Did Petty sell out?

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

What happened

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ halftime show during the Super Bowl Sunday night went off without any controversy, unlike some halftime performances of recent years. The band played many of its old hits, including “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Free Fallin’,” in what critics said was a calculated step away from the bad press that followed singer Janet Jackson's infamous performance in 2004.

What the commentators said

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“Tom Petty bills himself as an old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roller who takes a stand against all the jive and corny aspects of show biz, said Thor Christensen in The Dallas Morning News. “But Sunday, he backed down in his Super Bowl halftime show”—it seemed pretty obvious that he “was lip-syncing.” Prince and the Rolling Stones “were raw but still spectacular” at the last two Super Bowls, but “Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers lacked that element of danger."

But that’s exactly why they were asked to play, said Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune. “The Type-A personalities in charge of the NFL and its precious image don’t like surprises,” so “they picked a fail-safe performer.” Remember “Nipplegate, the infamous Janet Jackson–Justin Timberlake ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at halftime of the 2004 game”? What was surprising was that Petty “agreed to do it at all. The rocker has refused to license his songs for advertising and corporate sponsorship” in the past, but playing “a halftime event sponsored by a tire company” must not seem so bad when you're trying to make a comeback and launching a national tour.

Watching Petty perform at halftime may have “seemed odd at first,” said Todd Martens in a Los Angeles Times blog, “but placed in the context of what’s happened to the U.S. concert market, it really isn’t.” Ticket prices are so expensive now that “arena concerts belong to the rich, and we’re quickly approaching an age when the closest the common fan can get to a major artist” is “soon going to be either via Super Bowl halftime shows or 3-D films.” Like it or not, this “is essentially what passes for a communal concert experience these days.”

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