Warning: this post has nothing to do with albums at all.
After watching Super Bowl XLIX (49)’s halftime performance, I was inspired to re-watche every halftime show I could find online since 1991. In case you didn’t know, 1991 is the year that the biggest American sports event of the year seemed to realize the intermission was actually an opportunity for marketing and expanding their audience. Previously, this gig was reserved for marching bands and Disney characters. Surprisingly, it was NKOTB that launched us into this new tradition, but it wasn’t until two years later that halftime became the pop-star driven spectacle it is now.
Anyway, I am a sucker for a top 10 list. So here are some moments that make this a performance I don’t want to miss each year.
10. The Rolling Stones, 2006
I found it pretty strange that in the post-Janet era, between 2005 and 2010, half of the halftime acts for this uber-American event were Brits. All were men. Overall, I think the Rolling Stones approached this gig strangely, playing only 3 songs including the lame and forgettable “Rough Justice”. However, Jagger had the energy of a young colt, as usual, and danced around a stage shaped as The Stones’ trademark lips. That was cool.
9. Madonna, 2012
Three moments cross my mind for this one. When she arrives for vogue in this chariot pulled by all the warriors/dancers who are dressed as a sort of Egyptian/Roman hybrid. Epic is an understatement for this moment. Also when CeeLo Green joins her on stage in front of a massive gospel choir to sing “Like a Prayer”, and when the Cirque du Soliel guy bounces on the wire. These things mostly made up for the fact that she premiered that unfortunate LUV Madonna song.
8. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, 2009
Even though I’m personally not the biggest Springsteen fan, I feel like he’s maybe the best choice for the Super Bowl gig. There were two great moments in this performance (aside from the fact that these guys were born to play live). The first was his weird, excitable intro where he told viewers to “back up from the guacamole” and “put down the chicken wings!” The second was as he slid on his knees, crotch first into the camera man.
7. Katy Perry, 2015
That time that Missy Elliott made a comeback, and rap was given the stage for more than one verse. Also, when the shark on the left was so drunk. This link is for the whole performance, but the shark moment is around 5:40, and Missy shows up at 7:14.
6. Janet Jackson, 2004
NO. I’m not talking about the nip-slip that made the halftime producers afraid to put women on the stage again for 6 whole years, and that pretty much ruined Janet’s career, but as usual, left the man involved (Justin Timberlake) even more popular. Though memorable, it may have been the worst in my books. What I am talking about is when Janet Jackson performs Rhythm Nation 15 years after she released it, and it didn’t feel like a throwback. Still doesn’t.
5. Prince, 2007
One of my favourite halftime performances of all time. Prince just performs like the legendary musician he is. But the two moments that make this list are when he covers the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” because it was just so unexpected and classy, and when he closes his 12 minutes with Purple Rain. In the rain. With an incredible solo on his symbol-shaped guitar. Everything about that was cool.
4. Diana Ross, 1996
“Here comes my ride!” she says, as a helicopter lands. On the stage (which has transformed into a helipad). Then the diva herself gets strapped in and waves goodbye. This is by 100% the best finale to a halftime performance ever. And I assume this is now 100% illegal.
3. U2, 2002
After September 11th, most performers would not touch this gig with a 10-foot pole. This Irish band performs a humble and touching set of just three songs: “Beautiful Day,” “MLK,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”. The moment, of course, is the entire last song when Bono sings in front of a tall fabric-screen, where a projection of all the names of 9/11 victims are scrolling. The whole thing feels like a gift from a small nation that knows a little something about terrorism, violence, and grief.
2. Beyoncé, 2013
When Beyoncé brings back Destiny’s Child, and Kelly and Michelle launch out of the stage from below to sing “Bootylicious”, “Independent Women Part 1”, and part of “Single Ladies”. The other moment is every time Beyoncé does anything. For example, when she makes her eyes big. Or smiles. Never mind when she sings or dances. Seriously, this performance is flawless in every possible criterion.
1. Michael Jackson, 1993
This is really the performance that started it all. The show starts with two fake MJ’s, jumping on top of the large replay screens. Finally, the real Michael launches up center-stage, and just stands there without moving for 90. whole. seconds. As much as I wish he used that time to add another song to the set, he just proved that he can do that. Also, he has his boss guitarist, Jennifer Batten with him, so that’s a win. Some would call the end of his set cheesy, as he’s surrounded by some 300 children singing “Heal the World”. The thing is, there is something seriously hopeful about this whole moment. Like, people still believed the world could be healed. Or maybe that was just Michael.
So there you go. Some close calls were Sting’s duet with Gwen Stefani in 2003, Stevie Wonder tap dancing in 1999, and in 1998 when basically every surviving artist of Motown got on the same stage (and began to redeem the year before when white guys did a soul throwback).
