Monday Morning Quarterbacking the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Alexandra Cochrane reflects on reality vs expectations for a show that proved challenging to predict

View from the Culver City Stairs, Los Angeles. Alexandra worked on the playlist and blog post from LA, where the Super Bowl took place. Source: Alexandra Cochrane

Being in Los Angeles for the lead-up to Super Bowl LVI, I was struck by the myriad connections between the game and the city. The Super Bowl took place at SoFi stadium, the halftime show performers are music royalty with hometown ties, and the Rams played (and now, have won). A conversation with the LA-native front desk attendant at my hotel on the local origins of three of the five halftime show headliners got my gears turning on what songs might play at the halftime show. I was inspired by the challenge of fitting their extensive catalogs — each with enough songs for 2-hour concerts — into a mere 12 to 13 minutes. This exercise would be straightforward enough most years, with only one or two acts. But for 2022, even narrowing down to just their big hits, the question remained; how do they all fit together?

The Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Headliners. Source: NFL.com

Here are a few themes that drove our playlist predictions (which I worked on with input from Soundshop founder Akpanoluo) and how they panned out in the show itself:

Proclaiming Longevity: A lot of songs where they proclaim that they have returned, or are still around, and this is a good moment to proclaim that, especially given the longevity of these iconic artists.

Accurate? Somewhat. “Still D.R.E.” gave a nod to his longevity but was not followed by Eminem’s “I’m Back” as predicted.

California: “The Next Episode” specifically calls out Inglewood, Compton, and Long Beach. Respectively, these are the homes of SoFi Stadium, Kendrick/Dre, and Snoop Dogg. We guessed “California Love” for the closing song as it features the state in the title and main chorus.

Accurate? Yes. The leading songs — “Next Episode” and “California Love” leaned heavily into the CA homage.

Chadwick Bozeman homage: Nod to Black Panther / the late Chadwick Bozeman with songs from Black Panther, whose soundtrack Kendrick Lamar was executive producer.

Accurate? No

Eminem: I found it particularly difficult to narrow down his catalog, so chose to feature the song with the most recognizable hook (“The Real Slim Shady”), collaborative pieces, record-setting pieces, and left out personal favorite Lose Yourself.

Accurate? No. He did choose to play “Lose Yourself,” and did not lead with “The Real Slim Shady” as predicted. However, the difficulty of narrowing down his catalog proved to be a very real challenge!

Guesses for special guests: SZA, Fifty Cent (Featured on “Crack a Bottle”), Anderson .Paak, Tupac Hologram.

Accurate? 50%! Fifty Cent surprise serenaded us with “In Da Club” and Anderson .Paak made an appearance on drums.

Cover for Snoop Dogg’s album BODR, released two days before the Super Bowl. Source: Death Row Records

This year, there was an unprecedented amount of new music released by the headliners in the week leading up to Super Bowl. Artists don’t drop albums and become CEOs of record labels the week before the game, right? We were worried these developments would break our bracket, so to speak, but thankfully that alone did not obliterate our expectations. We locked in our playlist five days before the Super Bowl, and only incorporated one song from the lead-up into our playlist.

On to the actual halftime show!

Summary of the actual halftime performance:
The Next Episode
California Love
In Da Club (50 Cent appears upside down)
Family Affair
No More Drama
m.A.A.d city
Alright (Kendrick has an original verse to lead into Forgot About Dre)
Forgot About Dre
Lose Yourself
Still D.R.E.

Reactions from Akpanoluo and Alexandra:
Akpanoluo and I chatted as we watched the show and kept track of how our playlist was faring. We consolidated some of our immediate reactions below:

Akpanoluo: The halftime show was well curated. With the sheer number of songs that could have been performed, the curation benefited significantly from keeping to a fairly limited number of songs (10). Kendrick’s freestyle was a great way to transition into “Forgot about Dre.” If I had to guess, Dr. Dre was the one who was chief producer, having produced for every single one of the performing artists. I have to confess, I was a little bit taken out of the moment by keeping score, but I found this exercise to be very fun. I’m so happy there was no Tupac hologram. And I’m personally thrilled that even though Anderson .Paak didn’t get a formal feature as I expected, that he was still present on drums. We’re both glad that Kendrick performed his BLM-adopted protest song “Alright.” There’s a whole conversation that could be had about the NFL, its featured music, and performative liberalism in the wake of Colin Kaepernick but that’s another blog post in the making. Also — as I’m reading our comments, it literally feels like we’re commentating on the show as if it were the game.

Alexandra: Love the outfits. Snoop’s suit is a bold but not unexpected choice, given that they’re the Ram’s colors. Dr. Dre and Eminem wore understated black, while Mary J. Blige was adorned in an all-white sequined ensemble. I was elated when Dr. Dre opened with The Next Episode, and again when 50 Cent (well-connected with all of the artists) and Anderson .Paak appeared on stage. I too was taken out of the moment by comparing the unfolding performance with the spreadsheet on my screen, and found myself wishing they would speed up so that there would be more time to hear the many songs I had predicted would be sampled. Instead, there were fewer but more-fleshed-out songs — vs. a plethora of snippets. Then — How did I forget about Mary J Blige’s “No More Drama” & Kendrick’s “Alright”!? I personally was pleased to hear “Lose Yourself” (a longtime favorite), but also regretted that I had excluded from our final list. Similarly, Forgot About Dre was a personal favorite that I assumed would not appear in the same show as “Still D.R.E.” (It did).

Rules and Scoring:
Time to quantify how we did! Akpanoluo came up with the rules, which were as follows: 50 points for the fraction of our songs that were performed, 50 points for the fraction of performed songs we chose, for a total of 100 points. Plus 10 points for correctly guessing the opening track, and additional +10 points for the closing track, and +20 points for a song featuring a surprise guest artist. Only four songs matched between our playlist and the show, so that gave 4/18 on the first rule, and 4/10 on the second, giving us a score of 31 points. We then got a 10-point bonus on correctly guessing “The Next Episode” as the first track, and 20-point bonus for surprise guest 50 Cent, who was an artist on “Crack a Bottle” in our playlist. In sum, that gave us 61 points out of 100, which is pretty good for how challenging this show was to predict.

Below, check out our playlists for what we expected to be performed and what actually performed. And let us know in the comments what you thought of the halftime show!

— Alexandra Cochrane

Our predicted Super Bowl Halftime Show set list
The actual songs that played during the Super Bowl Halftime Show

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This is the blog of The Soundshop music salon and community of New York City. This blog aims to analyze music in a way that enhances general music knowledge.

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The Soundshop Music Blog

This is the blog of The Soundshop music salon and community of New York City. This blog aims to analyze music in a way that enhances general music knowledge.