It’d be pretty easy to make fun of the NBA’s decision to cast Sting, a 64-year-old English guy decades past his artistic sell-by date, as the halftime act at the all-star game in Toronto.
So let’s do that.
We can already picture how this will go down. Just after the teams come off the court – game tied 168-168 at the half – the lights dim. A single spotlight catches a small, bearded man wearing a jumpsuit made of llama fur. He’s strumming a balalaika handcrafted from balsa wood salvaged by a rain-forest tribe whose only contact with the modern world is providing backing vocals on tracks three and seven from Brand New Day.
As he approaches the mic, an empty vodka bottle comes tumbling out of the darkness and hits him right in the head. He goes down on one knee. Drake runs out to help him up, then de-lint him. Sting smiles beatifically at his people (he’s not exactly sure where he is. Is this Cleveland? It feels like Cleveland. He makes a mental note to fire his booking agent. He’ll put the pink slip in a nice gift basket with that Brazilian hand cream he’s been telling everyone about).
The opening chords of King of Pain fill the Air Canada Centre. Given the recent, unfortunate violence, this song feels suddenly transcendent! Or maybe he’s just overheating in the llama fur. The acoustics are better than he’d hoped, because everyone has left their seats to drink in the bathrooms, which are moderately soundproofed.
Since he’s still woozy from the bottle strike, he feels very connected to this empty, empty room.
Thirty-six songs later, while the players cool their heels in the tunnel and crowd boos steadily, Sting leans in and says, “Now I’d like everyone to stand so that we can pay tribute to The Police.”
That’s when the riot starts.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Sting up close twice in my life – both times in sporting contexts.
I sat one table over from him on a patio in Zagreb, Croatia, where they were showing the final of Euro 2012 on an outdoor screen. He left early and when I tried the old, only-half-joking, “Oh, Sting told me to put it on his tab” afterward, they weren’t buying it. Am I angry that he didn’t just buy everyone in the joint their dinner, since he has sold, like, 100-million albums, back when that sort of thing was possible? Because I guarantee you that’s what El Chapo would’ve done, and he’s a murderous sociopath.
In the second instance, he sat a few rows behind me at last year’s Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight. Before things kicked off, I spotted him in what looked like an impossibly stilted conversation with Magic Johnson and Michael Strahan. Overrefreshed strangers kept dropping by to clap Sting on the shoulder. Each time, he’d jump nearly a foot in the air. He looked deeply rattled. We locked eyes for a long moment. It was a less tantric experience than I’d hoped.
All that to say, Sting is a sports guy. He likes sports. He is average and sporty and such. He may even enjoy having beers with friends on the weekend while watching the sports, as long as he can be sure the hops were ethically sourced and that nothing in the bean dip suffered before it died.
None of this explains why the NBA chose Sting as the headline musical act for the all-star weekend, which has become hip-hop’s Davos. Sting has as much business culturally repping the NBA as Rick Ross might have at the Grand National.
From the league’s perspective, this has nothing to do with how an aging hero of the easy-listening set fits within their demographic contours. For the same reason that a steady procession of bland pop stars and fossilized survivors of the 1970s keep blighting the Super Bowl’s halftime show, Sting gives the NBA something it can’t source internally.
He’s there to appeal to an international audience that has little interest in a) professional basketball or b) good music. For them, the NBA’s midseason “classic” is a live-to-air concert by a recognizable mainstream brand at which the dancers are all very large men bouncing balls.
Aside from masochism, why would Sting agree to this? He’s currently doing press for a planned summer tour of North America. He’s probably hoping Kanye West jumps out of the stands and punches him or something. That’d goose sales.
As soon as Sting’s name was announced on Thursday morning, a predictable chorus of “Where are the Canadians?” began. For a country that goes on and on about our openness to the wider world, we are suspiciously closed to it.
A lot of people were put out that Drake isn’t performing. Hasn’t Drake done enough for us? If this city had its way, someone would pass a bylaw compelling the poor guy to perform at birthday parties and swimming-pool openings. Let’s make 2016 the year we start leaving Drake alone.
The right question is, “What dummy would want this gig?” NBA halftime shows are routinely the worst in sports. They almost always involve dogs catching Frisbees, contortionists or kids being cute in ways only their parents can appreciate. The perfect NBA halftime show is a contortionist dog being pretzelled into a Frisbee by a pack of orphans.
The crowd always hates the halftime act. If they are feeling charitable, they ignore them. If they aren’t, they laugh at them. The only thing that can reliably pacify an NBA audience is the T-shirt cannon.
Sting will be the latest in proud line of halftime bombs. He’ll get up there and sleepwalk through a couple of hits, do a Synchronicity medley and be politely clapped back to whatever exotic treehouse he’s currently living in.
The only mystery to this is how the Grey Cup can possibly set the musical bar even lower in November.Report Typo/Error
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