One commercial break after Big & Rich rolled out their ridonkulous circus act (top hat, tie-dye midget, Cowboy Troy) at last year’s NBA All-Star Game halftime show, Charles Barkley let his displeasure be known, saying that the country needed to get over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl debacle: “This is a hip-hop weekend, not a NASCAR race.” At least about the Janet thing, Barkley is even more right this year, but he didn’t have anything to say about this year’s halftime show; he was too busy erroneously predicting a victory for the Western division and making fun of Ernie Johnson for not knowing what a pimp cup was (Johnson: “a mug with dollar signs on it”). With all their aggressive hucksterism and freak-parade gimmickry, at least Big & Rich, who I sort of love, demand a response. The Rolling Stones were nasty and desiccated at this year’s Super Bowl, but at least they demand a response. John Legend and Carrie Underwood demand nothing; the NBA couldn’t have picked a more boring or toothless pair if it tried.
The All-Star Game isn’t about music, of course; it’s about fucked-up alley-oop attempts and garishly loud sneakers and endless shots of the little kid from New Orleans who got to hang out with Kobe a couple of times. (Read the Bill Simmons wrap-up if you haven’t already.) But considering that NBA players are more likely than any other athletes to moonlight as musicians (including Clipper Walter McCarty, whose “Star-Spangled Banner” on All-Star Saturday night was squeaky but still better than Fefe Dobson’s “O Canada”), considering that Ice Cube outplayed all the WNBA players in Friday night’s celebrity game, you’d think the league could’ve come up with something better than Underwood blowing her high notes or Legend standing on top of a piano. Underwood, who at least looked unbelievably hot, has a bad habit of singing songs that aren’t “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” and Legend probably can’t make time to write or record in between all the TV appearances he’s been making lately; the guy isn’t anywhere near interesting or famous enough to be on my TV constantly, but the big networks love him like VH-1 loves Leela James. And so the best song of the night ended up being the fucking national anthem. Destiny’s Child, “reunited” for the second time in a couple of weeks, harmonized the living hell out of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and it was gorgeous, but that was it.
Weirdly but maybe appropriately, the most entertaining music-related moments came from the players themselves. During the player introductions, the Houston Symphony Orchestra did this ridiculous thing where they segued from Beethoven into “Crazy Train” while all the reserve players stood on lit-up disco platforms and Shawn Marion awkwardly did the “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” dance. This led to both teams’ starting lineups, standing side-by-side on an elevator thing, busting out utterly hilarious and unexpected dance routines: the Eastern team doing a goofy hands-in-the-air choreographed thing and the Western team, Yao Ming included, doing a robot wave. When Yao Ming is upstaging you, John Legend, it’s time to step your personality game up.