Unless you were born with the first name “Prince,” there’s really only so much a performer can do with the Super Bowl halftime show slot, and Bruno Mars did plenty with his. Though it lacked the Olympian heft of Beyonce’s stand last year, or the sheer spectacle and requisite FCC-trolling of Madonna’s pageantry the year previous, Mars relied on a lot of flash, a hefty dose of Famous Flames-style stagecraft, and a requisite hat tip to the military for a winningly unprepossessing performance.
Running through four proper songs in 14 minutes while still leaving time for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to stage a pleasantly brief “Give It Away” cameo, a sparkly-suited Mars kicked off proceedings with a splashy drum solo good enough to attract some wildly overblown Ginger Baker comparisons from Fox commentators.
Though best known for the sort of four-quadrant pop radio hits that often give the short-shrift to his songwriting, Mars’ live act has always been more about old school showmanship, and his rapid-fire medley of “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Treasure” and “Runaway Baby” saw him draw straight from the chitlin’ circuit playbook several times. Whether locking in with his backing band for some loosely coordinated routines, doing the splits or going full-on Ronald Isley, Mars frequently played older than his baby-faced 28-year-old visage would have suggested.
The Chili Peppers (whose booking was allegedly a sop to “older” viewers, inspiring this 31-year-old writer to start suddenly worrying about his 401k) maintained the energy level upon their entrance, with Anthony Kiedis and Flea going shirtless in the New Jersey cold, and drummer Chad Smith wisely opting for a knit cap. Superimposing footage of overhead fireworks over Mars singing centerfield perhaps pushed the broadcast into cheesiness during the set-closing “Just the Way You Are,” but Mars acquitted himself admirably throughout.
Prior to kickoff, Queen Latifah was joined by the New Jersey Youth Choir for a faithful if unremarkable run through “America the Beautiful,” and famed soprano Renee Fleming predictably nailed a climactic glory note at the end of her rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”