On Sunday, the Black Eyed Peas performed at the Super Bowl halftime show to scattered praise, a good deal of scorn, and mass indifference. It was another relatively dull halftime for the NFL, which has used the post-Janet Jackson years to book the least offensive acts possible. Occasionally, this has been a good thing, like when Bruce Springsteen played two years ago or Prince brought down the house in 2007. But it also breeds events like this year's show, in which Slash coming out to sing "Sweet Child O' Mine" with Fergie was somehow supposed to be exciting.
The NBA doesn't book huge acts for its biggest halftime extravaganza, the All-Star game halftime show, but it does take a few more chances. So keep that in mind when you take a look at the performers for this All-Star weekend. From the league's press release:
Grammy Award-winning international superstars Rihanna and Lenny Kravitz will headline the 2011 NBA All-Star Entertainment Series presented by American Express. Kravitz will tip off the 60th NBA All-Star Game, on Sunday, Feb. 20 with a special performance during the player introductions while Rihanna will perform at halftime. [...]
As the headliner for the NBA All-Star Entertainment Series presented by American Express, pop diva Rihanna will mesmerize basketball fans at half-time performing her single What's My Name in addition to her chart-topping hit Only Girl (In the World) off of her current album Loud.
The NBA also announced that Josh Groban and Melanie Fiona will sing the American and Canadian anthems, respectively, and Kravitz will perform his "Come On Get It," a song that's been used in TNT ads throughout the season. So let's be clear -- most of the people who will be playing this weekend are corporate drones just like the Black Eyed Peas. This goes especially for Lenny Kravitz, who seems to produce songs these days mostly for their earning potential in commercials.
The real story here is the choice of Rihanna. Although her music is aimed firmly at the mainstream, her live performing style is far more dangerous than her sound. Unlike Fergie, Rihanna sports a ferocious sexuality and prefers bizarre leather-clad outfits reminiscent of some S&M garb. That's part of why her new video for the song "S&M" has provoked controversy you'd never see from a Black Eyed Peas song about partying in a spaceship of multicultural love, or whatever.
In truth, Rihanna is only a controversial figure in the world of pop music -- a really brash choice would involve having Lightning Bolt alienate 99 percent of the viewing audience. But for a popular professional sports league, this is a strong choice. Congratulations to the NBA. Next time, just make sure there's some element of surprise in what songs your headliner will perform at halftime.