The suspense is burning. For the first time in the history of the Super Bowl, people who care nothing about football can experience the same level of investment over the outcome of the big day as sports fans. For my money, the halftime show will be the most exciting of the night's offerings: there is so much riding on Beyoncé's performance. Will she stay true to her word and sing live? Will she reinforce her status as her generation's greatest performer during this relatively vulnerable time in her career? Will she deliver something that erases the Inauguration lip-synching/backing-track accompaniment fiasco? Will she fuck everything up?
There is nothing new about tuning in for the spectacle itself – the intoxicating grandiosity of the event, the outrageous consumerist revelry of commercials as can't-miss entertainment and, certainly, the musical performances. But this is different. Now, there is a palpable pregame sense of something actually being at stake. What once felt like necessary viewing for cultural literacy now has the pull of the next page in a brilliant book. It is essential viewing. At long last, I am ready for some football, or at least, the football I have to get through to watch Beyoncé.
That the halftime show is the next installment in 2013's most riveting pop-cultural narrative means there are pop music fans/diva lovers/members of the Beyhive who previously did not care about the Super Bowl now do. Within this group is a visible subset of women and gay men, who aren't necessarily among the demographics that spring to mind when you think about the Super Bowl, and football in general. That's not to say that this is the first time that women and gay men will be tuning into the Super Bowl with interest (sports fans come in all walks of life), but that now the door is open for ignored populations wider than it has been. That this comes at a time when public discourse about and acceptance of homosexuality is at an all time high, when we're poring over two major news stories (Manti Te'o and Chris Culliver) regarding gayness and football, is at the very least a gorgeous coincidence.
But it's probably a bit deeper than just coincidence. While not specifically gay, there is something about the high stakes of Beyoncé's that appeals to the traditional gay sensibility that prizes camp and melodrama. If the Inauguration controversy brought Beyoncé down to human size for a minute (her image is based on never giving indication that she is less than a demi-god), the ridiculous press conference she starred in yesterday inflated her right back up to absurd proportions.
She opened with a moment of supreme divacy when she asked the members of her audience to stand. That she was about to launch into an acapella, now unmistakably live version of "The Star Spangled Banner" wasn't immediately clear – for a delirious five or ten seconds, it seemed that she was demanding a presidential level of respect from the room, asking to be received by a crowd on its feet. Even with the traditional standing response to the national anthem in mind, that is, in fact, basically what she was asking.
In retrospect, it was amazing that the fawning media members weren't already standing. What followed her predictably terrific rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" (sung with virtually the same turns and curlicues as the Inaugural rendition) was as much of a charade of communication as the entire concept of lip synching. Fielding softball question after softball question, all preceded by compliments on Beyoncé's supreme being like a spontaneous Saturday Night Live skit ("Hi, Beyoncé. You are gorgeous. I love you. Did you hear me? That's my question. Thanks for existing."), Beyoncé was able to argue the case for her supremacy (and also, somewhat paradoxically the commonality of using backing tracks) against a backdrop that appeared to be vetted and orchestrated by her people. On the offset, Beyoncé telegraphed the absurdity of ever challenging Beyoncé's abilities: after belting out the anthem she turned her head and asked, "Any questions?"
What should have been a throwaway moment of puffy promotion was another entertaining act of Beyoncé Theater. The senses of pageantry and over-the-top expression are key features of Beyoncé's repertoire and they will feature prominently in her showing at the Super Bowl. It was always going to be that way, but what it now could mean for her career and status makes for delicious drama. Beyoncé's performance comes a year after her fellow gay icon Madonna played the Super Bowl amongst ripped man-gods while singing her most overt ode to gay culture, "Vogue." As Wesley Morris wrote on Grantland last year:
Nothing homosexually gay happened on that stage. But it seemed to liberate people who watch sports both casually and obsessively to observe, with what sounded like a degree of amused catharsis, how gay Madonna's show felt.
Despite Beyoncé's occasional use of the word "shade" (as in yesterday's press conference), the gay coding will most likely be less prominent, but no less deeply felt. Keep in mind, too, that even the gayest Super Bowl is an event rooted in straightness — nudges, winks and perhaps a lighthearted jokey commercial are about all we can expect in the realm of gay signals. Gay culture is based, in part, on recognizing and claiming such signals.
If nothing else, we know that if Beyoncé does in fact lip synch, she'll be lip synching for her life, just like the queens do every week on RuPaul's Drag Race.
[Image via Getty]