Madonna's halftime act at Super Bowl XLVI was immaculate in its conception, right down her bringing of the Trojans. But she didn't have control of all of her troops: A middle-finger gesture from guest vocalist M.I.A., a pop provocateur in the spirit of the Material Girl herself, stole attention from the featured act.
The singer's spectacle was ultimate showbiz – a lavishly choreographed and likely lip-synched production that drew from Cleopatra and Sister Act, featured cameos from M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, Cee Lo Green and party rockers LMFAO, and ended in a naive message ripped from the mouths of thousands of impractical beauty queens – the wish for world peace.
Bob Costas, the veteran NBC ringmaster who still looks too boyish at age 59 to be considered venerable, noted during the Super Bowl pregame telecast that "there's an understanding that what happens tonight will be remembered."
Which was a true, if obvious, thought. What happened in Indianapolis will not stay in Indianapolis, with the memories of an increasingly rare shared type of experience lingering on in the annals of pop-culture as much as football history. On Madonna's new single Give Me All Your Luvin', M.I.A. appeared to sing an expletive at the end of her part. Her extension of a middle finger to the audience was clearly visible, though. The camera shot briefly blurred after that, but too late.
Here's what will be remembered from this year's sporting extravaganza, of the things not concerning fingers, first downs or the final score (21-17, New York Giants over the New England Patriots, by the way).
Beware of those Roman charges
Outdoing her unsanctioned protégée Lady Gaga, who was brought into last year's Grammy Awards in an egg, Madonna arrived onto the stage with an army of ancient-garbed soldiers. Much like with her Sticky & Sweet Tour opening, the mono-named singer began on a throne, here as a blonde warrior queen who Vogue-ed like an Egyptian. A techno version of Music was next, complete with gymnastics and a groin-threatening tightrope act by a performer resembling Will Ferrell. As Madonna "sang" about DJs playing music that "makes the people come together," a mammoth television audience watched the electro-dance duo LMFAO throw a snippet of their Party Rock into the act.
What's it spell? Madonna!
The 53-year-old superstar waved pom poms for her new single Give Me All Your Luvin', a snappy, poppy number that used electro-rapper M.I.A. and rapper Nicki Manaj to rather small effect. It's a tradition to use a marching band in these halftime shows, and Madonna didn't disappoint. Her rat-a-tat-tat troupe was led by soul singer Cee Lo Green, a short, round drum major.
Tongues wag about Madonna's lips
After a short blast of Express Yourself, the halftime hoopla closed with a soaring robed-chorus rendition of Like a Prayer. Her Madgesty's voice on the spiritually themed gospel-pop was clear – perhaps too clear. "Madonna is a perfectionist," the superstar herself noted in an interview with Costas earlier. Likely the perfection would not allow for live singing. At the end, she disappeared into a trap door, lowering as a cloud of smoke puffed about her and the words "world peace" smouldered in gold on the field. That's a lot to ask for, world peace. Live singing in such an extravagant, rushed setting might be just as unrealistic a possibility.
The Cannon shot duds
In what were the day's most regularly scheduled excruciating moments, the actor-musician-comedian Nick Cannon interviewed shilling celebrities such as Adam Sandler and Danny DeVito. After watching the trailer of the upcoming action film The Avengers with actor Chris Evans, Cannon was positively undone with enthusiasm: "Wow! That looks like that's going to be outstanding." We'll next hear from Cannon when he publicly feuds again with Eminem or is divorced from his wife, the singer Mariah Carey.
Brady the beautiful
The pretty Patriot quarterback Tom Brady had almost as much screen time as pre-game singers Kelly Clarkson and the country-music couple Miranda Lambert and husband Blake Shelton, who sang The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, respectively. Both performances were graceful and mistake free, with shots of U.S. soldiers at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan accompanying lyrics about God shedding his grace on the home of the brave and the land of the free, from sea to shining sea.