Super Bowl Reveals Beyonce to Be a Sweaty, Hard-Working Human Being

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The halftime show's inspirational message: Being fabulous isn't easy, but it's also not impossible.

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The picture above is from early in Beyoncé's halftime show, when the singer dropped to the ground and writhed about as video art flashed from beneath. But look: Those red lines emanate from a silhouette where, presumably, Beyoncé was supposed to be lying. She's not in the right spot.

Just a small, apparent (apparent!) mistake in an otherwise awesome spectacle of song, dance, holography, and pyrotechnics? Yeah. But when it comes to Beyoncé, mistakes are precious. What she sells is the appearance of flawlessness—a majestic, shimmering fabulousness that leads fans to speak of her in worshipful terms. And yet the banter about her being godlike ("And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them" went Gawker's post previewing her halftime show, for example) undersells her real accomplishment: attaining greatness as a mortal.

The duplicating holograms, the lookalike dancers, the inclusion of the Destiny's Children: The idea here was to universalize Beyoncé's hard-earned excellence

So a big part of the charm of her Super Bowl performance was its reminder that, no, Beyoncé's not a divine being—she's a human who puts a lot of effort in to achieve incredible things. Opening with a few a capella lines of "Love on Top" and then striding forward while the prerecorded horns of "Crazy in Love" blared, Beyoncé made clear early on that she herself would carry this thing using her talent, poise, and sweat. The mesmerizing contingent of backup dancers, band players, and Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams played big supporting roles, but at no point did it appear that anyone up on stage was working harder than Beyoncé.

The idea that great pop takes work should be a no-brainer. But even before the mini-scandal over her lip syncing of the national anthem at President Obama's inauguration, stars like Beyoncé have been criticized as talentless, prepackaged—fake. There are a lot of problems with that critique, and one of them is that it's inaccurate. At the Super Dome last night, we saw a woman's creative vision, personal magnetism, and physical ability marshaled—yes, with a team, but what isn't?—for a dazzling performance whose few small flaws (the biggest of which was the audio mix, which is presumably not Beyoncé's doing) underscored just how hard it was to pull off.

But Beyoncé's genius isn't just in her ability to execute. It's in the way her art is also about executing. That theme showed up last night in the piped-in opening quote from Vince Lombardi—"Excellence must be pursued, it must be wooed with all of one's might"—just as it always has in Beyoncé's songs. And this isn't an egomaniacal quest for glory, as Beyoncé's detractors often will say. It's actually a feminist statement, embedded in the title of the Destiny's Child hit "Independent Women Part I" (resurrected last night) and acted out by her all-female backing ensemble at the Superdome. "Girls (Run the World)" didn't get played, but it didn't have to be; a line like "We're smart enough to make these millions / Strong enough to bear the children / Then get back to business" would have almost been overkill.

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AP Images / Gerald Herbert

And what of that ensemble, the similarly dressed, Valkyrie-esque horde that shimmied and high-stepped and crazy-eyed in unison with their ringleader? Think back to a year ago, when Madonna's even-more-enormous spectacle featured a legion of half-naked men fanning and pirouetting and tight-rope bouncing in deference to their pop empress. The visuals there, "World Peace" closing aside, drew a contrast, painting a picture of power wielded over others. This year, though, was about power with others. The duplicating holograms, the lookalike dancers, the inclusion of her sisters-in-stardom Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland, the closing "Halo" performance during which Beyoncé leaned down and reached out into the crowd: The idea here was to universalize Beyoncé's hard-earned excellence. Really, it was a totally appropriate performance for the Super Bowl—as fierce a tribute to the American work ethic as we'll ever see.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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