In the run-up to her Super Bowl Halftime Show, Madonna talked of being uncharacteristically nervous about her performance.
After seeing it, that makes sense. Her 12-minute extravaganza felt uncharacteristically tentative for a superstar known for breaking down barriers to get her way.
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Oh, sure, it was a spectacle. There were gladiators pulling her onto the field on a massive gold throne for "Vogue." There were cheerleaders galore -- including Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., who each rapped half a verse -- for Madonna's new single "Give Me All Your Luvin'." And there was a huge choir, as well as Cee Lo Green, to help her deliver "Like a Prayer."
It was all sufficiently big and flashy and entertaining. It just lacked the element of surprise that we've come to expect from Madonna. It also lacked any sort of emotional connection. (Sorry, ending the show with a hologram of "World Peace" doesn't really count.)
Ever since the notorious Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction," NFL officials have sought out halftime acts that were more family friendly. In trying to fit into that role, it seems Madonna lopped off some of the best bits of her performances. The only whiff of controversy came from M.I.A., who punctuated her rap in "Give Me All Your Luvin' " by flipping off the camera for a split second.
Far more upsetting was the way Madonna shoehorned LMFAO into her set, having them do snippets of "Party Rock Anthem" and "Sexy and I Know It" while she pranced around them. The Material Girl-era Madonna wouldn't dream of sharing the stage that way.
Another problem was Cee Lo Green's attempt to deliver the gospel howl of "Like a Prayer," which fell a bit short of the original.
Pulling off a great Super Bowl halftime show is a tall order, though her '80s superstar contemporaries Prince and Bruce Springsteen managed it in recent years. Madonna succeeded in building a massive display, but it felt a bit hollow. It's not a good sign that Clint Eastwood's Chrysler commercial packed more of an emotional punch.