Music Not So Super At Super Bowl: Faked Cheering?

Oh, say, can you see, by the field’s klieg lights, what so proudly we hailed? And proudly hailed to the world over in full Dolby surround-sound HD. What an embarrassment! Bombs bursting on stage was about the size of it.

They always say that the “Super” Bowl is the most watched television program the world over. Like many well known facts and statistics, this one is made up, purely fictional, a combination of desire and wild speculation. But it is at least true that the game is seen by many non Americans, folks who are not used to our ways and have not built up a tolerance to bad music as we have.

The joyless-tivities began with a rendition of America The Beautiful sung by some nondescript celebrity called Lea Michele whose near monotone, one-octave effort sounded like it was arranged by Elton John, or whoever it is that orchestrated every damn Broadway show since 1990. Plastic phrasing, interchangeable chords, lifeless notes, pre-packed and ready made for the microphone and cheesy amplification. One step short of muzak. The kind of signing that requires no skill, no practice. The kind that can be mastered even by celebrities.

If you want stirring, if you want home-grown gospel, if you want to talk about pure from the heart God-shedding-his-grace-on-thee, then you cannot do better than Ray Charles singing the same song. That’s the re-enlistment version, baby. Let he that hath an ear and so forth.

Now, as bad as Michele’s signing was (the best Hollywood Gossip could say was that it “avoided controversy”—high praise), it was merely an average awful banality, easily ignored as you made one last trip to the refrigerator to grab something that resembled beer. It was what came after that horrified.

The real pain began when a strangely dressed, husky voiced Christina Aguilera croaked out what she thought was our National Anthem. The word is already spreading that she made a mistake in the lyric; a typo, if you like. But typos can be forgiven. The stutters, cheats, and out-of-tune wheezing cannot be. Substituting falsetto for high notes is a trick you’d expect from a guy sitting on a dingy stage squinting at 501 Song Cheats, not from a singer heard by at least millions.

The glissando-like whoa-ah-whoa-ah-whoa-ization of every note at the end of every bar was stupid and undisciplined. It’s the kind of signing that would impress only those whose exposure to music was limited to the nursery and FM radio. What came out of her mouth was the equivalent of a black velvet painting of a needlessly angry tiger. What made it worse was that she managed to look exhausted by her efforts. It’s one thing to sing badly, but another suggest that this was the best one can do.

Yet lower depths were still to plumb. The half-time “show” by the group calling themselves Black-eyed Peas demonstrated everything that is wrong with modern music. The act was so awful that it is certain that my limited powers of description will fail to covey how nausea-inducing it was. I won’t even discuss how their costumes looked like they were thought up by a sugar-addled eight-year-old trick-or-treater. I’ll stick strictly to the music.

The most obvious problem was that their voices were processed through some electronic contraption. The singing itself was nearly, but not quite, at the level of a karaoke bar at 2 am; the computerization gave pay to the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you’ve ever heard polished (published) versions of their songs, you’ll know what magic a small army of dedicated sound engineers acting as editors can work.

And why are they so fond of their lyric “Looks like it’s gonna be a good night”? Its two-dozen repetitions were in direct contradistinction from the night viewers had.

Did you notice the biggest farce of the evening? If you paid careful attention to the audience behind the band—not the imported signers, but the actual fans in the stadium—you’ll have noticed that most of them sat rock still, evidently unimpressed by the spectacle they suffered through. Yet at the appointed ends of the band’s noise (songs), a crescendo of applause and cheering was heard.

Was this faked? Or at least augmented, the way laugh-tracks are overlaid on sitcoms shot “in front of a live studio audience”? I’d be willing to bet that it was.


  1. I know some folk were “signing” for deaf viewers, too, but spell-check was not your friend today, Matt.

  2. Briggs


    I’m the first to admit a typo—which are, as I say, forgivable—but today I must protest my innocence. Maybe I’ve had too much coffee to see any?


    Thanks. I never knew of this.


    Must have been a PR flack.

  3. Speed


    And you watched it why?

  4. TrainReq

    Paragraph 4, sentence 1: song, not son.

