Super Bowl halftime shows are, of course, bland blimps of branding; processed cheese whiz for the widest possible audience, which no amount of excess, earnestness, or manufactured controversy can puncture. So I was surprised to feel a touch of sadness as I watched Prince roll out all the empty signifiers one would expect from a Pepsi commercial: the atonal call-and-response with “authentic” fans; the writhing Aussie twinbots, and the accessory du jour, the marching band. Prince was once so transgressive, so outsider, and so defiantly himself, and now here he was warbling feeble medley versions of 20-year-old songs. The only song that stood up to the ant-in-a-swimming-pool staging was “Purple Rain,” and that was only because it always was a lighters-aloft arena power ballad anyway.
The Purple One could not even shock sartorially: In his teal frock coat and orange shirt, he looked like Little Richard dressed as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader, and although I was glad to see him strap on the purple glyph guitar for “Purple Rain,” I half expected him to coax a fountain of Pepsi from it, in a nod to the fret board autoeroticism of his past live shows.
Or maybe it was just a sign of the times. Perhaps what I’m really offended by is the fact that my musical heroes are now officially irrelevant.