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It's not often we see an intersection of politics, music and sports. Every two years, with the soaring Olympics themes and the revealed doping scandals and payola with a judge or two and flag-waving expatriate athlete who can't speak the language of his adopted country, sure. Otherwise, not often.

Super Bowl 50

Politics of Super Bowl 50: Obscure and Blatant, Music and Money—Larry Wines

The morning after Super Bowl 50 brought an exception. On Monday, a BBC sports commentator took the occasion to nail it on all three counts. Referencing the coming primary election season as his springboard, he characterized America's Big Music industry as being "very much like America's attitude about sports" — "inward-looking," and to paraphrase, insular and unattuned to anything and anyone not in the contrived spotlight.

Of course that assessment resonates with fans of any music that isn't mass-market mainstream. Unless you create a rather specific "urban" sound or twang "Nashvul" country with its required "fahke ackscent," you are considered part of some wholly dismissable "niche market." For musicians and fans in the vast majority of music genres, their knuckles long ago went raw from fruitlessly banging on the doors of the Big Music empire.

The implications and ramifications are far reaching. Start with the Super Bowl or start anywhere. You could use that British sports commentator's point as your launchpad. So very many analogies apply to the state of affairs in music, and politics and money are intertwined far more than any reasonable expectation of art.

Like politics, music is both a fantasy world and a terrestrial realm. Mixing metaphors and references comes free flow. For anybody in "indie" music — anything that's not Big Music — there's a common focus: indict the keepers of the toll gate to Big Music's one-lane road. To do that, choose whichever scathing rant is your favorite. All of them are valid.

Take, for example, the one comparing Big Music to Big Oil. With both, there's the singular pursuit of perpetuating only more of the same. That, despite glaring economic realities of declining revenues from a diminishing singular paradigm. While all around, demand continues to grow for alternatives whose potentials are abundant and whose market shares are ignored — at the peril of the arrogant big boys.

Then there's the politics of manipulating the media in what gets acclaim and what is falsely encouraged to languish and starve from benign neglect — despite the enthusiasm of fans and proponents. Sure, the latter is status quo for genres like nationally popular Folk-Americana, up against sh-thump-thud soundalike urban pop. But it happens within pop music, too — where there are often racial, cultural, and quite exploitive dimensions.

Such was the case with the music performances at Super Bowl 50. Opposite ends of the spectrum were evident.

Before the opening kickoff, pop singer-songwriter Lady Gaga delivered her performance of the National Anthem. It was artful and pure powerhouse. That's saying something for an iconic song that's so often mutilated by unwelcome embellishments. More than with any other song, hundreds of thousands regularly hold their breath in dred when a pop singer is introduced to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Yes, Lady Gaga brought her own arrangement, with a theatrical reach skyward as the Navy's Blue Angels aerobatics team buzzed the stadium. In a fluid motion, she concluded the skyward salute with her hand over her heart. Patriotism or a solid underdtanding of performance perfection, she brought it.

But you need to search the "club" of mainstream pop music journalists or sensationalists (it's often hard to tell the difference there) to find someone lauding praise on Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl. Because, embarrassingly, that's being saved for Beyoncé and "her" halftime show, with sprinkles of accompanying laurels for the band Coldplay and Bruno Mars, who, oh-yeah-by-the-way, also took part.

Monday's media is filled with gushing superlatives for Beyoncé and specifically for her "going political in her super Super Bowl show." Huh?

Political? Comprehending that statement requires watching her music video that debuted Monday morning, following the live performance premiere on the football-field-turned-stage on Sunday. That day-after video has quick graphics of Black Lives Matter messages and blink-and-you'll-miss-it bits of sociopolitical imagery. None of which was evident in the halftime show.

Simply put, a lot of synchronized chorus line booty gyrating with feet planted twice shoulder width apart is not evocative of political discourse (or even of exceptional dance moves). And if the lyrics were supposed to convey political communication, that would have required a CNN-style screen crawl. The lyrical aspect was inscrutable.

Take your pick: All that fits within the purview of the entertainment critic, but will surely be received as political in some quarters. Already including places in Big Media where her marketing team want it regarded as political.

At the time, no coherent political message was discernable in the halftime show — and Beyoncé's contract with the NFL forbade any. Making Monday's media scrum to celebrate her performance as "boldly political" rather ridiculous.

Objectively? All around, Super Bowl 50's halftime show was devoid of innovative entertainment — to the point of being boring. An average Broadway show in any of its auxiliary song-and-dance numbers finishes miles ahead. Granted, since the demise of arts and music education in public schools beginning in the '90s, more than a full generation has come of age with no basis for comparing what’s artful with what's — bootylicious. No more artful than a group workout class. And essentially boring.

It is inconceivable that we should be the only ones with this response. Offering this as a statement of objective reality, not a projection of value-laden preferences, we believe it is a topic for analysis that's overdue. Start with the Super Bowl or anywhere you like. We are prepared to defend this as transcendent perspective.

Answer to a film about head injuries caused by football? Better to book some pop music people to gyrate their tushes. And get a winning quarterback to say he's going to go thank God and drink lots of Budweiser. The official beer of the Super Bowl.

In fact, in questioning why the mainstream media is celebrating Beyoncé and eschewing Gaga, we may have found the actual place where undue influence elbowed its way to the front.

