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Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani Are Just a Girl and Hollaback Boy Co-Headlining Super Bowl Music Fest

Mickey Guyton, who will perform the National Anthem before Sunday's game, opened the show.

Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani perform
Christopher Polk for Variety

With Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani co-headlining the second night of the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest in Los Angeles, it was a certainty that the audience would get duet versions of “Nobody But You” and “Happy Anywhere,” the two Shelton-hits-with-Stefani-harmonies that they often perform together even when they’re just in town for each other’s shows. Although those marked the only moments the marrieds appeared on stage together during a long night at Crypto.com Arena, there were also a good amount of references to one another during their respective sets, with the country superstar in particular playing it mock-humble as he compared himself derogatorily to the woman he called “Mrs. Shelton.”

“Who in the hell had the idea for me to go on after Gwen Stefani?” Shelton asked rhetorically, removing the “missus” designation for the moment. “The next part of the show is gonna suck compared to what you just experienced. … The last thing I need is to wake up tomorrow and read the damn L.A. Gazette or whatever we have here and it says ‘Gwen Stefani steals the show.’ So y’all can tell I’m struggling.”

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Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani perform onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

While the Gazette has yet to weight in with a review, Shelton did have a point, whether he really meant it or not. Although his rarely broken track record of No. 1 songs in the country format may make him the more viable commercial recording artist at this point, and thus perhaps the inevitable closer in a billing of equals, Stefani had — if nothing else going for her  — by far the bigger and snazzier production, with a team of nine dancers, a bigger band and a lot more video-screen dazzle than her husband’s few-frills approach to staging. And she does have more going for her besides the accoutrements, with a relentlessly high-energy performance style that had her registering about 50 steps on her fitness app for every one of Shelton’s.

She doesn’t have a “Hillbilly Bone” in her body, despite Shelton’s claim that everybody does; meanwhile, a pop gun may be the only firepower he doesn’t want to use his 2nd amendment rights to employ. With so few real points of comparison between their disparate styles, It would be reasonable to call it a draw(l).

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Mickey Guyton performs onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

Friday night’s show at Crypto.com started with an opening set by the only performer on any of the three Super Bowl Music Fest nights by someone who will also be on duty Sunday for the actual Super Bowl: Mickey Guyton, who’s set to sing the National Anthem before the game. As much time as Shelton and Stefani spent joking about their deeply unfelt fears about being upstaged by the other, they could have devoted some of that time to worrying about Guyton, who’s not in a commercial place to necessarily steal hearts, minds and wallets but did put on a master class in country-pop singing in her half-hour on stage. Her ingratiating personality went a long way too with a crowd that still lacked full exposure to her, coming in — “It’s Mickey like the mouse, and guy who weights a ton,” she told the audience twice, for mnemonic effect, making no assumptions that her barrage of media attention this past year has made hers a household name.

Guyton showed again why she deserves to be an heir apparent to Carrie Underwood, with a small but impactful minority of songs hitting a pure country vein (“Smoke,” “Rosé”) and a more dominant strain of uplifting balladic material that’s suitable for any cross-genre demographic (“Lay It on Me,” an affectingly inspirational tune written to support her husband when he went through a health scare). What Guyton avoided for this brief get-to-know-me set was the most clearly pointed of the socially charged songs like “Black Like Me” that have also come to partly define her. But she snuck a message in anyway with “Different” (“Why would we want to fit in when we’re born to fit out?” she asked) and “All American,” an ode to diversity in the Trojan horse of a gung-ho patriotic anthem.

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Mickey Guyton at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

Stefani can be relied on to put on one of the best pop shows in the business, even if, with tours being fewer, these come in the form of one-off sponsored shows or her recently concluded residency at Zappos in Las Vegas. It does not hurt, in the Los Angeles area, that she is also a local — Anaheim pride is a real thing, and “Spiderwebs” is as much a Gen X SoCal semi-national anthem as a throwback to answering-machine nostalgia. But it’s hard to imagine the market or demographic that would not be won over by her combination of Nevada-ready razzle dazzle and a song catalog that straddles Pharrell and for-real rock ‘n’ roll.

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Gwen Stefani performs onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

Stefani made the initially stunning admission Friday that some of the old songs she was performing “suck” — followed quickly by an explanation that she dislikes them because they bring up sad times, but “I do them because I love you.” That may have been her way of explaining away why she did an only partial rendition of “Ex-Girlfriend,” one of No Doubt’s best singles, before letting it medley-ize in to the relentlessly unmelancholy “Hella Good,” maybe the best example of a rock/dance hybrid banger ever to have followed the Stones’ disco period.

Shelton’s set followed along foreseeable lines, for anyone who’s seen him before — the nod to the not-country-centric local market before expressing that everyone and every town has a hillbilly bone; the feigned uncertainty about whether to dig back into the early catalog, when he was just a star and not a galaxy; the boast that “I came here tonight to play country music and drink,” however little tippling is actually going to take place on stage. The setlist, anyway, is close to undeniable, even if some of his best No. 1s have effectively been retired from it; they should have their own jerseys on a wall. Anyone who thinks “Ol’ Red” is not going to get played, preceded by the threat that he might skip it, is barking up the wrong tree.

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Blake Shelton performs onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

The Bud Light Super Bowl Fest concludes Saturday night with the double-teaming of Green Day and Miley Cyrus.

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Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani perform onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety

 

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Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani perform onstage at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety
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Lindsay Ell and Mickey Guyton at Bud Light Super Bowl LVI Music Fest held at Crypto.com Arena on February 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk for Variety