If any questions lingered about Beyonce's ability to sing live — or her ability to make even the most crazed football fans momentarily forget about a game — then she answered them with force and grace during her Super Bowl halftime performance Sunday night. The fact that she achieved this on the world's most-watched stage is unsurprising, because she has long relished moments with the largest audiences.
After controversy over her lip-syncing at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, she opened a news conference last week with an a cappella version of the national anthem — and told reporters that there'd be no lip-syncing for the Super Bowl.
Her opening song, "Love on Top," quickly confirmed it. The set list that followed was varied and surprising. In between staples such as "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" and "Crazy in Love," Beyonce performed the dance hall-inspired "Baby Boy" from 2003 and the underrated recent single "End of Time."
It wouldn't be a Super Bowl halftime show without a surprise. It was rumored for weeks that Destiny's Child, the R&B; group that first made Beyonce a star only to disband in 2006, would reunite in New Orleans. The rumor turned out to be true. While it wasn't much of a surprise, the brief reunion was a reminder that "Bootylicious" and "Independent Women" are durable pop songs with welcome messages about female empowerment.
The reunion also reaffirmed that Beyonce was smart to venture out as a solo artist. After Destiny's Child's two-song medley, Beyonce took over the spotlight with "Single Ladies." Afterward, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland exited quickly, so Beyonce could finish the set with "Halo," a rising, midtempo ballad that once again showed off her singing skills.
There was nothing effortless to Beyonce's performance, but perhaps that was the point. She clearly works hard to hit the right notes and sell the assorted hip thrusts and diva posing. To infer that she fakes anything would ignore why she became famous and popular enough to headline the Super Bowl in the first place.
"I am a perfectionist," Beyonce told reporters last week. "One thing about me, I practice until my feet bleed."
At the time, it sounded like an exaggeration to make a point. But after watching her aggressive, sexually charged dance moves and hearing her impressive vocal runs of "Crazy in Love" and "Halo," it seemed like a statement of plain fact.
Earlier in the night, Jennifer Hudson joined the Sandy Hook Elementary School choir for a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful." Alicia Keys then performed a dragging rendition of the national anthem. Of the three singers, Keys fared worst, because of pace and, occasionally, pitch. But all three appeared to be singing live, avoiding any debate about authenticity.