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It was a night to do a Midwestern boy’s heart good. There was Indianapolis squaring off against Chicago, of course. But in the end–or rather at the half–it was Minneapolis who tore up the field. When CBS announced Prince as the Super Bowl halftime act, I worried it meant that the wizard of Paisley Park had been officially neutered. No such problem. Prince may have been chosen because his nipples didn’t pose a danger, but his music still does.

It’s true, of course, that Prince relied mainly on familiar ’80s picks for his originals–Let’s Go Crazy, Purple Rain. But unlike recent geriatric performers (The Stones, Paul McCartney), Prince didn’t just show up on stage to collect a gold watch. His set was a raging argument for his place in pop music history, especially when he ripped through covers of Dylan (All Along the Watchtower), Creedence (Proud Mary) and Foo Fighters (The Best of You). And although he stuck to well-known hits, come on–if you have Purple Rain in your arsenal, you’re going to use it, and his show-closing performance had an intensity and grandeur that could not be undercut even by having a marching band play along.

Any competent act can play a Super Bowl and show the crowd a good time. Prince transcended the setting by taking it seriously, using his set to remind us of his mastery, playing for himself as much as for us. If that makes him sound arrogant, that’s what his performance was, in the best way. It was a proud, transgenerational, irrefutable assertion that he is the once and future Prince.

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