There have been breathless announcements. There have been comprehensive guides. There have been how-to-get-there instructions and how-to-find-tickets tips. Everyone, it seems, is excited for all the great many Super Bowl concerts in San Francisco this week.
But there's one basic fact that evidently nobody wants to say about this wealth of NFL-branded musical riches, so I might as well say it: it is almost all completely, utterly middle-of-the-road.
Dave Matthews Band. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Alicia Keys. Diddy. Pharrell. Metallica. Fall Out Boy. I genuinely like some of these acts or certain eras thereof, but make no mistake: they are safe, pandering picks, the musical equivalent of a Starbucks latte, programmed to appeal to the widest possible audience.
But wait! I can hear you say. There's Skrillex! He's abrasive and frantic and was popular with the kids five years ago! And you're right. But here's the thing about Skrillex: he took dubstep, a cerebral musical genre popular in the UK, and then concentrated and maximized the subtle bass elements that made it unique, stripped all the nuance out of its rhythm, and added a five-figure light show. He's so popular among frat boys and sports fans that dubstep fans call his music "brostep." Some argue that he changed it so much he killed dubstep entirely.
This process, of commercially maximizing musical elements that once made a genre interesting, applies to nearly the whole schedule: Metallica (metal), Pharrell (R&B), Fall Out Boy (emo), Dave Matthews Band (jam-band), and the Band Perry (Country). (Currently soliciting ideas on whatever post-funk-jam-groove description suits the Red Hot Chili Peppers, though Nick Cave has a suggestion.) Ask most diehard fans of those styles of music, and they'll fill your ear with vitriol for these acts stealing (or, in Metallica's case, self-cannibalizing) superficial elements of music that used to be good and pimping it to the Hot 101.7s of the world. Coldplay as the Super Bowl's halftime act is simply the pinnacle of marketing accessibility to which all these other acts aspire.
I get that the Super Bowl Committee and other promoters need to appeal to the typical football fan this week. And no, they haven't gone full Nickelback, but what they've done is possibly worse. By pulling acts who each represent the safest, boringest, most watered-down versions of their respective genres, on a qualitative scale the whole thing is somehow less than the sum of its parts -- a phenomenon underscored by Iggy Azalea's presence in town as one of a small handful of hip-hop artists.
This insult to San Francisco's taste is compounded, of course, by the blizzard of controversy around the Super Bowl festivities in San Francisco, a city 45 miles away from where the game will be played. Police have swept the homeless away beneath a freeway to sanitize the Embarcadero for "Super Bowl City," which is largely comprised of corporate tents and police officers and large-scale advertising. And even while Santa Clara is seeing its $3.6 million in costs reimbursed by the NFL, San Francisco's nontransparent deal to host Super Bowl City is costing taxpayers $4.8 million.
But hey, we get a free Alicia Keys concert out of it, right?
Okay, you got me: Alicia Keys is great, and her concert is free, if you can bear the crowds. She plays at 8:15pm on Saturday, Feb. 6, at the City Stage presented by Levi’s® at the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee's Super Bowl City presented by Verizon. (I did not make any of that up.) For more information, see here.