It was just one note: a startling, near-ultrasonic squeal on the word 'free'. But that impossibly high flourish was enough to make Mariah Carey's Sunday night Super Bowl performance her first unambiguous triumph in months. And judging from the look of relief on Carey's face as she finished the national anthem, the beleaguered superstar had needed nothing less.
Other than that one glorious octave leap, Carey's 'Star-Spangled Banner' was remarkably restrained, with the diva resting comfortably in the low end of her prodigious, oft-over-used vocal range (despite rumors to the contrary, she did not appear to be lip-synching). The usually barely-dressed singer even dug deep enough into her closet to find a tasteful blue dress to wear, though she couldn't resist accessorizing with some seriously bling-blinging jewelry.
In all, the brief appearance felt like a first step on a long road toward career recovery for Carey, who slipped into 'Behind the Music'-land last year with a 'physical and emotional breakdown' and the failed movie debut 'Glitter', along with its flop soundtrack album. Last month, Carey's record label paid tens of millions to break its contract with her; the Super Bowl appearance was her first public effort since that news broke.
Carey's uncharacteristically modest performance Sunday night seemed particularly glittering in contrast with the pre-game show's alternately histrionic and saccharine patriotic tunes. There, any heartfelt touches by Marc Anthony, Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, and Wynonna were drowned out by goopy string arrangements and the stomping feet of teen dancers in red, white, and blue Statue of Liberty outfits. Paul McCartney's version of his would-be anthem 'Freedom' was less bombastic, but we've already heard more than enough of that post-Sept. 11 quickie.
Halftime show performers U2 had much less at stake than Carey: Their two-decade career is on an upswing that includes numerous Grammy nods for 2000's 'All That You Can't Leave Behind'. They brought along the heart-shaped stage from their 'Elevation' tour, and repeated the tour's tribute to the victims of Sept. 11's terrorist attacks, projecting the names of the fallen on a screen behind the band.
Lead singer Bono spent Saturday speaking at the World Economic Forum in New York, and all that chatter about Third World debt must have worn on his vocal cords; he had to shout his way through the high notes on 'Beautiful Day' and 'Where the Streets Have No Name' (which the band introduced with a snippet of the obscure 'Unforgettable Fire' track 'MLK'). Still, the band's road-forged confidence and Bono's camera-grabbing swagger were the latest reminders of U2's continuing vitality.
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