It seems like a sign of some sort of existential crisis that Coldplay will play the halftime show of the 50th Super Bowl, but I’m not sure whose crisis it is or what it’s about. Should people worry about the famously tough sport of football giving airtime to the biggest soft-rockers of the millennium? Should they lament that America’s favorite championship has been conquered by the Brits? Should they fret about whether Chris Martin will be able to find a confetti gun big enough to cake each and every seat in San Jose’s Levi’s Stadium with rainbow confetti?
Probably no, no, and no. Regarding the macho/wimpy dichotomy: The pop likes of Madonna, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé have, in some critics’ words, queered the halftime show irrevocably; intentionally or not, Coldplay can continue the tradition. (Remember that 40 Year Old Virgin “How I know you’re gay” banter about them?) As for xenophobic concerns: The Who, U2, Paul McCartney, and The Rolling Stones have all headlined in the past. As for the logistics, one imagines that Coldplay’s got excellent colored-paper technology stockpiled from its previous arena tours.
The truth is that the Super Bowl halftime show is America’s last great monocultural musical moment, and it’s mostly helpful as a thought experiment to help figure out which acts can legitimately be called superstars—and moreover, which kind of acts. Bruno Mars brought out the Red Hot Chili Peppers and made a big deal about using live instruments in his 2014 performance, but he’s generally thought of as a pop and R&B artist. The last time we had a young (read: not considered “classic”) rocker headline the show alone was never, basically, though Kid Rock was overshadowed by Janet Jackson’s boob in 2003, and No Doubt teamed up with Shania Twain the year before that. All of which is to say, today’s Super Bowl announcement is further confirmation that in the category of relevant, still-going, culture-uniting, newish rock-and-roll bands, Coldplay’s close to all we’ve got. And now they’ve gone disco.
Also, they’re retiring soon, supposedly. So the Super Bowl will be sort of a Super Bowl for their career, a lifetime achievement after which Chris Martin can feel free to open a car dealership like he maybe always wanted to. The band would do well to keep in mind that halftime shows are about visual spectacle, not music; if you want your performance to be anywhere approaching iconic in the cultural memory, you’ve got to offer up a Left Shark, or a middle finger, or a phallic guitar silhouette. Lately, Coldplay’s been performing with apes, which is a start. But one imagines something grander is in the works with the hopes of turning every viewer’s teardrop into a waterfall. Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé, and Barack Obama all have guest spots on the band’s Head Full of Dreams, which is conveniently out tomorrow (breaking: not on Spotify). The image of that crew holding hands as a stadium sings “The Scientist” might even justify all the puns about cold plays we’re about to endure.