I love football. In the past I’ve travelled to Cincinnati to see a Denver season opener, and jealously guarded all my Sundays during the season. My wardrobe not only features Jerseys but pyjamas and even underpants printed with my team’s logo. I once got into an argument with a man in the waiting room of a tattoo parlour about Tim Tebow’s budding quarterback career. Considering my level of fandom, the Super Bowl is a religious holiday for our household, a day of rest and celebration, complete with ridiculous feast.
There is only one thing about the Super Bowl that I generally consider a flaw: the halftime show. Generally the show is an example of gross pop excess taken to extreme, and the bands chosen to perform are often acts that have peaked, crested, and are well in their decline. The last two years in particular have been awful, complete with terrible themes (Tron Legacy in 2011 featuring The Black Eyed Peas, Usher and Slash; and Polytheism [Greek and Egyptian] in 2012 with Madonna, Nicki Minaj, and the freaking Cirque de Soleil among others). So, even though I was cautiously optimistic when the NFL announced a single showcase performance by Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child, I was still more than prepared to relentlessly mock the show if things went south.
Instead, the show was glorious. Beyoncé was resplendent, a warrior goddess, and the show itself couldn’t have showcased her power as an entertainer more effectively. The dance numbers were athletic and artful, the appearance of Destiny’s Child was respectful and well-integrated, and her setlist was impeccably chosen. There was pyro and smoke, lasers and lights. If you haven’t seen the full performance, I highly recommend that you watch it. This is pop excess done right, taking full advantage of the grand stage the Super Bowl halftime show offers and using it to your utmost advantage. By the end of the show, I was absolutely convinced that I had watched the most triumphant performance of Beyoncé’s career. Later, I would learn that the show did in fact have a theme, like the years before, and it was The Woman/Female Empowerment, and the show would gain even more meaning and power in my estimation.
Then, shortly into the second half of the game, the power in the Superdome stadium went out. In the end, it would take 34 minutes for the power to be restored, and the energy of the game would be changed for it. Entergy New Orleans, which supplies power to the Superdome, eventually traced the problem to a protective electrical relay device that activated when it should not have. The power took some time to restore, but after the interruption, the game was able to resume with no harm done. While the momentum of the Super Bowl may have shifted as a result, there were no injuries or upsets.
But, a curious thing happened when the power went out at the Superdome: everyone assumed it was Beyoncé who had caused it. Like, everyone. Twitter erupted with accusations immediately. Serious news stories were publishing in the coming days that extrapolated ways in which Beyoncé’s fierceness could have been responsible for the power loss, as though had somehow sucked the power out of the building and into her very being to fuel the show. Finally, when the source of the power failure was discovered to have a very technical explanation that was definitively not “fierceness and lady sorcery,” almost every single outlet published a piece explaining how it wasn’t Beyonce after all.
I’ve been turning this reaction over and over in my head ever since. Many of the initial flurry of tweets were admiring, even filled with awe, especially those from people in the audience. It seemed perfectly plausible, given how excellent her performance was, that the star could have blown out the lights with her power and presence. The articles that followed, however, were more accusatory. Polls were taken to calculate readers beliefs regarding whether or not Beyoncé’s “electrifying” performance was to blame for the outage. There were reports that Beyoncé had flashed an Illuminati symbol during her performance, spawning conspiracy theories about sabotage.
Things got even weirder from there. Conservative parent’s groups attacked Beyoncé’s excellent costume for being “too S&M” for primetime television. PETA also took aim at the ensemble, but objected to the use of black leather for entirely different reasons. Some unflattering photos of Beyoncé performing appeared, which quickly became an internet meme (which became even more popular when Beyoncé’s publicist asked if said photos could be taken down). And finally, Donald Trump, paragon of rationality, declared that he just didn’t like her performance very much. In particular, he was offended “when Beyoncé was thrusting her hips forward in a very suggestive manner,” and believed “if someone else would have done that, it would have been a national scandal.”
Somehow, an excellent Super Bowl halftime show, the only halftime show in memory I actually cared about, has become an Illuminati conspiracy-laden, animal cruelty-promoting national scandal. Somehow, it became perfectly natural to assume that a musical performance would be capable of blowing out the power in a stadium, as though the Sports Gods would be angered by what they say happened on the field. It was so natural to assume that Beyoncé was the cause that every outlet who wrote about had to admit, usually in the headline, that she wasn’t to blame, after all.
I’ve been trying to find the reason for the backlash against Beyoncé, who should be basking in the well-deserved glow of success at what is probably the best performance of her career, and on what a stage and not dealing with questions like how much black iguana leather is too evocative of sadomasochism for impressionable children. She should not have to deal with accusations of being involved in an intricate (failed) lluminati plot to prevent the Ravens from winning the Super Bowl. She should not have to deal with Donald Trump.
All I can come up with is this: that is some sexist shit, ladies and gentlemen. The world looked at a woman at the height of her talent and power, having the performance of her life, and found it perfectly natural that that the dark magics of that event would cause an entire stadium to lose power. That the theme of empowerment and strong women being given a stage at the Super Bowl was somehow so at odds with the energy of the event that an act of God (or electricity) would nearly prevent the rest of the event from occurring. And in the days and weeks that followed, many people and groups took every opportunity, from manipulating unflattering photos to stabs at her dance moves and clothes, to tear that powerful woman back down as much as possible. And that, right there, is some grade-A quality bullshit.
Beyoncé, you knocked that halftime show out of the park. You channelled every bit of dynamic, volatile, wild energy that you have and brought that stadium to its knees. You caught the attention of tons of people who expected to tune out or wait through the halftime show and instead watched, riveted. Whether the fearsome powers of lady-sorcery were involved or not, you should be hearing nothing but praise for that show. I sincerely hope you’re taking every bit of criticism as a badge of honour, because nothing spells success more clearly than having Donald Trump hate you.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a poet and music writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press this spring. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieZed.