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Concert Reviews:
Commentary: Much ado about M.I.A.'s middle finger

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012

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Rest assured that amidst the hue and cry over M.I.A.'s middle finger at the Super Bowl, there are some quiet high-fives being exchanged in the backrooms.

In case you weren't one of the 100-million-plus who watched Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday, Feb. 5 -- or were busy piling some more chicken wings on your plate when it happened, the British singer-rapper flipped the bird while she and Nikki Minaj were onstage with Madonna during her dazzling halftime show, recreating their new single, "Give Me All Your Luvin'." And don't feel bad if you WERE watching and didn't notice; it was a blink-and-you-missed-it moment.

Nevertheless, the apologists sprung into action. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy proclaimed the gesture "obscene" and "completely inappropriate, very disappointing." He apologized to fans, as did NBC, which explained that its censoring system "was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture."

It was, of course, no big deal. Football fans -- and Madonna fans, for that matter -- have certainly seen far worse from both parties. But in the post-game analysis, a little bit of controversy serves them all well.

Every since Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, the allure of the halftime show -- once a snoozy haven for Up With People and others of the ilk -- has been Issue [cq] that arises from it. The water cooler moment is not the spectacle or the quality of the performance but whatever pushed the envelope a little, or a lot, for an event as mainstream as the Super Bowl.

Interestingly, however, in 2001 Aerosmith got away with a line in its hit "Walk This Way" -- "You ain't seen nothin' till you're down on a muffin," sung that night by Britney Spears -- that's more titillating and taboo than even Jackson's exposed breast.

While employing mostly safe halftime performers since Jackson -- including classic rockers such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and the Who -- the Super Bowl has still dodged a couple of controversy bullets: a rough-hewn Rolling Stones lyric during "Rough Justice" ( at Detroit's Super Bowl XL in 2006, for instance, and Prince's phallic guitar imagery during "Purple Rain" in 2007. But those were small-scale and, in many ways, raised the perfect kind of ruckus -- not so offensive as to bring government censure and fines, as the Jackson snafu did, but enough to keep people talking, give the halftime show a reputation for a bit of edge and stoke anticipation for next year.

M.I.A.'s move also assures that an mainstream mass audience now knows who the provocative and critically acclaimed but cult-level artist is and provides a bit of extra attention to "Give Me All Your Luvin'," Madonna, her upcoming "MDNA" album and her new film, "W.E."

There are no losers here, and you can be sure the NFL and NBC realize that even as they dish out the requisite mea culpas. After all, without a little halftime show hubub, what else would we talk about -- the game and the car ads? Can't wait til next year...

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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