Did you have some favourite moments from Super Bowl performances? What did I miss? Are you mad I left off Britney Spears or Brian Boitano?
These two albums beat their opponents with roughly the same percentage (around 75%). Knocking out any chance of the past 25 years being represented, our two finalists come from the 60’s and 80’s respectively. It’s your call who is named the most favourite album of all-time, and the winner of March Music Madness. Do you subscribe to the belief in the 60’s as a golden era? Or are you more interested in the return of r&b to the world of mainstream pop. Nearly all of the music we listen to today is somehow a reference of one of these brilliant and influential records that you love so much. Here are the full vinyl copy tracklists for your reference and convenience.
ABBEY ROAD – The Beatles
SIDE A 1. Come Together 2. Something 3. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer 4. Oh! Darling 5. Octopus’s Garden 6. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
SIDE B 1. Here Comes the Sun 2. Because 3. You Never Give Me Your Money 4. Sun King 5. Mean Mr. Mustard 6. Polythene Pam 7. She Came In Through the Bathroom Window 8. Golden Slumbers 9. Carry That Weight 10. The End 11. Her Majesty
THRILLER – Michael Jackson
SIDE A 1. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ 2. Baby Be Mine 4. The Girl is Mine (feat. Paul McCarntey) 5. Thriller 6. Beat It
SIDE B 1. Beat It (feat. Eddie Van Halen) 2. Billie Jean 3. Human Nature 4. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) 5. The Lady in My Life
Time to pit the four conferences against each other in two votes to determine the final winner of Music March Madness! The first match-up is the winner of the Since 2000 Bracket against that of the 50’s/60’s Bracket.
The Since 2000 winner is the #3 seed, Arcade Fire’s FUNERAL. Their debut album is regularly a favourite from the decade, and hailed in a popular return of epic rock anthems with tracks like “Tunnels”, “Wake Up”, and “Rebellion (Lies)”. It’s also the only Canadian-made record to make it this far, beating classic albums from Erykah Badu, The White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, and finally Radiohead to make it to the final 4.
The winner of the 50’s/60’s bracket is The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and this should probably not surprise me as much as it did. People love The Beatles. You do, clearly. And Abbey Road is classic in every way an album can be, from one of the most iconic band’s of the 60’s, with classic songs (“Come Together”, “Octopus’s Garden”, and “Here Comes the Sun”, to name 3 of them), and even classic cover art. This 10th seeded record of the conference is to date The Beatles’ best-selling album of all-time.
The second match-up is between the winners of the 90’s conference and the 70’s/80’s conference.
Thriller is the highest seeded album to make the final 4, with the automatic #2 spot of the 70’s/80’s for it’s high-selling status. Thriller continues to sell more copies than any other record ever made, and features Michael Jackson in a state that we all wish we could remember him best. Forget what songs came from this album? “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Wanna Be Starting Something”, “P.Y.T.” to name a few. Oh yeah, and the title track.
Representing the 90’s is The Fugees’ soulful female rapper, Ms. Lauryn Hill, on her brilliant solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Not only is this one of the most commercially successful rap albums of the 1990’s, but it also signifies the return of soulful r&b from a woman who can freaking sing. Refreshingly, she also has something to say beyond the predictable sexy r&b we were so used to in 1998. To get to the final four, she has faced off against some of the best rock from the decade, including U2’s Achtung Baby, Weezer, Alanis Morisette, and most recently (and perhaps surprisingly), Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Today is one of my favourite days of the year because it is the day that the final four NCAA basketball teams of March Madness battle in two games to determine who will play the finals on Monday. I have a bit of time between games, so it’s time to finally move on to the March Music Madness’ match-ups between the Elite Eight! Basically, these are the finals of each conference/era, so it’s kind of a big deal. What albums do you want to represent each conference in the final 4?
*UPDATE: These brackets will be open for a short time only. Get your votes in here before 7pm PST on Apr. 8th, and make sure you come back soon after that for the Final Four!
For the Since 2000 Conference we have Radiohead and Arcade Fire.
In the 90’s we have Ms. Lauryn Hill going up against Nirvana.
In the 70’s-80’s Conference, I was shocked to learn that The Joshua Tree is going up against Thriller.
And finally, for the music of the 1950’s/60’s Conference, two downright classics in Kind of Blue and Abbey Road go head-to-head.
