February 3, 2015

Katy Perry plays the “Dark Horse” at Superbowl XLIX

This year’s installment of horrifying Chicago weather decided to show its face on Super Bowl Sunday instead of the first day of winter quarter classes. But it’s OK, unlike last year, we had some pretty good entertainment while we were cooped up inside. The Seahawks actually had to put up a fight this year and ultimately lost to the Patriots. But when halftime rolled around with the score tied and tension in the air, Katy Perry stepped in for a wildly entertaining twelve and a half minute break featuring Missy Elliot and Lenny Kravitz. Super Bowl XLIX had something for everyone.

Following the mandatory Pepsi-sponsored intro, Perry kicked off the halftime show dressed in a flame dress (reminiscent of The Hunger Games) singing “Roar” from the top of a golden, animatronic lion pacing the field. Perry has never been known for fabulous live vocals, but the NFL covered that base at the outset of the game by putting the Tony-winning, “Let It Go”–belting Idina Menzel on the national anthem and nine-time Grammy Award–winning John Legend on “America the Beautiful.” Menzel was perhaps a little nervous but hit her stride in time for a goose bump–raising finale. Perry is known for glam, fireworks, and what she calls “soft-serve sexiness.” At the end of the first song, the lion actually reared backward and roared. Somehow that lion was what we expected from the lady who’s been topping Billboard’s Hot 100 consistently since 2008 with one radio hit after another.

But what followed wasn’t just that. Her show took up the whole field with boldly animated floor designs and surges of colorfully lit balls bouncing across the floor above crowds of performers. Wildly dressed dancers appeared from nowhere. There were acrobatics. Lenny Kravitz appeared alongside Perry with his guitar to sing a rock-infused version of “I Kissed a Girl,” complete with fire and head banging. The beach setup—featuring dancing sharks and beach balls—­­was a slight misfire. A girl from my house smirked, saying, “Wow, The Wiggles got weird,” and it did initially feel out of place. However, it highlighted her attempt to break through with this performance: she was low on sexy, high on talent. Perry ran from song to song in tall but sensibly thick heels, pulling costume changes in the blink of an eye. Yet the most astonishing part of Perry’s performance, amidst the Olympic opening ceremony-style showmanship, were her diva-worthy vocals that filled the stadium. Maybe it was pre-recorded, but it didn’t look it. Perry was proving to a nation that she was a contender too.

Perry’s performance was good publicity for both her and the NFL. The NFL has faced harsh and likely fair criticism this past year about its handling of domestic violence. It’s caused a small uproar, and in damage control mode, it seems that the NFL made a smart choice picking a woman who—though not necessarily the very best role model—at the very least is a strong woman. The fact that her exciting performance was followed by an advertisement encouraging viewers to re-evaluate what it means to do something “like a girl” made it even more powerful. Katy Perry did the Super Bowl like a girl. There were sparkles and drama, and it was still striking. It’s a step.

Flying over the crowd on a star with a rainbow and sparks trailing it was probably over the top, but like a good cinematic emotional climax, Perry’s conclusion felt just as earned as it felt silly. Perry delivered a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing show of chart-topping hits. She was a powerhouse: the dark horse from her popular song. With her youthful spirit and looks, most probably don’t realize Perry is already leaving behind her “Teenage Dreams” and edging into her 30s, but if anything, she seems to be only beginning.