Beyoncé and Bruno Mars are musicians, not magicians, but that didn't prevent them from almost making Coldplay disappear during the halftime show at Super Bowl 50 on Sunday. The fact that Coldplay was billed as the headliner, and Beyoncé and Mars as "special guest artists," made this feat of derring-do at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara more impressive.
Or did it?
Stealing the show from Coldplay, a big-selling but largely innocuous English pop-rock band, is not that much of an accomplishment, especially not for high-octane performers like Beyoncé and Mars.
Moreover, both of Sunday's guests artists had the advantage of having headlined their own Super Bowl halftime show (the sizzling Beyoncé in 2013 and Hawaii native Mars in 2014). In a matter of minutes Sunday, they turned Coldplay from the headliners into a backing band. Coldplay gamely played along, although - really? - what choice did the four-man band have?
With lead singer Chris Martin crouched on the field of Levi's Stadium, Coldplay opened opened with a snippet of "Yellow" at 5:29 p.m, then quickly segued into "Viva La Vid" and "Paradise"" The band's set lasted barely all of five minutes, as a truncated version of Coldplay's "Adventure of a Lifetime" was elbowed aside by the arrival of Mars and his crew, including Mark Ronson. Like Coldplay before him, and Beyonce a few moments later, most of Mars' performance was pre-recorded, but that's par for Super Bowl halftime shows,
Even only partially live, Mars' exuberant romp through the brassy "Uptown Funk," his hit with Ronson, kicked the energy level up so high that some viewers may have instantly forgot about Coldplay in a matter of seconds. His two-minute version of "Uptown Funk" gave way to Beyonce and a troupe of dancers on the field.
Dressed in a thigh-high black bodysuit, thick, diagonal gold bands across her chest and a diamond-bedecked black leather jacket, she created more sizzle with a head toss and a few bump-and-grind dance moves than an entire Coldplay concert would be likely to produce. Beyoncé performed her new single, "Formation," which she released yesterday in video form as a prelude to her Super Bowl performance and - as a TV commercial immediately after Sunday's halftime show advertised - a free ad for her Formation World Tour (which includes a May show at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium ).
After "Formation," Coldplay returned with "Clocks" and "Fix you," although the band was largely invisible, since the TV audience was instead shown archival clips from past Super Bowl performances by Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Whitney Houston and more. Conspicuously absent (unless I blinked and missed it) was even a snippet of any of the performers who appeared at the two Super Bowls held at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, specifically, Sting, No Doubt and Shania Twain.
The one real surprise came when Martin and Coldplay broke into a bit of U2's "Beautiful Day," a selection far more rousing and inspirational than anything in Coldplay's overly earnest repertoire of ballads and midtempo songs.
The first of the game's four 15-minute quarters Sunday was not even halfway over when CBS TV announcer Jim Nance told viewers: "It's almost time for the Pepsi Super Bowl halftime show, a musical celebration of past present and future, starring Coldplay, with special guest artists Beyoncé and Bruno Mars."
In that equation, who other than Coldplay - which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary and has never been noted for innovation - would qualify as the "musical past?"
The fact that, after announcing Coldplay in December, the National Football League and CBS subsequently added both Beyoncé and Mars could be a nod to recent halftime show history. Or it could be a sign that the NFL and CBS realized that Coldplay alone would not generate the vast audience that watched Mars set a record at the 2014 game (drawing 115.3 million viewers), then topped last year by the Katy Perry-assisted Left Shark (119.5 million viewers).