What the Super Bowl Concerts Tell Us About the Future of Live Music

What the Super Bowl Concerts Tell Us About the Future of Live Music

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What the Super Bowl Concerts Tell Us About the Future of Live Music

Are masked backup dancers the new norm?

Are masked backup dancers the new norm?

Text: Siena Ballotta Garman

At this point, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how most everyone moves through the world (masked, cautious, acutely aware of every germ that might be stuck to that doorknob). It has certainly impacted the way we view public gatherings, even those we see on TV. Watching TV shows and movies, we might think to ourselves, "That's not six feet!" The same applies to concert footage filmed before the pandemic. Watching it can be a nice respite, but we can't quiet our automatic unease about witnessing a sea of fans so close together.

That's why it felt so strange to watch the concerts that accompanied Sunday's Super Bowl. At the TikTok Tailgate event, which streamed live on the TikTok app, Miley Cyrus performed songs from her new classic rock-inspired album featuring Joan Jett and Billy Idol. Watching her was a glimpse into a pandemic-free reality. There was Miley in her sequined football uniform, and there was Joan Jett, dressed in all black, and there was a cheering crowd of fans. A crowd? But it was true; a group of vaccinated healthcare workers attended Cyrus's pre-Super Bowl concert. She concluded the show with her 2009 song "The Climb," an uplifting anthem she dedicated to the audience.

Later, The Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye) delivered his halftime performance. All memes aside, this performance was another double-take moment. It had the high production value typically associated with halftime shows. Above all, it was shockingly normal. Tesfaye delivered some greatest hits and ended with a dance routine on the field. The only things that really said "global pandemic" were the KN95 masks on the faces of his backup dancers – masks becoming increasingly popular for their supposed effectiveness against new coronavirus variants. (The masks conveniently matched the dancers' face bandages.) The NFL faced some criticism for allowing 25,000 fans into the stadium, although like the dancers, these fans wore masks.

© Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Whenever live events return, we will need to proceed with care. Miley's performance proves that with vaccinated audience members, live music might become possible again. The Weeknd's halftime show demonstrates a creative use of protective masks. These are the kinds of solutions that will likely be required in the future. Finally, both performances were outdoor concerts. COVID-19 transmission rates are lower outdoors, so it's possible that we will see outdoor shows return before jam-packed clubs. Will we eventually stand in a sweaty crowd, jostled by strangers, voices hoarse from singing along? As Miley sings in "The Climb," "I can almost see it."

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