Beginning with a James Bond-style oscilloscope of concentric red lights throwing Beyoncé into silhouette, tonight’s half-time set at Super Bowl XLVII was quick, elegant, and full of elation. From laidback opener “Love on Top” through the rumored-therefore-guaranteed public reunion of Destiny’s Child, the set swung, stomped, and seduced in equal measure. And after that little brouhaha over having lip-synched the National Anthem at President Obama’s second inauguration last month, the singer made it clear as can be that this was real singing, in real time—with teensy exceptions, including the first verse of “Halo,” but one doesn’t like to nitpick.
“Crazy In Love,” good enough to serve as a tent pole to any nationally televised set, established the performance’s blend of spectacle and conversation. Sexy without ever playing catlike or preening, Beyoncé maintained hold over her stage no matter the size. But she also made time to crouch stage-side and hold hands with the commoners. If Beyoncé hasn’t worn pants in public since 2001, one must admit that few other performers could make a black leather négligée look classy. When she flattens herself on stage only to lift her leg at a right angle, it isn’t some Lil’ Kim bit of sexual braggadocio; it’s just good dancing.
“End of Time” led into “Baby Boy,” with Sean Paul piped in for the interstitial dance tableaux. After a shout-out to her guitarist, Beatrix (whose instrument, in an unsettling bit of spectacle, emitted both sparks and smoke on command), Beyoncé brought her old collaborators in the game. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams leaped up from below the stage (in heels, no less) to join their overachieving friend in a rendition of “Single Ladies” that maintained its singular bounce. Rowland and Williams were sadly undermiked, one reason the quieter close-harmony moments were the most memorable ones.
On the heels of the new single “Nuclear,” from their compilation Love Songs, the Destiny’s Child reunion may steal the show, despite a sure-to-be headline-grabbing power surge minutes into the third quarter that rendered the Super Dome dark for half an hour. But this was Beyoncé’s night, and she was positively exultant throughout—lifting her head skyward after each song, breathing heavy but seeming grateful. Such palpable happiness almost lends credence to the myth that cash and celebrity ensure contentment. If there’s a more fitting expression of the Super Bowl ethos, I can’t think of it.