Bruno Mars is no Beyoncé
Editor's note: If you're a huge fan of Bruno Mars, please reconsider your decision to read this.
The Rose Theatre inside the Time Warner Center is a concert hall designed for jazz performances. There are 1,094 seats, and the room is stacked tall like a birthday cake. By all accounts, the space is masterfully designed -- an acoustic marvel. On Thursday afternoon, as media members took their seats, this superior sound engineering was being used to fill the room with one Bruno Mars song after another, which felt a little like using a Steinway to play Chopsticks.
But there we were. A few hundred of us media members, cameras and notepads out, prepared to capture whatever amazing moment musician Bruno Mars might create, or we might help him create with ridiculous questions, at the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show Press Conference. The past two years featured no-last-name-needed performers -- Madonna in 2012, Beyoncé in 2013 -- so it feels awkward to refer to Bruno Mars as just "Mars," but such are the hurdles one must clear when the NFL books a Super Bowl halftime performer who, realistically, is about three good albums from actually being qualified for the gig.
Before Mars came onstage, legendary opera singer Renee Fleming, who will be singing the national anthem on Sunday, graced the stage for a few minutes. The juxtaposition of the two performers, the yin-yang, the gravitas next to the not-so-gravitas (made-up phrase, but "superficial" seems mean), was on full display when Fleming, referring to opera, says, "We are in a niche that is 400 years old and has range at the heart of it."
I'm making it an annual thing.
2:11: The PR guy for the NFL, Brian McCarthy, introduces Fleming as "the Peyton Manning of the opera world." I'm not sure yet if I agree. I'd have to see how she performs in a Papa John's commercial. Why can't she be the Richard Sherman? Someone schedule an on-air interview for immediately after she crushes the final note of the anthem.
2:14: When asked if she will be nervous walking onto the field at MetLife Stadium, in front of 83,000 people, Fleming says of course. She hasn't been sleeping well and is sure that the next few nights will be even more restless. "I work in a world that is complete no-tech, zero-amplification, all-live music," Fleming says.
It's just so amazing how similar opera and Top 40 are these days -- like, virtually interchangeable.
(Skipping ahead to Bruno Mars, not because Fleming wasn't charming, but because she is sophisticated and serious -- the 53-year-old estimated she's gone through the national anthem 800 times in the past three weeks. And on Sunday, we'll probably hear a rendition of the song that will bring tears to your eyes. Where's the humor in that?)
2:25: A Bruno Mars song that is not "Just the Way You Are" is playing. Not sure which one.
2:27: Another Mars song comes on, still not "Just the Way You Are."
2:30: Third Mars song, still no clue. (Launching Shazaam app …)
2:31: McCarthy walks back to the podium. He says, "Please allow me to reintroduce myself," and I'm pretty sure everyone in the audience thinks of this movie clip: Austin Powers . Then McCarthy introduces Pepsi executive Simon Lowden.
2:33: Lowden says, into the microphone, out loud, no joke: "The world's biggest entertainer is about to come out here, so we need more energy in the room."
Everyone looks at each other awkwardly. Look, Mars is great. I like one or two of his songs in a usually-don't-skip-them kind of way. But if Americans agree on only one superficial thing this week, let it be this: Mars is not the world's best entertainer.
OK, now let's all move forward, together.
2:35: McCarthy finally introduces Mars. The 5-foot-5 musician walks onto the stage in an all-black suit. He leans into the microphone and says, "How you guys doing?" It's a rhetorical question.
A few quick-hit Mars quotes, no context needed, from the next few minutes:
"It's cold -- that's the surprise."
"We just started rehearsing two nights ago."
"The microphone turns into a Popsicle. I'm grabbing the microphone and it's frozen."
2:40: A woman asks Mars, "This can be a career-breaker or a career-maker -- where's your head at?" Mars pauses before responding, "Thanks." Then he continues: "It's my job to uplift the people. Whether I'm performing at a bar mitzvah or a wedding or a graduation … I gotta give it all I got. I'm not scared -- if that's what you think."
Actually, no, that's not at all what we were thinking. We were wondering when the next bar mitzvah is that you're booked for.
2:47: McCarthy appears like a ninja from the side of the stage. "That's going to conclude it," he says. "And we're looking forward to seeing you Sunday during the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show." McCarthy hands Mars a football. The Hawaii native pauses for the photo opportunity before walking off stage. And just before disappearing behind the curtain, Mars throws the peace sign.
2:48: Another Mars song pumps through this masterfully crafted space. I know this one! It's the one in which Mars doesn't feel like doing anything. It's "The Lazy Song."