The NFL has backed itself into a corner. Last week, word leaked out that Adele was the league’s top choice to perform at halftime of Super Bowl LI, scheduled for February 5 at Houston’s NRG Stadium. It wasn’t remotely true. The “alleged source” from the NFL had been talking to The Sun, the UK tabloid better known for its topless Page 3 models (discontinued in January 2015) and enraging the Royal Family by publishing photos of Prince Harry frolicking naked on holiday in Vegas in 2012.
Still, the story had been circulated widely enough by late last week that most outlets gave it at least a whiff of credibility, even when reporting it as a non-story. Our favorite was KHOU’s Daniel Gotera, who on last Sunday’s Sports Extra offered his (correct) opinion that seeing Adele at the Super Bowl would be “weird.” It stayed in the news because Adele herself shot the rumors down onstage in L.A., saying (according to Billboard ), “I can’t dance or anything like that...they were very kind, they did ask me, but I said no.” And with that, it became an even bigger story, and the snake continued devouring its tail.
Accustomed to saving face, or at least pretending to, the NFL quickly denied making a “formal offer.” But really, it’s easy to understand why they were (allegedly) interested in Adele. “Everyone wants a piece of her, and they know they can bank on her bringing in the viewers,” this purported league source told The Sun. The article goes on to claim that last year’s halftime show, where Coldplay and Bruno Mars were totally upstaged by Beyonce’s paramilitary drill team, saw a worldwide bump of four million viewers over the game itself, which at the end of the second quarter was still halfway interesting. But those kind of numbers make it easy to understand why NFL officials would go sniffing around artists of similar wattage, no matter how appropriate they may or may not be for a football game. That’s also precisely the problem the league faces now that Adele has turned them down.
We went over this a few days after the game back in February, where Adele was our No. 2 choice for SBLI, but since it’s back in the news it’s worth noting again: not that many artists out there anymore have the commercial clout and charisma to make them suitable halftime performers. Sure, there’s Taylor Swift, as the Chronicle’s Ken Hoffman pointed out on Tuesday, but assuming she’d even be available is a pretty bold leap in logic. She could be performing in Europe, making a movie, sailing to Fiji with a new boyfriend or just hanging out in one of those secret places that only celebrities at the very top of the A-list know about.
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Who else? Whatever the feverish brain of Swift frenemy Kanye West hatched would be must-see TV all right, but he might insist on starting at QB for whichever team is favored; Yeezus don’t do underdogs. Drake might work — he loves Houston, and if he brings strip-club running buddy Rihanna, it might add some heat to what could be an awfully damn moody 12 minutes. (Also bringing Future and The Weeknd, though, might result in the most R-rated halftime show ever.) Unfortunately, Coldplay’s limp turn last year probably drove home the final nail in the coffin of rock bands at the Super Bowl. And it might be foolish to suggest an all-Texas show — how about ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Bun B, Explosions In the Sky and Girl in a Coma, though? — but not to point out that country music is long overdue a turn in the Super Bowl spotlight. Outside of Guns N’ Roses (not gonna happen), the only acts that play guitars and stadiums anymore wear cowboy hats. Get the Zac Brown Band out there (OK, close enough on the hats), and let Chris Stapleton open. Hoffman also laid down odds on Garth Brooks, 6-5 to Swift's 3-1. Not bad.
But at a certain point, which may be sooner than a lot of people would care to admit, we could well lose music as the Super Bowl’s halftime entertainment altogether. As the market shares for even the biggest pop stars in the world continue to decline, all anyone wants to do for fun anymore is pretty much stare at their phones. Entertainment is going virtual, and one of these days the NFL is bound to pick up on this; hell, just look at how huge fantasy football is. From the league’s point of view, think about it: no more scheduling snafus, logistical nightmares or unreasonable demands on backstage riders. You loved Prince at the 2007 Super Bowl? Here he is as a hologram, duetting with his Michael Jackson counterpart!
But here’s how to really solve this problem. Recruit the best Pokemon Go players in the USA with a March Madness-style bracket and turn the NRG field into the world’s biggest Gym. Each sponsor could select a different type of Pokemon — Psychic, Electric, Fairy, Electric, Water, Ghost, Grass, Rock, Bug, Ground, Poison, and so forth, and offer as a prize whatever product (or several) each company decides best corresponds to the number of Pokemon caught. The MVP of the game can split a trip to Disney World with the player who catches the most Pokemon overall. Everybody wins except the poor musicians, but they’re used to it by now anyway.