Madonna and the Super Bowl Halftime Show
The above cartoon was circulating around Facebook on the morning of the Superbowl.
As you can see, the cartoonist is playing on one of Madonna’s several personae in advance of the Super Bowl, the championship of what the United States calls “football” and what the rest of the world calls “American football,” (because it clearly isn’t soccer!), a central event on the pop-cultural calendar.
Before we, the viewers, got to the halftime show, we had already seen not only half of the athletic event, but several of the famously high-priced commercials. Creative talent is poured into these ads every year, to draw our eyes and delay our bathroom breaks yet again.
One of the first-half commercials involved Elton John, Melanie, and Flavor Flav, combining their efforts to sell us Pepsi.
But we came in time to half time and to the usual musical extravaganza. Some of the greatest musical performers and celebrities of our day have performed at Super Bowl’s half time, including Ella Fitzgerald (Super Bowl VI), Chubby Checker (XXII), The Rolling Stones (XL), and – the last time the Super Bowl matched the Giants against the Patriots, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (XLII). That game was certainly a heartbreaker for Patriots fans – and this one only compounded that fracture.
This year, for Super Bowl XLVI, Madonna joined that august company, singing “Vogue,” “Music,” “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” and “Like a Prayer.” Here it is for you: click.
Three of those four songs were among her classics. The fourth, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” was new; it had become available on iTunes just two days before.
The first airing of the video to the new song took place in the context of an interview on Anderson Cooper’s show, in which she confessed to some nerves. Though this video opens with rows of football jerseys thrown at Madonna’s feet, like palm fronds, Madonna is seen soon thereafter briefly doing a Marilyn Monroe look-alike schtick. She had gone to that well before.
One of her classic early videos, Material Girl, includes about as explicit a bit of Monroe impersonation as one can find. Madonna does an almost step-by-step emulation of the number “Diamond’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Monroe’s 1953 movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the original.
What is not hype, is perhaps synchronicity. The day after the Super Bowl, a new television series called “Smash” is set to air on NBC. “Smash” is an innovation in the TV series format – a use of the series format to look at the creation of a Broadway musical.
The musical that the main characters are struggling to create will be about the life of (you guessed it) Marilyn Monroe, object of Madonna’s, and everybody else’s, retrospective obsession. Indeed, the obsessive nature of our interest in Marilyn was evidenced in 1997, by the otherwise unlikely success of the song “Candle in the Wind,” by the aforementioned Elton John.
By the way, there was a real-life Broadway musical about Marilyn’s life. Marilyn: An American Fable (1983). It included the number, “Can’t Keep My Heart From Racin’,”by Beth Lawrence. You can listen to it here.
Alas, “An American Fable” was a flop, closing after only seventeen performances. Let’s hope the TV series fares better.
Back to Madonna
Ah, but enough with my train-of-association. Back to Madonna and the halftime show. In a pre-game interview with ABC News, Madonna said, “I actually wanted to have 100 drummers come from the ceiling, a drumline from the ceiling.”
That would be the ceiling of Lucas Oil Stadium, in Indianapolis. Apparently, though, somebody nixed the drumline-from-roof idea. Instead, she was carried about by Roman legions.
The contrast between an oak tree and a willow comes to mind here. The gist of it is that the oak tree is impressive and strong looking, but vulnerable to a storm. The wispy looking willow, due to its flexible, is more apt to survive a storm. In show business terms, Marilyn Monroe was an oak tree, destroyed by her own success and the machinery of celebrity. Madonna is a willow, whose flexibility in re-creating herself every few years has allowed her career to thrive decade after decade.
Madonna first came to the attention of much of the public in the film Desperately Seeking Susan, a 1985 movie in which she plays Susan Thomas, the free spirit of the title who, by example, liberates bored suburban housewife Roberta Glass, played by Rosanna Arquette. The two are dressed up as twins on the movie poster:
Through the remainder of 1985, young girls called “wannabes” did their best to imitate the “Susan” look. But of course Madonna herself soon moved on, to the bullet bras that seem to have stuck in the mind of the cartoonist with whom we began, for example.
The bullet bra was the creation of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier for Madonna’s 1990 tour, “Blonde Ambition.”
The year 1990 saw another development we have to mention here. It was the year Madonna came out with “Vogue,” a song and video named after a dance style associated with the gay men’s ballroom scene, and one that was simultaneously popularized by the documentary “Paris is Burning.”
Lyrics to Vogue
The lyrics to Madonna’s “Vogue” combine gay sensibility with the suggestion that heteros should join in the fun, and some good-ole-days nostalgia for classic Hollywood.
Greta Garbo, and Monroe
Deitrich and DiMaggio
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine
Grace Kelly; Harlow, Jean
Picture of a beauty queen
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire
Ginger Rodgers, dance on air
They had style, they had grace
Rita Hayworth gave good face
Lauren, Katherine, Lana too
Bette Davis, we love you
Ladies with an attitude
Fellows that were in the mood
Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it
Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it.
Allow us to conclude with our best wishes to all, our hope that all of those who read and enjoy this blog and website have decades upon decades of vigorous life ahead not as candles in the wind, but as defiant fluorescent light bulbs!