Imagine you’re a member of a popular band that has been asked to take your fame to the next level. The NFL approaches you with the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play the Super Bowl Halftime Show, part of the most watched television event in the country, but there’s a catch – only your singer can perform live. The rest of the band must mime to pre-recorded tracks, a move that may technically make sense, but could ultimately hurt the band’s reputation. Do you seize the opportunity or turn it down?
This was the decision the Red Hot Chili Peppers faced when asked to play their hit “Give It Away” with pop star Bruno Mars at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, and while it pulled in the largest halftime audience in the history of the Big Game, it also started a flurry of criticism on the Internet, particularly on Twitter, when fans realized that the bass and guitar were completely unplugged during what was called a “live” performance.
Two days later, bassist Flea responded in a statement on the Los Angeles rock group’s website, admitting that while the vocals were live, the bass, drums, and guitar were pre-recorded because the NFL did not want to risk the quality of the sound, and with only a few minutes to set up the stage and get the audio just right for millions of viewers, the Chili Peppers had to agree to mime despite the band’s previous stance against such “faked” concerts.
“We mimed on one or two weird MTV shows before that and it always was a drag. We take our music playing seriously, it is a sacred thing for us, and anyone who has ever seen us in concert (like the night before the Super Bowl at the Barclays Center), knows that we play from our heart, we improvise spontaneously, take musical risks, and sweat blood at every show. We have been on the road for 31 years doing it,” Flea, whose real name is Michael Peter Balzary, wrote.
“We eventually decided, it was a surreal-like, once in a life time crazy thing to do and we would just have fun and do it. We had given this a lot of thought before agreeing to do it, and besides many a long conversation amongst ourselves, I spoke with many musician friends for whom I have the utmost respect, and they all said they would do it if asked, that it was a wild trippy thing to do, what the hell. Plus, we the RHCP all love football too and that played a big part in our decision.”
He said they recorded a track specifically for that day and he was grateful to the NFL and Mars for the gig, noting that he “would do it all the same way again.”
“Could we have plugged them in and avoided bumming people out who have expressed disappointment that the instrumental track was pre recorded? Of course easily we could have and this would be a non-issue. We thought it better to not pretend. It seemed like the realest thing to do in the circumstance. It was like making a music video in front of a gazillion people, except with live vocals, and only one chance to rock it. Our only thought was to bring the spirit of who we are to the people,” he continued.
With so much local talent in the area looking for their next big break, The Weekender asked local musicians and music professionals if they agree with Flea’s position and would do the same or if they would refuse the gig to maintain artistic integrity.
Charles Davis, guitarist and keyboardist for Cherokee Red, believes that the Chili Peppers’ popularity has been in “a slight, but steady decline for some time now,” and while the show was “an effective way to remind a large audience of their relevance,” the decision was “ultimately a step backward for an act of this caliber.”
“This is a band that has, for quite some time, walked that fine line of celebrity and artistic integrity. No one can question their musicianship or how their artistry has affected the face of music. However, in my opinion, their decision to ‘play’ the Super Bowl is a sign that they are accepting their role as ‘has-beens’ and doing their best to capitalize off of said role. I believe the question in Flea’s mind was something to the tune of, ‘How do we pull this off without looking like tools?’ and in that respect, I believe they succeeded, with most people and most musicians,” Davis said.
“However, personally, as an artist and musician, this does not change the respect that I lost for them by complying to this unnecessary industry standard, especially when they are essentially rich and famous enough to flat-out turn it down. In their choice to ‘perform’ at the Super Bowl, thus choosing to ‘play-sync’ for money, they have shown their true drive as artists/musicians today. It is just sad to see, but I guess not every ‘rocker’ can meet fame and money with the integrity of a Neil Young or a Lou Reed.”
John Husosky, bassist for A Fire With Friends and a longtime RHCP fan, has seen them live before and insists they put “put every ounce energy into performing and creating an unforgettable experience.”
