Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige & Kendrick Lamar FULL Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show
The halftime show of Super Bowl LVI might have technically featured five announced headliners — Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige, with a surprise sixth in 50 Cent — but there’s no question that the hit-filled set revolved around two stars: Dr. Dre and the city of L.A.
And while the lyrics to the songs featured in the long medley of the performers’ hits — some of the biggest hip-hop songs of the past 30 years — were largely sanitized from references to racial strife or parts of the human anatomy, the sole white headliner, Eminem, managed to make a statement that pre-show reports said he’d been expressly asked not to make: Taking a knee, Colin Kaepernick style, to protest police violence against the Black community.
However, an N.F.L. rep told Variety shortly after the show that it was fully aware of Eminem’s plans. “We watched all elements of the show during multiple rehearsals this week and were aware that Eminem was going to do that,” the rep said. “This was not an area of concern. A player or coach could have taken a knee today and there would not have been an issue.” Reps for Eminem and halftime producers Roc Nation did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Either way, it was the one moment of protest in an otherwise air-tight medley celebrating Dre-style hip-hop and L.A. positivity. Performing on a five-stage, house-themed set atop of map of the city, Dre led the stars — in order of appearance, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, with Anderson .Paak on drums — through a powerful medley of their hits, nearly all of which were produced and/ or co-written by him.
And indeed, a black-clad Dre was the maestro through the entire tightly drilled set. The Doctor is a famously meticulous producer, and the stop-on-a-dime set featured nary a musical glitch or slip.
It began with him at the controls of a giant, white, futuristic console that resembled a huge mixing desk before he was joined by Snoop, who was wearing a sort of psychedelic blue tracksuit, atop the roof of the center house stage for their 1999 tag-team “The Next Episode.” The pair moved into the interior of the house sets — complete with family photos, clips of their old videos playing on TV sets and scenes from Compton on the walls — while a small army of dancers performed at all sides of the set, which was embellished with three low-rider cars like the ones in Snoop and Dre’s early ‘90s videos.
The pair moved back to the roof stages for a rousing but brief version of the classic “California Love,” which is actually a Tupac song but was limited to Dre’s verse.
The scene cut quickly to the unexpected sight of a beefy 50 Cent — a surprise performer appearing before three of the headliners — even more unexpectedly hanging upside-down, rapping the beginning of his Dre-helmed hit “In Da Club,” wearing a white tank top, watching headband and a “50” necklace (that read “20” when he was upside down).
After climbing down, he rolled through the song, accompanied by a dozen-odd female dancers, before the action moved yet again to the center stage, where Mary J. Blige, in knee-high boots and a sparkly white ensemble, took the stage in a cloud of smoke and soared into her 2001 Dre-helmed smash “Family Affair.”
The set took a breath in tempo but not emotion as she quickly moved into one of her signature ballads, “No More Drama.”
Next up, the action cut quickly to the overhead map of Compton on the stadium floor as Lamar, wearing a black suit and accompanied by two dozen similarly clad male dancers with their hair dyed blonde and wearing sashes that read “Dre Day.” As they emerged from large black boxes (which also read “Dre Day”), Lamar began with a snippet of his L.A.-themed early hit “M.A.A.D. City” before cutting directly into his 2015 anthem “Alright.”
This song, more than any other, saw its impact lessened by the tidied-up lyrics, leaving little of the social impact of the original. However, that was probably lost on many of the viewers not already familiar with the song, as Lamar’s lighting-fast rapping obscured many of his lyrics.
But suddenly, he was rapping the lyrics to Eminem’s “Forgot About Dre,” and the action moved back to the top stages as Em burst out of an exploding column, accompanied by Dre, back at the controls, leading an accompanying band with Anderson .Paak on drums. The ensemble roared into a powerful version of Em’s 2002 signature song “Lose Yourself” that turned into the climax of the set. (Want a good laugh? Turn on the closed-caption of your TV while Eminem is rapping.) 50 Cent and Blige were seated next to each other nodding along to the beat, on one of the couches on the set.
And as he finished the song, Eminem finished and took a knee, and stayed there for a full minute.
Just feet away, Dre sat down at a white grand piano and played a brief snippet of the DeBarge sample he’d used in Tupac’s I Ain’t Atcha” before moving onto the piano hook to “Still D.R.E.,” as he and Snoop moved to the finale as they were gradually joined by the other performers.
And with that, the set was done.
The show itself — produced by DPS, with Roc Nation and Jesse Collins serving as executive producers and Hamish Hamilton as director — thankfully didn’t try to create an “urban” vibe and instead went sleek hip-hop, family-friendly without being corny. As he often has been throughout his career, Eminem was the disruptor — with Dr. Dre looking on with approval, not far away.
Since Kaepernick was essentially banished from their league after the 2016 season, the N.F.L. has worked to change its narrative on racial issues, bringing on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation as the official entertainment consultant and having far more diverse halftime and pre-show performers in the past, including the Weeknd, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. But does that represent real change for an organization that was criticized by the president of the United States for not hiring enough Black coaches? Time will tell.