Snoop and Diddy headline a cast of stars destined to steal the spotlight from Super Bowl XLII

Hip-hop star Ludacris is a football fan with a lot to say about the Super Bowl. He really wanted to see the Dallas Cowboys make the championship game, but since they didn't and it's Giants versus Pats, his money's on the Patriots when he comes to Glendale for the Super Bowl.

He's less enthusiastic about the halftime show.

"Uh, yeah, I guess I'll probably watch it," he says. "Who's performing?"

Uh, Tom Petty.

Yes, that's right. The biggest cultural event in America — with an estimated 130 million viewers and fans paying $3,000 for a seat in the upper level of University of Phoenix Stadium — has booked an aging rocker with a blond bob to headline the halftime show.

That's not to say there won't be amazing acts in town over Super Bowl weekend. Everyone from Paris Hilton to John Travolta is winging in for the Super Bowl, and though there's no guarantee they'll be pleased with the outcome of Sunday's football game, they definitely won't be bored.

Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Ne-Yo, and Diddy are all performing — just not at the game. Petty's the sole performer for the halftime show, which skips hip-hop, one of the most popular music genres — particularly among players like Patriots wide receiver Donté Stallworth and legendary 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice.

So why isn't there hip-hop in the halftime show? Blame Janet Jackson's nipple, the quest for advertising dollars, and a fearful establishment.

"As well-received as hip-hop has been, it's still corporate America's nightmare, in that it can just as easily work against them," says Valley rapper Pokafase, who's performing with Diddy at the Super Thursday party at Axis/Radius in Scottsdale (full disclosure: New Times is sponsoring Super Thursday, and the marketing side of the paper is involved in many Super Bowl weekend activities). "The best representation of hip-hop is gonna be the parties around Super Bowl weekend."

Some stars, like Snoop Dogg, have a full dance card over the weekend. In addition to performing at the Anheuser-Busch Bud Bowl on Friday, Snoop will also bring his son's football team to Hamilton High School for the Snoop Bowl game that day. On Saturday, Snoop is scheduled to appear at the Penthouse Desire Super Party.

Ludacris has a full party plate, too.

"This show is gonna be a party," Ludacris says of his Saturday "Luda Bowl" at Celebrity Theatre. "I'll be there, and the whole DTP [Disturbing Tha Peace record label] family will be there, and that includes Bobby Valentino, Playaz Circle, and Willy Northpole. I'm looking forward to introducing Willy Northpole, because I know Phoenix is his hometown and he's been waiting to break out. And you never know, there might be some surprises, too." (Like, perhaps, Chingy and Lil Wayne, according to the press release.)

Halftime? Why bother. We'd rather be with Snoop Dogg at Axis/Radius for the Anheuser-Busch Bud Bowl.

Watching the Super Bowl halftime show over the past few years has felt a lot like watching that one crazy relative who used to be a party animal take a sip of a beer after years of sobriety. You remember how edgy and fun he used to be, but then he went too far one night and hit a tree, and he had to stay dry for a while. And even though he's nipping at the hair of the dog every now and then, he's just not as entertaining as he used to be — and so his current attempts at entertainment are just lame by comparison.

Super Bowl's sobering accident was the Nipplegate scandal of 2004, when Justin Timberlake broke into Janet Jackson's top and exposed her right breast to more than 144 million viewers, shocking the nation and costing Viacom (then-parent company of halftime show producer MTV) $3.5 million in settlements for indecency complaints.

Then, the NFL announced that MTV would never produce another halftime show, ending the channel's budding, two-bowl legacy of explosive pop-culture productions.

"I think that, in general, celebrity culture has reached such a degrading level, and Nipplegate was over the top," says Elayne Rapping, a professor of media studies and popular culture at the University at Buffalo in New York. "Now, they want it to be more wholesome and all-American. They're pulling in the reins. The winds have shifted, and now we're getting a more wholesome event. I don't think anybody's gonna tear off Tom Petty's clothes."

Before that fateful day in 2004, Super Bowl halftime shows fit with the bombastic atmosphere of the event — big-name performers accompanied by dancers, fireworks, smoke machines, legions of lights, and sexy celebrities shaking their asses and just about everything else. The NFL and the networks had been making a deliberate effort to create a more dynamic show since 1992, when the halftime show — featuring Gloria Estefan and figure skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill — lost around 25 million viewers to a special episode of In Living Color.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea