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The Pop Culture Winners and Losers of Super Bowl LVI

In positive developments, the new Jordan Peele and ‘Lord of the Rings’ look good; in less positive developments, Larry David went crypto

Chevrolet/Marvel/AP/Amazon Studios/Universal/FTX

At Super Bowl LVI, the Los Angeles air was warm, the Skyline dip in Cincinnati homes was warmer, and the halftime show—the halftime show was chill as hell. In this dancery, we will tolerate no hateration nor holleration for the hip-hop legends who finally brought rap to the Super Bowl stage (along with visceral memories for an entire generation of middle school dances and loitering in parking lots). We will perhaps cringe at the sting of nostalgia that managed to run through the entire three-hour televised special—but if 2022 isn’t a reasonable time to wish a little harder for yesteryear (via an advertisement for, uh, money), then when is?

Oh, and in between Joe Burrow arriving looking like he robbed a bank on his way to a pickup artist convention (an uncharacteristic fit miss), commercials for spicy Doritos, and the most unexpectedly welcome entrance of 50 Cent since Vanderpump Rules Season 8, the Rams won the Super Bowl! Given that it all went down in L.A., it’s only right that we choose a few pop culture winners and losers from Sunday night’s game:

Winner: Halle Berry and the Magic of Homages

Even more than a sporting event, the Super Bowl is a cultural event—so it’s especially kind that the people over at NBC gave those who were just waiting for Euphoria to start a little something to sink their teeth into; a reason for a culture sibling to show off their subject-matter expertise when the jock sibling says, “Hey, why is Halle Berry here, it seems like I might be missing something?”

That something was that while Halle Berry waxed poetic about the Super Bowl’s Hollywood setting over a series of football movie spoofs, she did it in a near-identical replica of the shiny pinstriped suit that Nicole Kidman wears in her own “magic of movies” introduction to AMC theaters that’s become Twitter legend over the past few months. Is the shiny suit shade? Is it a loving homage? Who cares! I never thought I’d be able to ask these kinds of petty questions before the throwing and kicking even started. Simply put: “Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this.” (Reminder to fact-check that with Bengals fans.)

Loser: The Rock’s Delay of Game

The only thing to sink your teeth into in the Rock’s further introduction of the Super Bowl were his biceps, which somehow permanently faced the camera. It’s not that I don’t want to see the Rock in a Grimace-purple shirt—it’s not that. It’s that the entire premise of the Rock’s Super Bowl preface was that it’s finally time to get to the football game, but … he was the one who was keeping us from getting to the football game! It kind of felt like the Rock had arrived at Super Bowl LVI, found a producer, and said, “Hey, I’ve been working on a little something, mind if I try it out tonight?” (Although, if this was a soft relaunch of his wrestling career, as his eyebrow suggested, we can retroactively upgrade this to a win.)

Winner: Tolkien Fans

The first teaser for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series looked … good? It did not look … bad?! Is the teaser trailer for The Rings of Power canonically accurate to Middle Earth’s second age? I’ll leave that to the experts to explain. But for us dummies using the Super Bowl to add content to our queues, the lingering effect of the teaser trailer was, “Oh, they spent money-money on this, huh?” And that’s a good response—probably the intended one!—to have when The Rings of Power is expected to be the most expensive television show ever made.

Winner: Good Old-Fashioned Nonsense

Jennifer Coolidge staring at a roll of aluminum foil asking, “If it was delivered by Uber Eats, does that mean … I can eats it?” I simply have no notes. Cousin Greg squirting dish soap into his mouth and crying out that the Uber Eats bag is a liar—this is what Super Bowl commercials are made for: a light giggle, a quick clip of Gwyneth Paltrow biting into her own notorious vagina candle, and decidedly no implications that ordering Uber Eats is somehow an act of resistance in these unprecedented times. If the goal of a Super Bowl commercial is to get people talking and/or gagging, then Uber Eats wins. (However, if this commercial causes the next Tide Pods Challenge, then we once again reserve the right to downgrade this to a loss.)

Loser: Good Old-Fashioned Emotional Manipulation

A commercial about an animatronic dog being put out to pasture and ultimately reborn in the metaverse; a Salesforce commercial that, yes, pokes some good fun at Elon Musk, but also suggests that relationship management software is intrinsically connected to saving the planet; ironic instruction by two musical icons who shall remain nameless for their own protection to “do it for the phones” … all of these things meant less to the culture, and to the world at large, than Doja Cat drinking a Baja Blast.

Winner: Keke Palmer

The words “From Jordan Peele”; the electric stare of Daniel Kaluuya; Steven Yeun in a cowboy hat; a horror film that takes place in daylight. There’s plenty from the first teaser for Nope to be excited about, but nothing more than the four little words that have finally ushered in the Keke-aissance, the year of America’s silliest sweetheart: “Yeah, nah nah nah.”

It’s not unusual to go into a Jordan Peele film with a certain level of confusion—why so many wind people? Is the big bad just a tornado? What is the word for a bad miracle?—but this trailer tells us we can also go in expecting a good deal of fun.

Loser: Kanye in the Stands (and IRL)

It’s been a tough week for Kanye. Sorry, let me rephrase that—Kanye has made it a tough week for Kanye. And after days of disowning friends and lashing out at exes and just really odd screenshot methods, America’s no. 1 dark cloud showed up to the Super Bowl in a typically self-serious full head-and-face mask, while his ex-wife’s new boyfriend countered with charming self-deprecation in a mayonnaise commercial.

Winner: J.Lo in the Stands (and IRL)

Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, enjoyed the hell out of the Super Bowl, maskless and ageless as ever. Anytime the cameras caught her during the game, she was dancing alongside Ben Affleck:

J.Lo was advertising for the Olympics in between plays, and she’s starring in a new rom-com that’s streaming on Peacock. Also, her boyfriend actually followed the “we have to make each other’s presents” rule for Valentine’s Day this year:

Yes, that’s right: J.Lo’s extra-good mood at the Super Bowl can surely be credited to the fact that her on-again, off-again boyfriend—who happens to be movie star Ben Affleck—sat down at his little MacBook and made her a four-minute-long personalized music video featuring photos of their lives together, plus a shocking amount of Matt Damon. (It’s the perfect gift for Jennifer Lopez, who just made herself a 112-minute-long personalized music video featuring a shocking amount of Owen Wilson.) Please let these two come to the Super Bowl together forever.

Loser: Celebrities Shilling Crypto

In the Super Bowl’s fourth commercial for cryptocurrency, the Bahamian cryptocurrency exchange FTX advised us not to “be like Larry.” And on that, FTX and I can agree. In a world of wildly wealthy Larry Davids telling you to make a risky financial decision in the name of not regretting it later in life, be more like Guy Fieri: capitalizing on being the rightful mayor of Flavortown by promoting [checks notes] hard soda.

There’s something about advertising money that just doesn’t hit right, and slowly but surely, crypto became this Super Bowl’s big bad. It started to feel like every commercial was going to suddenly reveal itself to be about crypto; I trembled with concern wondering if the lovely ad for a camera technology that takes better photos of dark skin would soon reveal a QR code that would bankrupt me the moment I clicked the link. Luckily, it did not—but more celebrities with more money than the average Super Bowl watcher will ever know continued to cross our screens with the same ominous message: If you don’t do this now, you’ll regret it.

Winner: Nostalgia Shilling Sustainability

The most unexpected theme of Super Bowl LVI was electricity. Cars are electric! Arnold Schwarzenegger is electric! Official Sopranos canon—it’s electric!

Under the actual direction of David Chase, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler reunited as Meadow and A.J. Soprano to advertise an electric Chevy Silverado. Not to be outdone in nostalgia, nor complicated family dynamics, General Motors reunited Mike Meyers, Seth Green, and many more to advertise a zero-emissions future for Dr. Evil and the rest of the world. We love an unexpected trend that’s almost, kind of, in the near vicinity of saving the planet.

Loser: Millennials

But culturally speaking, Super Bowl LVI will be remembered for no greater trend than the moment that an entire generation of people realized they live on the Old beach now.

Society prepares you to grow up and become your parents, but it doesn’t properly prepare you to grow up and be perceived as your parents. As I watched 50 Cent wearily descend upside down from the rafters of a fake house, excitement in my heart but also concern for his general health and wellbeing, I knew that the memes would come—and that my generation would now be the butt of them.

Winner: Millennials

On the bright side: We got a banger of a halftime show. The days of finding millennials in the club, bottle full of bub may be dwindling, but we can still teach these kids a thing or two about hip-hop. Co-headlined by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar, this halftime show was tailor-made for a group of people who now have an on-call physical therapist and the promise of a colonoscopy on the horizon to bebop along to. And it was perfect. Dr. Dre was at the piano, Mary J. Blige was singing “No More Drama” in thigh-high boots, there was a weird little winter village impersonating a house party, and a bunch of uncles as backup dancers—something I had literally never seen before. No, there wasn’t “choreography,” per se, but as Rob Harvilla wrote on this website: “The first hip-hop-centered Super Bowl halftime show kicked a great deal of (primarily geriatric) ass.”