Despite the Off-Field Hype, the Real Star of Super Bowl LVIII Was the Game Itself

Long live the monoculture

February 12, 2024 8:34 am
Travis Kelce
Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift embrace after the Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in overtime.
Getty Images

For weeks now, it has felt like the biggest questions heading into Super Bowl LVIII had nothing to do with point spreads or who would go home victorious. Instead, all the hype was centered squarely on Taylor Swift: would she make it to Vegas in time from her show in Tokyo to cheer on her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce? (Yes, obviously — she’s the biggest celebrity in the world with a private jet and every other possible resource at her disposal. How was this ever a question?) Which celebrity friends would tag along with her and sit in her box? (Blake Lively, Ice Spice and Lana Del Rey, to name a few.) And how many times would they cut to her during the game?

That last one has been a big point of contention for some — whether you call them “NFL purists” or “whiny old men” probably depends on whether or not you’re one of them. She’s introduced a new generation of young, female fans to the NFL simply by showing up and supporting someone she loves, but there’s been plenty of hand-wringing during the Chiefs’ playoff run over whether Swift was too much of a “distraction.” And yes, the attention surrounding her and Kelce has been a little much, but on Sunday night, it wasn’t an issue. The most memorable part of Super Bowl LVIII was the game itself.

It’s hard to be distracted by who’s in the stands when you’re watching a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback and, eventually, a tie game that could have gone either team’s way right down to the final seconds of overtime. It was just the second Super Bowl game in history to go into overtime, and despite a low-scoring first half that was full of sloppy play and frustrating miscues by both teams, it was ultimately incredibly fun to watch — a boring game until it wasn’t.

And beyond Swift, the off-field Super Bowl traditions — the halftime show, the commercials, the memes making their way onto social media in real-time — failed to provide any major watercooler moments that might have pulled attention away from Patrick Mahomes’s exciting final drive.

That’s not to say they were bad, however. Usher delivered an impressive halftime set that catered perfectly to Millennial nostalgia, with help from Alicia Keys (who sang a snippet of her “Empire State of Mind” before duetting with Usher on their 2004 hit “My Boo”), Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon and Ludacris. (Am I perhaps biased because, as someone who was in high school 20 years ago, Usher’s biggest hits are inextricably linked in my brain to my formative years and Ludacris’s verse on “Yeah!” will always make me feel ready to hop on the field and start making tackles myself? Maybe, but unless you also slow-danced at a bar mitzvah to “U Got It Bad” in 2001, you just won’t get it.) The choreography was on point — how many people can pull off rollerskating tricks while singing? — and some sequined gloves subtly drew the “new Michael Jackson” comparison that Usher himself has been trying to make since way back when that was a name people didn’t mind being associated with. But was it a performance we’ll remember decades from now?

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There were no controversies — no political statements or glaring acts of censorship, no wardrobe malfunctions or “Left Shark”-esque missteps to gawk at. Good or bad, the Super Bowl halftime performances that stick with us beyond the big game are the ones that have an element of chaos. It’s not Usher’s fault that he gave us an incredibly solid yet uneventful performance, but it’s not going to be what stays with us about Super Bowl LVIII.

It won’t be the commercials, either. Those were largely unremarkable, save for a few standouts. Michael Cera spoofing melodramatic beauty ads by whispering stuff like “GENEROSITY” and “SKIN” and insisting that we “let my cream hydrate you” while scaling a mountain for CeraVe was genuinely funny, and Matt Damon turning up in a Dunkin ad with Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck was fun, if also totally expected. The one that got the most attention, of course, was a somewhat meta Verizon ad in which Beyoncé makes several attempts to “break the internet” (including dressing like Barbie, running for “BOTUS” and going to space) before eventually teasing new music. Shortly after it aired, the singer dropped the first two singles from her forthcoming country album (!!), “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages.”

Somehow, against all odds, we got to a point where not even a surprise drop by one of the world’s biggest pop stars could overshadow the on-field action — and it felt nice. There won’t be days or weeks of thinkpieces and culture-wars debate over this year’s Super Bowl, but it’ll long be remembered as a really great game. If anything, it served as a nice reminder that we don’t need it to be much more than that. The spectacle and the star-studded ads are fun, but so is being on the edge of your seat with 115 million other people; sometimes it’s enough to simply take in a monocultural event, especially in a time when our viewing habits are so splintered and such events are few and far between.

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