Bruno Mars' Super Bowl performance could elevate the hitmaker.(Photo: USA TODAY Sports Images)via USA TODAY
Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY
The Super Bowl has made cultural icons out of quarterbacks, running backs and Budweiser frogs. Why shouldn't it do the same for halftime headliner Bruno Mars?
Mars wasn't the biggest name that the biggest game could have booked. Compared to the superstars who have performed for the past several years - Beyoncé, Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas, The Who, Bruce Springsteen - he's a relative unknown.
But the Super Bowl has a way of elevating those who step up their game in the spotlight. And Mars, the Hawaii-born pop/R&B singer whose style draws on Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and a wide range of '60s and '70s soul, has made a career out of doing just that.
The fireworks over MetLife Stadium were secondary to Mars' incendiary, 2.2 million tweet-generating set, which was packed with hits and steeped in history, starting with a blackout that recalled last year's Super Bowl in New Orleans. Dressed in a gold lamé jacket and black tuxedo pants, Mars established his musician credentials quickly, starting his set behind the drum kit before launching into a 12-minute medley that launched with Locked Out of Heaven then segued seamlessly into Treasure and Runaway Baby.
Mars' eight-piece band is modeled after the R&B revue style of James Brown and the old Motown Records tour, a setup perfectly suited for a halftime show that requires musicians to shift suddenly in a punched-up medley of shortened songs. Mars paid tribute to the bands of that era, inserting a few bars of the Isley Brothers' Shout! into Runaway Baby before breaking into a dance routine borrowed directly from Brown, then introducing the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Give It Away. He even added a patriotic touch at the end, with members of the military dedicating Just the Way You Are to family members and loved ones.
Many Super Bowl viewers may not have made the connection between Mars' image and his music before Sunday night, but for anyone who has turned on a radio in the past four years, he's been inescapable.
In an era where pop-music celebrities often are best-known for their outrageous style and outsized personalities, Mars is a musician's' musician, a bandleader and a true showman, the kind of entertainer with an appeal that can cross generations.
Mars may not have been the biggest entertainer the Super Bowl has booked, but he came in with something to prove. He probably left with his Moonshine Jungle world tour, which goes on sale Monday, being a hotter ticket than this year's game.