  5. commieBob

    “… but the actual fans in the stadium—you’ll have noticed that most of them sat rock still, …”

    Perhaps they were frozen by the global warming. 😉

    It isn’t uncommon for a singer to mess up the national anthem. Usually, I think, it is the result of too much artistic license and too little practice. Given that this phenomenon is not even rare, the blame falls on those who chose the singers. Those people appear to be clueless and deserve to be hit upside the head with an appropriately selected clue stick.

    We get to see, and deride, the hapless singer while the guilty escape our notice entirely.

  6. Briggs

    TrainReq (indeed),

    Thanks very much.


    I took one for the team (of humanity).

  7. It took a lot of “doing”, but the NFL has never looked as entertainmently out-of-the-loop as with this year’s half-time show. They blew it big time and need to publicly apologize for that colossal waste of time. Fox network needs to refund a bunch of it’s air-time charges to the poor advertisers whose offerings had to overcome such shallow material.

    Why two patriotic songs at the same time? Do you suppose because the singer of “America The Beautiful” is featured in a nondescript series from the broadcasting network’s “portfolio of mediocrity” had any influence on the decision to broadcast her weak effort? Nah. Must of been something else. Maybe she won a lottery, or something.

    Why the choice of Ms. Aguilar for the national anthem? Was she competing for the title of “2011’s most multi-syllabled per written note vocalist” or something similar? Did she pay the organizers for the air-time exposure opportunity? Does some agent somewhere mistakenly think she’s truly talented? Wow, what a disgrace.

    I yearn for the days when singing the national anthem was about America and had nothing to do with artistic expression and “look at how great I am”. But if we must have “expression” in the anthem then this version would be my choice.

  8. Mike B


    I’ll take your points in reverse order:

    Faked cheering for the Peas: possibly. Piped-in crowd noise has been a controversy at NFL stadiums for awhile. But isn’t it also possible that the cheers were genuine? Genuine relief that the show was over?

    The Black-eyed Peas. Yeah, they were really bad. Oddly, very 80’s with the “Love” lights and all. As much as I appreciate Fergie as eye-candy (at least from a comfortable distance) I never thought a version of “Sweet Child of Mine” would make me pine for Axyl Rose. Slash has always been more of a clown than a guitarist, and this appearance only moved him into full-blown clownness. I’ve never gotten Usher. What does he do well? And final note to the Peas: if you’re going to rely on your voices being processed, make sure the crew can make the equipment work properly. Eh, at least my kids enjoyed it.

    Christina Aguilara: You cut her way too much slack. She was beyond bad. And there is NO EXCUSE for messing up the lyrics. She’s a frigging professional. Even on American Freaking Idol, the judges have told countless contestestants: “mess up the lyrics again, and you’re gone.”

    Lea Michele: She wasn’t bad. It was a very Super Bowl ish arrangement. And comparing it to Ray Charles is totally unfair. That would be like me telling my 8-year old at his school art show that he’s no Picasso. The Ray Charles version of ATB is iconic.

    Oh, and on two more important notes: the commercials were bad and the game was sloppy.

  9. DAV

    I’ve noticed over the years that the halftime show is more often discussed than the game. I didn’t watch it. Is there still a game surrounding to the show?

  10. JH

    I am glad that they didn’t invite Lady Gaga to sing the National Anthem last night.

  11. Katie

    JH–There is always next year!!

  12. Doug M

    I missed the pre-game hype, so will not comment on Lea Michele, but will say that it does seem unfair to compare anyone’s performance of that song to Ray Charles.

    Regarding Christina, it was widely expected that she would kill it. She has sung it many times before, and has occasionally sung it well. Gambling sites were offering wagers on how long she would hold the note on “brave.”

    The Star Spangled Banner is not an easy song to sing, I never understood why so many singers feel the need to embellish it. I have suspected that it many singers know that they don’t have the vocal ability to sing it straight. However, Christina does have the range and chooses to torture it.

    The Black Eyed Peas seem to be long 2 peas. They have a male vocalist, a female vocalist, what do the other 2 guys do? Model Tron fashion?

    Did you notice that the sound engineer failed to turn on Fergie’s mike when she began singing. Inexcusable!

