Hip-hop won the Super Bowl

The National Football League (NFL) delivered an entertaining nail-biter for Super Bowl LVI, but the halftime show was the real star, even more so than in previous years.

Led by music producer and Beats Electronics co-founder Dr. Dre, the nearly 15-minute show featured an A-list lineup of artists he has produced in the past including Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent,  Kendrick Lamar, and Mary J. Blige. Performing at Sofi Stadium, just a few miles from Compton, the Los Angeles neighborhood made famous by Dr. Dre’s music, the show departed from previous NFL half-time shows that have favored safe, mainstream pop, rock, and R&B acts.

Historically, the NFL has allowed a very limited rap artist presence onto the halftime stage, with Nelly briefly joining lead act Aerosmith in 2001, and Nicki Minaj backing up Madonna in 2012. In contrast, the 2022 Super Bowl finally gave hip-hop top billing, finally giving once controversial artists the biggest stage in sports.

Embracing controversy to sell the game

The NFL’s decision wasn’t made without some trepidation. Just before the game, a report from Puck claimed that the NFL had concerns about the halftime show’s song list. Specifically, a Dr. Dre lyric from his 1999 song Still D.R.E., which states that he’s “still not loving police.” Similar concerns were reportedly raised around Eminem’s plan to kneel during his performance as a nod to Colin Kaepernick’s stance against police brutality.

In the end, Dr. Dre recited his lyrics unedited, and Eminem knelt as planned. Afterward, the NFL claimed that it was aware that Eminem would kneel and made no attempt to stop that part of the artist’s performance. Still, the inclusion of these particular artists, and their politically-charged music, crossed a cultural boundary that the NFL hasn’t breached before. The NFL’s decision to put them front and center speaks to the market dominance of hip-hop and R&B, which is now the leading music genre in the US commanding 28% of the market.

The biggest music marketing event of the year

Beyond burnishing the NFL’s credibility with its hip-hop loving audience, the halftime show will also likely boost the music catalog sales of the artists involved. In 2017, the day after Lady Gaga’s halftime show, her music sales increased by 960%. Likewise, after the 2013 performance from Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, their sales jumped by 40%, and Prince’s sales doubled after his halftime show in 2007.

The songs from Sunday’s performance were mostly well established classics and need little promotion. Nevertheless, the expected 117 million strong Super Bowl audience will almost certainly give the artists and music labels a mainstream sales boost unlike any they’ve experienced before.

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