I have been waiting and waiting for this. I still have one more category to go after today, but I have been anticipating this particular group of ten videos more than any others. Here are the top 10 dance music videos of all time:
10. Runaway – Kanye West, 2010. Directed by Fredrico Fellini & Stanley Kubrick.
Why yes, I am one of those who think Kanye will get the Grammy nod this year for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but that’s not the point. This video is strikingly beautiful in its juxtoposition of ballet dancers, warehouse setting, and Kanye’s rap, yet everything works more than anything the rest of us could have imagined. By far the most noteworthy excerpt from the full-length film. If you do still want to watch the whole thing, you can watch it here.
9. Like a Boy – Ciara, 2006. Directed by Diane Martel.
The choreography is great, but that’s not even why it’s here. Sure, Ciara isn’t the only woman to ever try to use a music video to question gender roles, but here she plays both parts incredibly well, always looks super fly, and shows off her moves, which are as smooth as ever in this vid. I think we also get a kick out of watching Ciara grab her crotch and kiss her biceps.
8. Vogue – Madonna, 1990. Directed by David Fincher.
Perhaps I should have warned you, there is something about a black and white dance video, because this is clearly not the first and certainly won’t be the last. The dance in this video is subtle, because Vogue is all about the relationship between style, grace, and attitude. But it is indeed a dance, and has inspired many partiers throughout the following decades to “strike a pose” whenever the moment deems it appropriate.
7. Alright – Janet Jackson, 1990. Directed by Julien Temple.
In the style of a 50’s musical, we get to watch Janet have fun dancing around an old-school New York in a pinstripe suit. Madonna got to do Dick Tracy that year, and perhaps Janet got jealous and made this video? I dunno, but “Alright” is proving to stand the test of time, and even being referenced by other younger dancers like Usher (at 1:35 in this Janet tribute) and Chris Brown in Yeah 3x.
6. Tightrope – Janelle Monae, 2010. Directed by Wendy Morgan.
Perhaps I should have also warned you of the number of women in suits that appear on this list! Janelle Monae (if you don’t know her, here’s a blog I posted earlier this year) is a genius, and her feet are full of magic. As for the video, it has a great story, the production is perfect, and it makes us want to dance just like Janelle Monae, although most of us can’t because of my previous sentence.
5. Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO, 2011. Directed by Mickey Finnegan.
I’m positive this is the only video from this year I’ll have in any of my lists. I’ve hummed and hawed over it; how can we possibly know if this will stand the test of time? I guess we can’t, and at the rate that many of us are watching it, there will likely come a time when we are so sick of shuffling. However, I’m not there yet, and this video has a hilarious concept, and some truly great hipster dancing… which until PRA, I had thought was an oxymoron.
4. Lose Control – Missy Elliott feat. Ciara & Fat Man Scoop, 2005. Directed by Dave Meyers.
This video reminds me of reminds me of a video game the way it finds itself in 5 distinct settings as if they are levels to achieve. Each one is full of stark and surprising visuals that incorporate some truly phenomenal dancing. Besides, even in real life the combination of Missy and Ciara is one of my faves to dance to!
3. Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – Beyonce, 2008. Directed by Jake Nava.
This has become the “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” of music videos; it is one of the most parodied videos of late; although attempted by many the dance is actually really difficult; and the whole thing – although Beyonce and her dancers are scantily clad – comes off as incredibly classy. It’s because of this that “Single Ladies” has been elevated to legendary status.
2. Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson, 1986. Directed by Colin Chilvers.
Although we don’t understand what’s going on (even in the context of Moonwalker – the film for which Smooth Criminal is the climax) we can’t help but be sucked in to the general action of gangsters in a nightclub. Not only is it full of drama and intrigue and costume and swagger, but the quintessential Jackson moves that, for most of us, define our pop King.
1. Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson, 1989. Directed by Dominic Sena.
The only person in the world that could beat MJ in a music video contest is his sister. Choreographed by Anthony Thomas (who also choreographed “Alright”) this video uses a harsh militant routine that fits with the song and setting of an abandoned warehouse, and shows off Janet dancing unlike she ever has before (or after for that matter). With the very short exception of some solo dance moments, the group is always dancing together in tight formation to a street style that seems as though it musically and physically demonstrates what a true rhythm nation could be. Or perhaps it’s just a lot of fun to dress up and look tough. Either way, I’m sold. Although it sounds crazy cheesy, and I know nostalgia is probably working against me, this video still has the power to inspire hope and desire for a better world. If you could stomach more of me praising JJ’s Rhythm Nation, here’s my blog devoted to the whole album.
PS. I can’t not mention the runner up for this list, because it was so hard to leave out. Another video by Wendy Morgan, this time for Gnarles Barkley’s “Going On”. Check it out if you have time and space to move in your seat. My other difficult choices in case you’re interested, were MJ’s Bad and Daft Punk’s Around the World.