Letting it be known that you really, really like someone is a double-edged sword, which is why I never admitted to liking any boy in school, ever. Open and unabashed admiration is a vulnerability that can be exploited and made fun of. In the worst cases, it can become the thing you are known for: basking in the shadow of another's personality, rather than expressing your own. At the very least, it can make you look kind of silly. (When it comes to boys at school, it can also help secure you a date, which is why I never had any.)
Kind of silly is how I felt when the Prince halftime show came on and everyone who had come over to watch it knew that we had to pay attention because of me and my special feelings for Prince. At the beginning of the show, I was in the kitchen. "Do you really want to miss this?" someone asked. I dutifully took my spot in front of the TV. If you are going to claim to love Prince, you don't screw around when his performance is starting on TV, even if it's a show that you could take or leave, if you're really honest with yourself.
By necessity, the Super Bowl halftime show is the main performer boiled down to his or her essence, and thrown in with a bunch of other ingredients. To ensure a broad appeal, the show has to telegraph the most popular things about its star -- plus a few things that have nothing to do with that star, just in case. So last night, we got not only a selection of hits from Purple Rain, but also covers of Foo Fighters, CCR and Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix. We also got a marching band, wildly seizuring dancers and a big symbol-shaped stage.
As Prince himself sang, "I ain't no fool." He knows what the show is. He knows from what position of artistic privilege he plays. In fact, despite Kelefa Sanneh's comment in The New York Times that Prince "does not carry himself as a pop-star emeritus," the exact opposite is true. Prince carries himself precisely like a pop-star emeritus, because in this context, he is one. Unlike his infamous halftime-show predecessor and contemporary Janet Jackson, he has retired from the effort and pressure of appealing to a mass audience, winning awards, scoring magazine covers when he releases an album and topping charts with new singles. He has managed to thrive outside of that industry and in spite of it, and he wears that independence as a mark of transcendence rather than of decline. He should.
The halftime show was enjoyable to watch, and I'm not mad at Prince for doing it. But sitting in a group of people to watch him play a show like that was less enjoyable for me than it was to sit alone in front of a computer and watch this "press conference" before the game. [Update: The tools at Universal have put the kibosh on said press conference video. Sad...] I like this footage because, at least in the beginning, he's being a little bit of a prima donna and a jerk. It harks back to the days when he was new and mysterious and inaccessible. It's clear here that he just doesn't give a fuck. So he gets up there and he plays a song from 1986's Parade, a song you're not going to know or care about unless you're a pretty solid fan (and a song I happen to love). It's a performance that has more attitude, and maybe even more musicality, than the Super Bowl show did.
Some observers have commented about how strange it is to see Prince, who once represented the lascivious edge of music and was known for only appearing and performing on his own terms, become the Super Bowl's "safe" crowd-pleaser this year. It may be strange, but it's not to be lamented. I would have loved it if Prince stayed the same lip-licking, open-shirted, leering, dirty scamp that he is here forever. I also would have loved it if I never had to contemplate bills, my cholesterol, and the appearance of certain veins on my person. But adolescence can't last forever, at least in any form that resists ridicule -- and what now exists is a happy evolution.