Unless you were a Seattle fan, Super Bowl XLVIII wasn’t much as far as football goes.
Thank god there was Bruno Mars at half-time to make up for any lack of excitement.
Peyton Manning may not have showed up for his star turn. (Nor did Richard Sherman, who exited early with a bad ankle).
That’s all right, Mars was there at half-time.
After a chorus of young people of every race sang in front of an enlarged U.S. flag, Mars, 28, appeared center stage banging on a drum set like he was announcing the arrival of a new America.
It was not a boring drum solo.
Indeed, Mars, half-Filipino on his mother’s side, with a father of Puerto Rican-Hungarian descent from Brooklyn, was born and raised in the perfect place for diversity — Hawaii. There he graduated from Roosevelt High, skipped college and went straight to Hollywood.
He didn’t miss freshman English.
Mars’ eye-opening performance was not just the picture of diversity, it was its soundtrack: a soulful blend with roots in American pop, old and new. Before he went solo in 2010, Mars showed his knack for music. He co-wrote and produced hits like Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” and other songs for artists like B.o.B. and Gym Class Heroes.
Four years later, people are getting the full Bruno, realizing that Mars has the rhythm of diversity and the sound of the new America down cold.
Now with his Super Bowl performance, he’s emerged on the biggest stage as a world-class entertainer.
I first sensed his star power when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2012.
On SNL, Mars carried the show on his back ― from the monologue, through a half-dozen or so skits, one filmed piece (“Sad Mouse”), and two musical numbers. Actually, most of the set pieces had some form of music. It all showed off Mars’ prodigious talent, not just as a singer, but as an actor and comedian.
None of this would necessarily come through just listening to him on your iPod, so the SNL monologue capitalized on whether Mars could deliver.
“Can I be like Timberlake,” Mars sang of the one-time boy band sensation now international movie star.
Then he delivered the punchline. “Underneath this trendy suit,” Mars sang, “hides a scared Filipino … ”
The laughter began, but then Mars topped it, by singing the word, “girl.”
To dispel all doubts, Mars broke into a gospel-like refrain. “I’ll be amazing,” he sang. “I can do it.” But it was just a hint of what was to come.
In a Jerry Springer-like send up of a show (this one called “Haters”), Mars came on as 17-year-old Crystal, the girl who steals men from her mother, with Mars donning a blonde streaked wig and exuding high-grade sass.
It was an unintentional homage to all the great Filipino transvestite entertainers the world has known.
Filipinos in drag for laughs I can take.
But it was different from how SNL usually uses drag ― to mask its lack of diversity.
SNL has just hired a new female Black cast member, Sasheer Zamata. So now maybe the Black male cast members can stop wearing dresses.
But diversity on the Asian and Latino front is still lacking on that show.
Whites still go “yellow face” to play Asians. And Latinos? We don’t really see them on that show.
Maybe Mars and his multiple talents can help move the diversity issue along in showbiz in general.
Even with all the minority pop stars that exist, just remember all the doubters out there about Mars before Sunday.
That’s when he got his chance and knocked it out of the park.
All he needed was the opportunity.
In the end, that’s all any of us really want.
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok
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