Give Chris Martin and Coldplay credit: It takes a certain lack of ego for musicians to essentially let themselves be upstaged at their own Super Bowl show.
The British band invited Beyonce and Bruno Mars to share the spotlight Sunday for the halftime extravaganza, which evolved into a 50th anniversary tribute to Super Bowl shows of yore. Both of the guest artists, with experience as headliners of their own on the year's biggest entertainment platform, pushed up the show's energy level.
Martin and Coldplay have a good ear for pop hooks and although they try hard, have difficulty commanding a stage as big as this. With the opening "Viva La Vida" and snippet of "Paradise," they seemed to get lost in their surroundings -- the pinwheels of color on the floor of the stage, the young people coming out with violins, the dancers working on the field.
On "Adventure of a Lifetime," their latest hit, Martin retreated and interacted with his fellow band members instead of working the crowd and the performance was much stronger for it.
Then he ceded the stage to a confident and assured Mars and a crew of background dancers. There was good reason: "Uptown Funk" crackled with an energy unmatched by any of Coldplay's material.
Beyonce took the field, surrounded by dancers with similar Afros to sing part of her new black power anthem, "Formation." It was a gutsy move: Martin had said last week that he wouldn't perform Coldplay's collaboration with Queen Bey, "Hymn For the Weekend," because it was too new. Instead, she breaks out a song released this weekend that many of the 100 million-plus watching on TV probably hadn't heard. Because she can.
She worked it hard, and caught herself just in time after nearly slipping and falling on a dance move. With Mars and Martin, they segued into a mashup of "Uptown Funk" and "Formation."
Martin then took to the piano for a tribute to past halftime shows, including snippets of U2's "Beautiful Day" and Prince's "Purple Rain," as video clips aired of past performances (No Janet Jackson, though -- the NFL would just as soon forget that one). Beyonce's outfit itself may have been a tribute to Michael Jackson's 1993 show, which brought Super Bowl halftimes into the modern age.
Nostalgia is fine, but in a 12-minute show, the tribute seemed a waste of the star power already arrayed on the stage. Martin, Mars and Beyonce finished strongly, however, singing a collaboration that ended with the audience holding placards that spelled out "Believe in Love."
The soft drink company sponsoring the halftime show was a little heavy handed, trying to make a commercial with Janelle Monae seem like part of the show, and having extras hold up placards with their insignia on the field.
Before the game, Lady Gaga performed a classically lovely version of the national anthem, accompanied by a piano and looking sharp in a red pantsuit with matching eye shadow. Perhaps relieved with the pressure done, she vamped a little on "the brave" at the end, causing a flutter among betting houses that annually set odds on how long it would take to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."