    Fergie tried to hard to channel Axl Rose in her rendition of ‘Sweet Child of Mine.’

    Regarding the vocorder, it brings me back to my childhood and the original Battlestar Galactica.

  13. Ray

    “exposure to music was limited to the nursery and FM radio”
    Now that is unfair to FM. I used to listen to the NY Metropolitan Opera on FM every Sunday but I never learned to sing opera. Just didn’t have the singing talent, however I never claimed to be a singer.

  14. Mack

    “…built up a tolerance to bad music as we have.”

    Amen to that. I sometimes wonder if pop music is laced with subliminal messages aimed at fooling us into liking it.

  15. Pop music is composed and performed in a manner designed to aurally offend the current crop of mature adults, ie: parents of adolescents. Teeny-boppers instinctively understand this dynamic, and to achieve the goal of driving their parents crazy, [regardless of their personal taste], deliberately opt to claim that style as their own. And thus fulfill the cycle of life. It was ever so.

  16. harrywr2

    49erDweet says:
    7 February 2011 at 5:00 pm

    “Pop music is composed and performed in a manner designed to aurally offend the current crop of mature adults, ie: parents of adolescents.”

    I’ve survived the musical tastes of 4 adolescents. Calling the super bowl half time show offensive is an insult to offensive music.

  17. Morgan

    I second Briggs’s thanks to Parabellum – I had never heard of this technology before. Now the remarkable improvement in Cher’s voice between the 1970s and the late 1990s has an explanation.

    Apparently the Black Eyed Peas do use (or at least, have used) Autotune:


    Having tuned in part of the way through Aguilera’s demonstration that a very good voice can sound like a very bad one when showing off wins out over actual singing, I agree that the singing (and the “show” as a whole) left a lot to be desired.

    But I enjoyed the game.

  18. SteveBrooklineMA

    Yes, it’s autotune. What many people think is a “cool effect!” is really just a crutch. Once you know about it, you hear it everywhere on the radio. Blah. How bizarre it is that our popular music is dominated by people who can not carry a tune.

  19. SteveBrooklineMA

    Doug M: “Battlestar Galactica” Thanks, that made me laugh out loud.

  20. Adam H

    Autotune is used in nearly every pop song. I (seriously!) would be astonished if there was a “top-40” song that didn’t use it. It’s gotten to be very versatile – you can make it sound robotic like the black eyed peas and Cher, but you can also make it sound extremely natural by only adjusting the frequencies at the middle of notes and letting the vibrato go through.

    Even though the Black Eyed Peas use it obviously, the world champions of autotune are actually Lea Michele and the producers of Glee. Anyone who has seen the show can attest. Anyone who hasn’t seen it, never ever ever do.

    The Superbowl was really bad this year. It reminded me why I don’t like Pro Football. They run the same 3 plays over and over again! And it always surprises me how the best of the best at catching balls can still drop them.

  21. Jeremy Das

    I can understand people not liking the stereotypical sound of Autotune used as an effect (although I happen to be rather fond of it) but I cannot understand why the very idea of vocal correction software seems to provoke outrage in otherwise seemingly rational people who seem to think that using a program to make vocals sound better is a form of cheating. It seems to me that this prejudice against Autotune and the like is nothing more than a passing fad, comparable with the Musicians’ Union campaign against synthesisers in the 1970s. At the time I was among a minority who thought this campaign was utterly absurd. Few, now, would disagree…

    I can’t help wondering if such people’s musical perception is somewhat limited compared with that of the average person, causing them to perceive music less as an emotional language and more as a skill to be appreciated and enjoyed in the abstract, somewhat akin, perhaps, to watching glass-blowing or high-speed knitting…

  22. Sera

    Well, I just listened to Mass in B Minor, and she was not using ‘autotune’.

    I grew up in south Florida ‘hanging out’ at recording studios, and never thought of music as an emotional language. I always enjoyed watching the hard work and skill and TALENT that went into production, and never thought of it as ‘glass blowing’. I never knew that my musical perception was somewhat limited, but I do play several instruments and write music.

  23. Briggs


    I just saw on (see the 11 Feb post) this Super Bowl rendition of the National Anthem by Whitney Houston. Better in every way.

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