Katy Perry's 13-minute Super Bowl halftime show seemed to have been crafted to work around her. Perry is not a particularly good dancer, so she spent about a third of the time being transported—by a giant silver lion puppet for "Roar," which kicked off her set, and then on a platform with a shooting star on top. (The star was reminiscent of the one featured at the end of NBC's The More You Know PSAs—Perry's PSA could be called The Less You Dance.)
Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott, two artists that little to do with Perry (Missy once guested on a remix with her), joined her onstage. The latter took over the arena, reducing Perry to a hypeman who punctuated Missy's raps with interjections: "Come on!" "Holla!" Moving with a sense of rhythm and coordination, Missy looked like Bob Fosse next to Perry. Missy stole the show. And when she wasn't stealing the show, a badly dancing shark was.
"Pay no attention to the person who's here to command your attention," Katy Perry's Super Bowl halftime show said to its audience.
Last night, Perry didn't so much put on a show as star in one. She changed her outfits nearly a half dozen times. She made big theatrical faces to go with the big theatrical feelings expressed in her lyrics. She walked quite a bit—at her most nimble, she weaved in and out of the paths of people dressed as chess pieces during an abbreviated rendition of "Dark Horse." She sang and/or mimed a handful of her hits—many of them containing hooks against which resistance is futile. She didn't hyperventilate or show sign of strain. She didn't get distracted by the fireworks that exploded over her head as she earnestly churned out her finale, "Firework."
Not that much could be expected of Perry. She is the most underwhelming person to occupy the space of Massively Popular, No-Brainer Hitmaking Pop Diva since Paula Abdul, and at least Paula Abdul could dance. There is no there there with Katy Perry. I don't know if a pop star has ever had less there, in fact. She is superlative at nothing. She doesn't even have enough taste to refuse to wear whatever her people are putting her in—she opened the show in a top whose 3D flames were reminiscent of a Guy Fieri bowling shirt. She flaunts tackiness (see the infantile staging of "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls," which featured anthropomorphized beach balls and palm trees, as well as the aforementioned shark) like it's aesthetic volition, when I suspect that she actually has no other choice but to be tacky and embrace it in fake-it-till-you-make-it sleight of hand.
It's rare that the machine is so blatantly present in a performance like this. Even the Queen of Pop (who rules the fiefdom of artifice that comes with the kingdom's territory) Madonna provoked and dazzled with her lip synched show a few years ago that featured a subversive nod to gay culture during the most outwardly straight broadcast of the year and, you know, actual dancing. I've been watching her for years and I'm still not convinced that Katy Perry has anything to say, any unique perspective, any capacity to challenge or surprise, any persona beyond vaguely goofy and occasionally sentimental. If you believe the credits on her songs, she can write a catchy hook. She can carry a tune, sometimes with force.
And she can show up to places and do her job without falling on her face or making some sort of career-negating blunder. (At least Janet Jackon's tit took balls.) Katy Perry did an absolutely adequate job of being Katy Perry during her Super Bowl halftime show. But we deserve much more than she could ever possibly provide.
[Image via Getty]