The Super Bowl was more than football — it was a night of pop culture
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Last night's Super Bowl, of course, wasn't just a football game. It was a Las Vegas-style pop culture extravaganza. Usher performed his greatest hits with guest stars including Alicia Keys and Ludacris. Taylor Swift made it back from Tokyo to cheer on her boyfriend Travis Kelce. And Beyonce announced her latest album is coming next month. Joining us to talk about all of it is NPR's Stephen Thompson. Hi, Stephen.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.
FADEL: So let's begin with the halftime extravaganza, Usher's much hyped and anticipated performance in celebration of R&B. He even had glitzy dance routines on roller skates. How do you think it went?
THOMPSON: Well, in a way, the halftime show felt like a microcosm of the game itself, chaotic early on, a few mishaps here and there, but by the end, you had something really exciting. The show had some audio issues. The camera work didn't always do it justice, but Usher is a great dancer and a hugely charismatic live performer. I don't love it when halftime shows pack in too many songs, and Usher's set had pieces of more than a dozen of them. But by the time he got to bangers like "Yeah" and "Turn Down For What," I was completely won over.
FADEL: So the other pop culture storyline leading up to the game was the big would she or wouldn't she, and she did. After a show Saturday night in Japan, Taylor Swift made it back in time for the game and the NFL tweeted all about it. Did she steal the show?
THOMPSON: Well, in the run up to that game, you had all these people doing the math, trying to figure out how...
THOMPSON: ...Taylor Swift would get to Vegas. The whole vibe felt a lot like you know how NORAD will track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve?
FADEL: Yeah (laughter).
THOMPSON: But she made it. And so we got lots of shots of her in a luxury box with Ice Spice and Lana Del Rey. They all seemed to be having a blast, and Taylor Swift herself got a nice moment celebrating with Kelce on camera after the game. But anyone expecting, like, a marriage proposal or something, this was not the time for something like that. Football is a team sport. So when they handed Kelce a microphone, he focused on firing up the fans and singing "Viva Las Vegas" for what felt like an hour.
FADEL: Maybe he should leave the singing to Taylor Swift.
THOMPSON: Yeah. Exactly.
FADEL: Queen B - Beyonce - also made news during a Verizon ad, right?
THOMPSON: Yes. Finally, a pop star stole the spotlight and it was not Taylor Swift. So Verizon ran these ads about Beyonce breaking the internet, and they ended with a line about dropping new music. And around the time those ads aired, Beyonce announced that she's putting out a new album. It's billed as "Act II," which refers to the "Renaissance" project she launched in 2022. She also released two songs last night, and both of those show off kind of a softer, more rootsy side. One is called "16 Carriages" and the other is called "Texas Hold 'Em." Let's hear a little bit of that song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEXAS HOLD 'EM")
BEYONCE: (Singing) This ain't Texas. Ain't no hold 'em. So lay your cards down, down, down, down. So park your...
FADEL: I love that.
FADEL: OK. so I obviously fell asleep 'cause I host MORNING EDITION. I missed a lot of the ads. Any highlights? Any favorites?
THOMPSON: Well, so many Super Bowl commercials are just a parade of famous faces, big stars, lots of spectacle. That can make it hard to stand out. There was a pair of anti-Tesla ads that urged viewers to boycott the car company over its self-driving technology. Those stood out just because they were so tonally different. And then going back to that sea of celebrities, Dunkin' went all in with a very silly ad starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez and Matt Damon.
FADEL: I'll have to go watch that one. And Hollywood studios rolled out major movie trailers during the Super Bowl. Which one stood out?
THOMPSON: Well, we got our first look at a trailer for the first part of the movie adaptation of "Wicked," which isn't out for 9 1/2 months. We're also getting a "Twister" sequel called "Twisters." That's out in July. Thank goodness we have fewer than four weeks left to wait until the arrival of "Kung Fu Panda 4." "Kung Fu Panda 4" is my Super Bowl right now.
FADEL: (Laughter). NPR's Stephen Thompson. You can hear a full rundown of what happened last night beyond the game on the latest episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thank you, Stephen.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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