“I can’t speak for all of my members in AFWF, but if I were in that situation, I would probably do it too to be involved in something that big. If they were plugged in and turned off, no one would even know the difference. What people should be focusing on is that (drummer) Chad Smith is auctioning off his NFL drum kits from that performance and has already received bids over $22,000 for Make-A-Wish America,” he noted. “Wake up, people.”
A Social State vocalist and guitarist Ed Cuozzo also defended the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, saying that while popular artists shouldn’t book huge tours with “unreasonable” ticket prices if they’re not delivering “true” performances, the finger should not be pointed at RHCP in this case because their legacy has been built “on incredible live shows” and the NFL “twisted their arm into” doing something they weren’t completely comfortable with.
“I think what people have to realize is that this level of entertainment is so different. That band isn’t your local, obscure, arty-farty, underground, cult favorite artist betraying its ‘hip’ fan base. This is an immensely popular mainstream, Top 40, major label rock band that has been
completely entangled by the ‘machine’ that is the music industry for 30-plus years. That ‘machine’ is their jobs, and sometimes at your job you have to do s—t you really don’t want to do,” he explained.
“These guys got offered an opportunity that almost any artist would kill for, and most artists would have probably mimed and not given one s—t about doing so. RHCP did it on their own terms and admitted exactly what had happened and why. In my opinion, we should let RHCP slide.”
Shea Riley, a music teacher at Wyoming Area Secondary Center, actually thinks more of RHCP for being honest with their fans.
“Who can blame them for taking advantage of an opportunity? Furthermore, it is their right as an artist to protect the integrity of their music. Given the logistics of the situation, who would want to go out there and chance the quality of a performance only to face even more criticism?” Riley questioned.
“These guys have been around for years and have nothing to prove to anyone. Their reputation speaks for itself. Give them a break and get over yourselves!”
Music journalist Matt Morgis agrees, respecting that they were “very honest and upfront about it” immediately after.
“I think musicians will say, ‘I would never do that,’ but when the situation is actually in front of you, it’s probably hard to turn down. I’m not sure what I would do, but given the situation, I definitely can understand where they are coming, and again, I like the way they handled their choice and the consequences,” Morgis said.
Eye On Attraction drummer Andrew Merkle brought up the point that musicians, artistry aside, need to get paid, too.
“Would I take the gig? Yes. Would most? Yes. Are they within their right to offer the gig for $0 knowing no one would turn it down? Absolutely! Is it right? Absolutely not. ‘Once in a lifetime opportunity/honor’ is a great way to never get paid for doing your goddamn job. This isn’t ‘fun yay happy time’ for musicians. It’s their job. Would you work for free?” he asked.
The Liberty Underground frontman and multi-instrumentalist Jon Chorba says he doesn’t blame RHCP or the NFL, but rather armchair critics and members of the public who anonymously “leave rude and negative comments” online or “demand ‘perfection’ from mainstream artists but have absolutely no concept of what that even means and wouldn’t know the difference between a pre-recorded track and a true, flawless live performance unless you told them.”
“The large and ignorant public have created the demand that events like halftime at the Super Bowl should be superficially flawless rather than realistic and genuine. The NFL is just giving the public what they want,” he emphasized.
“If you think the Chili Peppers ‘couldn’t’ do it live, you are absolutely out of your mind. They’ve earned the right to do whatever the hell they want to do, and yes, I would play it in a heartbeat. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that only a few dozen people could say they’ve done.”
Connor Langan, bassist and vocalist for Crock Pot Abduction, noted that bands have been miming performances on television for decades, including some of the greatest musicians of all time.
“Back in the ‘60s, when bands like The Beatles appeared on televised events, they were clearly miming and no one cared. The trend of miming music on TV continued decades after that. One thing that comes to mind is when Nirvana played Top of the Pops in 1992; they were peeved that they had to mime the music, so they just goofed off and made it look completely fake,” he recalled.
“I can see why they would have RHCP mime, especially since they had Bruno Mars and his whole band to perform as well. I think after being around for 30 years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have proved they can actually put on a great live show. Who cares if this is one occasion that they faked it? Plus, it was the NFL who asked them to mime; it’s not like they mime every show.”