time on WTOP (it’s amazing stuff), but “doing your research” has to go both ways. You can’t pat yourself on the back for defying your parents with Elvis and The Beatles, then criticize your own kids for doing the same. Instead of hating what you don’t understand, lean into it and learn.
To all the “get off my lawn” haters on cable news, let me remind you that it’s not a badge of honor to proudly admit that you haven’t followed popular music for the past 30 years. When you go to write, “Not my music,” you might as well declare, “I’m out of touch.” When you feign outrage that Dre mentions police, you might as well yell at the sky for being blue.
This isn’t some newfangled stuff that aimless teens play on their phones. These songs are 20 to 30 years old! Hell, we are almost 40 years old. Some folks have a lot of catching up to do, just like the NFL has a lot of catching up to do with hiring diverse head coaches.
It’s not too late to come aboard. We welcome you with open arms. But the train is leaving the station soon. We’re moving on to a more inclusive future where we can sing Garth Brooks and DMX in the same breath. Punch your ticket. Better yet, scan it. All aboard.