February 4, 2002


The game that was supposed to be so predictable wound up holding a few
surprises after all. Meanwhile, the big-name musical entertainment at Super Bowl
XXXVI seemed like a tired rerun.

Taking a break from hanging out with Sen. Jesse Helms and agitating for the relief
of Third World debt, Bono led U2 through a condensed halftime version of the
show that the band has twice taken across the U.S., part of a publicity blitz that has
been unrelenting since the release of "All That You Can't Leave Behind'' in October

Shortly thereafter, we were treated to the cringe-worthy spectacle of Sir Paul
McCartney (who was doing a little publicity of his own for an April concert tour)
joining commentator Terry Bradshaw for an a cappella verse of "A Hard Day's

While the Fox Network missed no opportunity to trumpet this Super Bowl as a
celebration of ''the spirit of America,'' the producers somehow missed the fact that
two of their three musical draws were Irish and English. Mariah Carey was the only
American citizen, but she got extra points for being a New Yorker.

Carey acquitted herself well during a low-key but still diva-esque reading of "The
Star-Spangled Banner.'' Then again, even Bradshaw might have given a good
performance if he'd just been paid $49 million by Virgin Records not to make
another album.

In his own pregame slot, McCartney's delivery of his wooden singalong "Freedom''
was no more inspiring than at his "Concert for NYC'' last October.

But U2 was the biggest disappointment, grooving through the single "Beautiful Day''
(which it has already played on several national broadcasts, including the
Grammys), then melodramatically unfurling a scroll with the names of the victims of
Sept.11 as it plodded through a leaden reading of "Where the Streets Have No

A truly great rock band would have taken this moment of unprecedented exposure
to offer a thoughtful comment on recent events. But the usually verbose Bono didn't
even bother with his traditional plea for world peace, choosing to simply flash the
stars-and-stripes lining of his Super Bowl jacket instead. U2 has never seemed
more like a band camouflaging salesmanship as sincerity, and cravenness for deep

Ironically (though not surprisingly), the deepest statement of the evening came
during the much-hyped commercials, when Pepsi used Britney Spears (or was it
the other way around?) to illustrate how effectively popular music has been
co-opted as a sales tool in every decade from the '50s through the present. Now
there is the spirit of America.


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