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There is too much fear that Jay Z, Beyoncé's husband, choreographer and collaborator, will hijack a microphone from someone's hand (again) as he infamously did from Taylor Swift when the focus was properly supposed to be on Swift as an award recipient. Similarly, there's concern that Jay Z might otherwise launch into a center stage rant as he has done repeatedly to ridicule anyone who does not agree, without qualification, that his wife Beyoncé "is the greatest performer of all time."

Why doesn't other music media report, as we do, that Jay Z is an emphatically bullying bore who intimidates individuals and alters events with a repetitive rant that is solely his thesis, and not the collective conclusion of the media?

It is, of course, about much more than an entertainment mogul named Jay Z.

In the larger picture, perhaps Big Media flocks like lemmings to the support of anyone they believe might hurt them. It would explain their obsession with giving Donald Trump a megaphone instead of risking the economic consequences of his Trumpertantrum. The same point applies to anyone with enough money to cause trouble but craves publicity.

Specific to the politics of music in this Super Bowl? It's as if Big Media's dialog with itself is, "There's a threat of accusations of something racial? We aren't going there. Find out who they are and celebrate something-or-other about them."

Clearly, Big Media does pre-emptively give-in. We see it every day with news coverage of things that truly are political, but are presented as social phenomena with growing followings. Or the products of the only reasonable conclusions.

On multiple occasions, conservative groups — self-styled media watchdogs that demand Big Media maintain a conservative perspective (read bias) — have instituted boycotts of goods and services offered by sponsors of news programs, or entire networks. Hence, when the statistics were compiled to categorize guests on the gaggle of news/public affairs Sunday shows in 2015, four out of five guests were booked on the shows to push the conservative agenda.

Should we believe it's any different when other interests might make accusations — like those of racially-based "slights"-? Particularly when some sectors of entertainment have acted (or failed to act) resulting in detriment to unquestionably deserving artists of minority heritage?

When OSCAR voters failed to nominate Will Smith for Best Actor in "Concussion," it is easy to see that as being about fear — of the economic clout of the NFL and its team owners who sometimes finance feature film ventures. Thus, Will Smith deliverd one of 2015's most compelling performances in a hugely important film, one that was pretty much dramatized documentary? It was trounced, and public awareness of its subject matter was therefore diminished, as moneyed interests intended. The film was an inconvenient truth about the insidiously deadly nature of America's favorite huge-money sport and the financial empire of product endorsements, rich fans taking last-minute flights to away games, hotels and restaurants, and everything else that surrounds it.

Answer to a film about head injuries caused by football? Better to book some pop music people to gyrate their tushes. And get a winning quarterback to say he's going to go thank God and drink lots of Budweiser. The official beer of the Super Bowl. We're not sure about the official diety of the Super Bowl.

And along the way, Gaga's great performance gets pushed aside by Beyoncé's mediocre kinesthetics. Maybe because the former has never built a marketing machine like the latter's, driven by a kinesthetically intrusive rapper husband's intimidation.

Money. Politics. Music. Overhyped promotion. Contrived obscurity. Big entertainment. Big sports. There is no better place for this dialog than when it derives from the Super Bowl, the most overhyped event in American sports.

Just consider: plenty of analysis is extant on how "personal" our music preferences are to each of us in this society. But no one ever says things, as a music fan, that suggest they — individually — should be an acceptable projection onto the stage as an integral part of their favorite band's concert act. Okay, standing shirtless at the base of the stage — blocking everyone else's phone camera view — with arms raised like a winged victory trophy, comes close. It always seems dopey to everyone else for some random fan to look like he just won the Boston Marathon.

And that’s the limit. No one among us will countenance some music fan becoming "a band member" by saying "We really killed with that guitar solo and our encore made 'em love us!"

Music venue security is specifically trained to bounce anybody trying to bluff their way backstage or to a dressing room with that kind of ridiculous shtick. It's so unthinkably inappropriate that it's annoying and pathetic.

If you want something more personal than music — or the politics of music — look to sports.

Sports commentator Peter Boyles said, on 710 AM radio in Denver, Monday morning, "What's this 'We' won the Super Bowl!? There's no collective 'We' there, I'm sorry. There is this phony collective nationalism that 'We' won because somebody lives in Denver. What 'We'-? You didn't suit-up. You didn't take the field and make tackles and take brutal hits. Get off this 'We' stuff. You didn't win. Peyton Manning won. The Denver Broncos won. There's no room for this 'We' stuff. It's inappropriate."

Let's add to the list of inappropriate things surrounding overhyped events — both ostensibly non-music and overtly music events. And let's hope Big Music is, for once, paying attention:

Just because there's hoopla and fireworks and aerially-dropped confetti and spotlights and corporocrats spending as much on commercials as they spend to buy politicians in an election year? Don't try to tell us something mediocre was earth-shattering and that "we" loved it.

A year from now, when nobody remembers the halftime entertainment from this Super Bowl, you'll expend even more money and hype to tell us the same thing all over again about somebody else in next year's Super Bowl game and halftime show. One short year from now. When some people who lead mundane lives will still project themselves onto their favorite team's rosters.

But not into the acts playing the halftime show — probably because, though it will cost millions and be overhyped by Big Sports and Big Music on Big Media, it will again be mediocre.


Larry Wines