As a dedicated Beyonce fan, I’m excited to hear that she is apparently confirmed to headline the Super Bowl halftime show in February. It’s always a lot of fun to get to see performers roll out some of their most beloved material in an environment that gives them license for dramatic staging. But as much as I like Beyonce, and look forward to whether she can get a stadium of football fans grooving to “Single Ladies,” it’s not just her music that has me excited about Beyonce getting a chance to take that stage.
I’m frankly glad to see an African-American woman back on that stage as the headline performer (rather than Nicki Minaj’s guest stint) for the first time since Janet Jackson in 2004. I’ve always been disgusted by the way that performance, in which Justin Timberlake ripped off part of her costume, leaving her breast exposed, got reduced to a “wardrobe malfunction” and associated with Jackson, rather than with Timberlake’s actions. The image of her, shocked and covering herself up, with Timberlake beside her sporting a serious case of sexyface is upsetting and uncomfortable. In the years that followed, the Super Bowl defaulted to a heavy rotation of old, white dudes, though that didn’t exactly save the game from sexualized incidents like Bruce Springsteen’s camera crotch-bump. It took until 2011 for a woman to return to the halftime stage: Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas performed in a full-body Tron-inspired suit. She was followed the year after by Madonna, Nicki Minaj, and M.I.A. in cheerleader outfits with Cee-Lo Green present as, alternatively, a band-leader and in choir robes—hardly a figure to cause a disruption.
Now, nine years later, Beyonce’s being allowed on the halftime stage, not as part of a band, not as backup to a white woman whose sexualized antics are so familiar and tired that they’re amusing, but as her own fantastic, pop-culture dominating self. Hopefully they won’t saddle her with a stable of backup performers, unless her husband wants to drop by for a duet. And it would be nice if we could all recognize that network skittishness over the halftime show in the past decade is due to incidents that stem more from the actions of white guys than Janet Jackson.