We all have moments in our lives that, good or bad, get burned into our memories forever, where no amount of counseling or alcohol can unseat them. One of my sadder memories came at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, in 2004.
Yes, that halftime show.
My parents and I were eating ribs and watching Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake flop around the stage and do something resembling music. I didn’t have any idea who Janet Jackson was, save for that she was related to Michael Jackson, which clearly meant she was crazy, and this was back before it was cool to like Justin Timberlake – it would be another two years until Dick In A Box.
If you liked N'Sync, you were gay. If you liked men sticking their dicks in boxes, you were hip and trendy.
So I was watching with muted interest when, at the end of the halftime show, Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson’s top and out flopped a gelatinous, unappealing boob, in front of the entire country, for a good second or so before a merciful cutaway.
Janet Jackson wasn’t, and isn’t, an attractive woman by any means. But I was 15, and at 15 you can’t be too picky about what kind of boobs you get to see during primetime. That said, I knew quite well what a good boob looked like – thanks, shower scene in Starship Troopers - and I resented that in this serendipitous moment where a celebrity was unwittingly exposed on TV, the celebrity in question had to be one of the few whose boobs I wasn’t interested in.
Why not Christina Aguilera? Why not Beyonce? Katy Perry’s career was just getting started then, right? I mean, hell, can Carmen Electra sing? I still would’ve settled for her over Janet Jackson. But no – a female popstar’s costume bursts open during the Super Bowl halftime show and it had to belong to this woman:
You know what? To be honest, I’d rather see Timberlake’s dick. Yeah, I said it.
Right after it happened, I looked at my parents beside me to see that they had missed it – they were both bent over their ribs, facing their plates, blissfully ignorant of the fact that their son had just grown up a little bit more. I contemplated mentioning it to them, but really, what would I say?
“Hey look, Mom and Dad! Tits!”
I just let it slide and kept eating.
I’ve gone into every Super Bowl halftime since then with a little trepidation. This is because the absolute best halftime show in the world is, at the end of the day, just a short, spectacle-heavy rock concert in a venue with terrible acoustics. This format does not really allow for a performance of equal parts entertainment value and symbolic beauty; no halftime show has ever inspired a homeless man to turn his life around and achieve more than any man has achieved before. The best a halftime show can do is make a fat person wait to get another hot dog.
But while there’s a definite low ceiling for how much a halftime show can achieve, there seems to be no bottom for how badly they can do. And, if I can say anything to the credit of this year’s halftime show, Lady Gaga was not involved – so there’s nowhere to go but down.
I don’t strictly dislike The Black Eyed Peas. To borrow a phrase from Jack Donaghy, I haterespect them. I hate that they’re four individuals of dubious musical talent with ridiculous stage names who have been brought together seemingly only to write songs that piss me off; I respect that they’ve some made their song ‘I Gotta Feeling’, which is so earnestly repetitive and bad, the go-to soundtrack for every house party, nightclub, and sporting event in the world.
Naturally, that was the song they were singing when they got airdropped onto the stage, dressed like extras from The Fifth Element, surrounded by white clad dancers.* And, to be honest, it wasn’t that bad – the visuals were cool and I’ve heard the damn song so much that I can tune it out like the buzz of fluorescent lights.
*All of the dancers were clapping in time and doing the wave, so clearly they aren’t Oregon football fans heyoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
But then, Slash showed up.
Usually a member of Guns N’ Roses showing up makes anything, from a garage sale to a bris, thousands of times better – especially when it’s Slash, the coolest one! But not tonight, no.
So there’s Slash, playing the opening riff to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, and will.i.am shouts, “GIVE IT UP FOR SLASH, ERRYBODY!”, as though we would’ve thought the lanky guy with the Abe Lincoln hat playing Guns N’ Roses’ number one single would be anyone but Slash.
And then there was Fergie, gyrating all over Slash, singing the lyrics and absolutely pissing on this great song the same way she pissed herself at a concert a few years back.* I guess I don’t know what I expected to happen, because Axl Rose wasn’t there to sing. Maybe I just wanted to hear that guitar riff for a few minutes. That still beats the crap out of listening to Fergie sing it. To Slash’s credit, he didn’t seem to thrilled to have any part of this.
*This tidbit is really all I know about Fergie, and let me just say that when the only thing I know about a person is that they publicly wet themselves, it doesn’t bode well for my opinion of that person in the future.
Now, whenever I listen to Sweet Child O Mine, I’m going to think about that moment – the moment that Fergie changed a solid if not overbearing rock song into a hypersexualized, warbly abortion. I was fine with The Black Eyed Peas making their own shitty music, but this Super Bowl halftime show set the precedent that it’s okay for them to go out and destroy actual good music.
But hey – Janet Jackson’s saggy mammary sparked a backlash against smut in the media from the FCC. Maybe they’ll start fining rockstars hundreds of thousands of dollars for doing shitty covers of great songs. If that’s the case, Sebastian Bach had better watch his back.
Truman Capps wonders how many people Googled the word 'bris' and instantly lost respect for him.