By Hans Ebert
After an overkill of importance placed on the Super Bowl Half-time show, this, too, has now come and gone. Though realising that one had to be there to fully understand and appreciate the pomp and ceremony of the occasion, for television audiences not knowing anything about the teams playing and, depending on the different time zones, waking up early to see what all the fuss was about, left many of us with a feeling of, “And now what?” This was to be answered the next day.
While Twitter exploded about the “awesomeness” of it all with Beyoncé raised to musical deity, Coldplay and Bruno Mars were reduced to almost cameo roles. It made one realise just how differently each of us absorbs and appreciates this very personal thing called music. And more and more, it becomes more personal, more subjective, and to those trying to eke a living making music, just how confusing, splintered, and, dare I say it, how unrewarding and hopeless it can often appear as one sees the deep chasm between the Haves and the Have-nots deepening.
Has music always been like this? No. Where there once were hopes and dreams, big business and, recently, especially in America, politics has stomped all over music- and been given a free pass to do so. And as we all know by now, power doesn’t just corrupt. Power means no one knowing the black hats from those wearing the white, and led by an entertainment media in the pockets of power brokers. And on Super Bowl Sunday, it was all about the golden goose that is Beyoncé.
There’s this nagging feeling that the artist has completely lost control of her career and that her performance was purely a window of opportunity to promote her upcoming Formation World Tour, and where more golden eggs will be gathered and placed in Swiss bank accounts.
Reading the avalanche of tweets on Sunday, what was particularly surprising was how little many in the U.S. know about Chris Martin and Coldplay. In Asia, for example, Coldplay seem to have been around for an eternity. Their song “Yellow” was covered over ten years ago by Zheng Jun, an artist from Mainland China, the band played throughout Asia during their early years, and, apart from writing some very good songs, Chris Martin is a bloody down-to-earth bloke- a huge fan of the Beatles, and who’s somehow inherited this reputation as a purveyor of soft-cock pop music, and about being more showbiz than music.
One can only guess that the highly publicised marriage to Actress Gwyneth Paltrow- another pretty much misunderstood celebrity- and their infamous “conscious uncoupling” didn’t help matters- have pushed his and the music of Coldplay way too much into the background. And on Super Bowl Sunday’s Half-time Show, like the ads created and aired specifically for and on this day, the performances by Beyoncé- with Jay Z, extremely good friends for many years with Martin and Paltrow- Bruno Mars and Coldplay, almost overshadowed the game. Who won? No idea. Who played? Apart from the musicians mentioned, and a somewhat over-the-top version of “The Star Spangled Banner” by Lady Gaga who seems to desperately want to be seen as more than a gimmick, no idea. Who won? According to Twitter, it was Beyoncé.
That was on Sunday. The next day, her performance had become a matter of political and racial debate. Had the Super Bowl been allowed to be hijacked? Yes. The NFL would have known what to expect from this Half-time show. What has any of this to music? Nothing. Yes, music has always given people and politics a Voice- but never in such a bombastic manner, which shows how easily artists and music can be manipulated and turned into superficial and misguided cause célèbre muppets.
It’s a long way from John Lennon singing “Power To The People” and all the idealism of “Give Peace A Chance” and “Imagine”.
Of course #BlackLivesMatter, but is turning music into another weapon of hate- and having it blatantly allowed to be used in this way a good thing? What message does this send out to those too young to understand, and only looking for reasons to hate? What does any of this say about the future of music? What happened to Coldplay and Bruno Mars?
It’s unfair, and even a little stupid to do so as you know it will only lead to disappointment, but one can’t help thinking about the Super Bowl Half-time show, who and what it promoted on such a humongous platform, in many ways, hoodwinked a gullible public, and what might have been going through the minds all those still trying to make a living by creating music. Or are they really trying?
Many times, one cannot help but at look at those in the upper levels of music’s stratosphere, and realise that there is no “middle class”. Like our parents doing everything they could to provide for us, we’re now in the same role. This often means taking on everything with one-time priorities- like making music- pushed into the background. Gone these days are working to timelines. There’s always something new that comes up. And if raised with disciplines like meeting objectives, and know that you’re being played for a fool, you quickly realise that this team isn’t working.
No one is to blame- not really- but many have reached that point where the truth is always hard to say. It’s somehow bent. What this means is depending on others to work as a team in a dedicated manner like all those years ago has gone. Despite all the talk, it’s everyone for themselves, and looking out for family and Number One. We’re too far down the road for turning back. It’s the way of the world.
Here in Hong Kong, a professional musician makes between US$500 to $700 a gig- and that’s on the high side. The big Chinese artists have made their many millions, and have now diversified their business portfolios.
The news that Faye Wong, easily the biggest Chinese artist in the world, will be touring again after a twelve year hiatus must mean that she’s received an offer she can’t refuse. Now pushing fifty, and as attractive as ever, Faye Wong doesn’t need the money. But, with rumours saying she’s been offered over US$40m for twenty concerts, why not?
Like Patrick Jane in “The Mentalist” telling Teresa Lisbon how he really feels about her, and has kept his feelings suppressed, we all have secrets we keep to ourselves- truths that, as religion says, will set you free.
Music is all about the truth. Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, and yes, Chris Martin writing and singing “Fix You”, have always worn their hearts on their sleeves.
Their music has often inspired us to face our inner truths and not live fake lives in front of cameras like the Kardashians, and probably why the intriguing Kendall Jenner refuses to join the E! circus. Personally, E! and living life based on the worlds according to Google and Wikipedia is why we are so ill-informed and with, too often, not an original thought in many heads. We’ve become pre-conditioned to sidestep home truths. We have become used to being around enablers.
It’s music that often takes us where we don’t wish to go, but know we must so as not to keep everyone else happy, but not one’s self.
By today, all that buzz about Beyoncé and Queen Bey and faith, home and charity, twittering in the twitterverse, the Half-time show where a herd mentality was formed and many followed like sheep needing a desperate sense of belonging will be a blur. Replacing the joy of music is music used for political agendas. Beyoncé and her new song and performance. Has she lost control of her music? Her career? Was this the end game for the main Destiny’s Child? What do you think?
As reality sets in, look around you, see with who and where you are, and if a musician- not a passive listener of the art form, but someone who can actually create music- ask yourself when you really created something of substance. When did you last believe in #TheHealingPowerOfMusic?
Then, think of all the wasted opportunities, and what you- and I- are going to do to make up for lost time- and with whom and how to find that missing link called a partner for life to get things back on track and rid yourself of those whom your inner voice always told you didn’t make the grade. And those million dollar celebrities you always had a hard time accepting as musicians. Looking up to these muppets will only bring you down.