A few minutes after the Black Eyed Peas finished their Super Bowl halftime show, the group’s mastermind, will.i.am, tweeted, “Tell me what you think of the show???” His encouragement was not necessary; Twitter was already spitting out terabytes of opinion and insult. How can we measure the degree to which people hated the Peas’ show? Do a Twitter search for “black eyed peas Hitler,” “black eyed peas Satan,” “black eyed peas evil” or “black eyed peas craptastic” and you’ll find plenty of comments. Someone has to come to the defense of the Black Eyed Peas. Because Hitler and Satan aren’t speaking up, it’s left to Popdust.
First, it’s worth remembering that Black Eyed Peas consists of a Mexican-American woman and three dark-skinned men, one of whom spoke no English when he moved to the U.S. at age 13. What’s race got to do with it? Let’s have a look at ESPN’s much-retweeted map of anti-Peas sentiment. BEP hatred ran highest in Wyoming, Maine, and Vermont. According to 2009 census figures, those are states where white people comprise 93.5, 96.1, and 96.2 percent of the population, respectively, versus a national average of 79.6. Although we lack the statistical acumen of Nate Silver, Popdust is pretty confident of this theory: Crackers don’t like the Black Eyed Peas.
Much of the vitriol against the Peas returns to the idea that they are not “real musicians and real artists,” in contrast to the Who and Paul McCartney, two previous halftime performers. Know who else doesn’t like the Black Eyed Peas? Baby boomers. Because unless they see someone holding a guitar, boomers don’t think “real music” is being made. This eliminates rapping, sampling, dancing, DJing, space helmets, and everything else that has made music interesting and fun for the last thirty years. Christopher Cross was a real musician. Do you want him next year at halftime, panting and stroking an acoustic guitar?
And then there are the hipsters. (“Hipster” is a word hipsters have come to despise, perhaps because of its popularity.) Hipsters tend to hate anything that’s on network TV, except for Parks & Recreation. And they particularly hate Black Eyed Peas, who are the network TV of pop groups, even though the over-the-top staging and design of the halftime show, which would likely put Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to shame, was the kind of ecstatic revelry hipster bands like Flaming Lips, Patrick Wolf and Of Montreal create on a smaller, cheaper scale. Unlike boomer, hipsters express disdain through irony, and some of the most entertaining BEP comments were from professional comedians, who are used to performing for crowds of 150 or more. Kudos to Patton Oswalt, Andy Kindler, Andy Borowitz, Will Arnett, Rob Delaney and Scott Aukerman for raising the possibility that male stand-up comics are just frustrated rock critics.
BEP songs are vulgar, repetitive, shameless, and simplistic. That’s why we like them. Acts that make music this broad and mainstream, whether Haddaway, C+C Music Factory or MC Hammer, usually disappear quickly enough to be lovable punchlines. The Peas have been making gargantuan hits since 2003, when the Iraq War began and Justin Bieber turned eight. Their ongoing success breeds resentment, or as it’s now usually termed, hatin’. Why won’t they stop? They’ve become targets because they’ve made a career of what’s thought to be disposable.
The Black Eyed Peas were the right choice for the Super Bowl, which began in 1967 with a game that didn’t even sell out, and has, propelled by the American impulse towards spectacle, transformed into the single largest annual corporate event, a multi-hour marketing marathon with 111 million viewers. Unlike, say, Wyoming, Maine and Vermont, the Peas embody an American diversity, through their Filipino, Mexican, and African-American ancestry. They also embody excess, pluck, and regret; much like your own extended family, at least half the group has been treated for addiction. When you make fun of the Black Eyed Peas, you are making fun of America.
And because this is America, we encourage you to go ahead and tell us how wrong we are, in the comments box.