There’s an arguable level of unfairness to tacking Beyoncé onto any concert bill. Like everything else she does, her performances are more of an event than merely hopping on stage and singing. So arriving at one of the most important annual sporting events, the Super Bowl, her halftime appearance becomes an event within an event. The theme for this year though? Redemption.
Rewind to Super Bowl XLVII, when Bey was previously the halftime main attraction. She reunited with Destiny’s Child on stage that year; she effectively used pyrotechnics. She was made into a meme after a few unflattering photos circulated online and rumor had it that she wanted them removed. It became some sort of sick burn of Regina George levels for the internet. The “now it’s our turn” revenge of the nerds, full of photoshopping Bey into weightlifting competitions and Incredible Hulk costumes for the fuck of it. There was also a charming little documentary that circulated, suggesting Beyoncé worshipped Satan, paired with the Super Bowl stage set up as some sort of Illuminati-slash-Satanic crop sign full of flames. It was all so weird, but by the end of that calendar year, Beyoncé would deliver her eponymous album, full of no fucks given and a brand new era for King Bey. So in essence, three years later, a brand new superstar was performing for Super Bowl 50.
The stars were only partially aligned for this blessed event. Coldplay had just recently released the video for their track with Beyoncé, “Hymn For the Weekend.” The visuals oozed appropriation, as Chris Martin danced through the streets of Mumbai like that white guy at Indian restaurants who purposefully puts on a horrific accent as he orders chicken tikka masala. Bey gingerly slid into the role of a Hindu deity, but since most of us think she’s God anyway, this wasn’t so much of a stretch. The assumption was that she and Martin would join the stage together to perform this track, but the video’s backlash may have thwarted those plans. Then there was the pop-up rumor that Bey would be announcing a second pregnancy on stage. Then that was washed away by Beyoncé releasing the track “Formation”—complete with a video that epitomized Black pride and offered a much-needed Blue Ivy update. Lots of fingers were crossed for what would come from this fateful Super Bowl Sunday.
Gaga slayed the National Anthem, decked in a shimmering red tux with matching glittered eye shadow. Then the Panthers and the Broncos did football things. By halftime, the stage was set for Coldplay to begin. There was already a problem when Martin et al. recreated a diluted version of Holi, the ancient Hindu spring festival of love. The Astroturf was checkered with children and flowers, as Coldplay played a selection of their hits, including “Viva La Vida,” “Paradise,” and “Adventure of a Lifetime.” Chris Martin slid up and down the stage, as a random fan dabbed the droplets of sweat on his forehead with the gay flag. The stage then revolved to Mark Ronson on the ones and twos, as Bruno Mars arrived to deliver a very Bruno Mars performance. Leather jumpsuits, dookie ropes. Mars and his backup dancers looked like BBD meets WTF, but it was a cute little rendition of “Uptown Funk” that served as a reasonable intro for the arrival of Beyoncé.
And then she came.
Black leather bodysuit, golden bandolier, black garter belt, a crown of loose curls. Her costume was an obvious homage to Michael Jackson’s outfit from his legendary Super Bowl XXVII performance. Bey was flanked by a whole squad of women in berets, dressed very reminiscent of Black Panthers. And then she did it. She performed “Formation,” before a crowd that gurgles beer and chants as predominantly Black athletes crash into each other. How’s that for the most subtle “fuck you” to the audience—who found it hilarious to mock her three years prior for not looking Photoshop Fresh for three seconds? How’s that for thinking one of the biggest stars in the history of pop music wouldn’t acknowledge who she is and where she comes from, as racial tension has reached its tipping point? How’s that for forgetting who the fuck Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter was and what she came to do? This moment wasn’t for you, and it wasn’t even for me. But I’m still at a standing ovation hours later.
And Bey danced and sang with her on-brand level of intensity, even doing a little battle with Bruno Mars, who by then was reduced to a hypeman. That was until Chris Martin came back and then it looked like that awkward moment at the MTV Awards when Lil Mama came on stage with Jay Z and Alicia Keys. A “Clocks”-“Fix You”-“Up & Up” medley was the soundtrack as a screen played clips from historic Super Bowl performance moments, including the aforementioned MJ, along with Whitney Houston’s “Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV, and many others. Beyoncé, Martin, and Mars then did the obligatory sway and sing-off while the nosebleed seats revealed a message of “Believe in Love” over them at the performance’s close. Had it ended there, someone would have argued the trifecta of performers made that moment the most impactful. However, what followed proved otherwise. As the Super Bowl moved to commercial break following halftime, a mini-trailer for Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour arrived, with tickets on sale February 15. Coldplay? Bruno? Bueller? Bueller? The Denver Broncos may have won Super Bowl 50, but it was once again Beyoncé, in true Beyoncé fashion, dominating the post-game discussion.
Kathy Iandoli also has hot sauce in her bag. Follow her on Twitter.