During Madonna’s halftime show at the Super Bowl, British hip-hop artist M.I.A. let a little birdie fly when she flipped off the camera at the end of her cameo in “Give Me All Your Luvin’.”
The gesture made it on air, unedited, to some 115 million viewers, and because this is America and we tend to freak out about such things, a minor deal is being made out of the bird. NBC and NFL were quick to issue apologies, though there’s been no word yet from Madonna or M.I.A. herself.
As for the gesture itself, I quote Renee Zellweger’s character in Empire Records: “Well Sinead O’Rebellion, shock me shock me shock me with that deviant behavior!” She really stuck it to us squares in the audience with her rebellious antics, didn’t she? Very edgy stuff, very subversive move. If that didn’t make you rethink the crass commercialism of the Super Bowl and reevaluate your belief system — you spent all that time and effort caring about a silly football game? — then you’re beyond saving, man!
Seriously though, it was an uncool move. Not because it was offensive, because it was disrespectful — most of all, to Madonna. Madonna featured M.I.A. on her new single (along with Nicki Minaj, who played nice at the Super Bowl), and by inviting her to perform at the Super Bowl, she put her front and center on the world’s biggest stage. It’s not surprising the agitprop artist would use a platform such as the Super Bowl to make such a statement, but flipping a middle finger is hardly revolutionary; in fact, it’s a little sad. And that little gesture is likely to dominate conversation over what was otherwise a pretty spectacular halftime show.
Madonna, no stranger to controversy herself, may even appreciate the move. Maybe it’s something she would have at one time done herself. But on Sunday, Madonna was on her best behavior, and didn’t at any point tempt the censors by trying to pull one over on them. In a pre-game interview with Bob Costas, Madonna laughed off the notion there would be a wardrobe malfunction during the performance, saying it wasn’t even a possibility. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t that kind of party, until M.I.A. — who, coincidentally released a new single this week titled “Bad Girls” — went and made it one.
M.I.A.’s bird is not a Janet Jackson-level security scare. But those wounds are still fresh enough that the move could have repercussions. Jackson’s boob-baring incident resulted in a string of classic rock artists getting the nod to play the Super Bowl halftime show, and Madonna followed the Black Eyed Peas at last year’s Super Bowl as the first pop artists to headline the halftime show since. If next year’s show is headlined by Steely Dan, you’ll know who to thank, and you’ll know that M.I.A.’s message was heard loud and clear.