By Jeremiah Tucker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The day after the Super Bowl is when we all gather around the water cooler and debate if the guy who threw the football to the other guys dressed like him is the best Super Bowl thrower of all time, or if the guy who ran across the whole field without getting knocked down is the best jogger to ever jog in the game, or if the guy with the bionic arm and tinted visor is a crybaby for the ages.
The one performance that was undebatable this year, however, was that of Beyonce -- she dominated, giving the best halftime show since at least Prince in 2007.
The 31-year-old pop star earned nearly unanimous acclaim, with everyone from USA Today and The New York Times to the indie blog Stereogum and Justin Timberlake praising the 13-minute set that included an abbreviated Destiny's Child reunion.
Beyonce performed like a woman determined to cement her place as the indisputable new king of pop. The title of queen would imply there is perhaps someone with a better claim to the throne, and there is not.
She arrived on the biggest stage in the world -- a setting in recent years that has swallowed the likes of Springsteen, The Who and Madonna -- still stinging from criticism for lip-syncing the National Anthem during President Obama's inauguration.
She addressed the controversy a few days earlier in a press conference by opening with a sterling a cappella rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," afterwards telling reporters that she had used a prerecorded backing track during the January ceremony because she's a perfectionist and there wasn't time to rehearse. But this was the halftime show, arranged to explicitly show off her vocal chops, that she likely intended to be the final word on the issue.
Beyonce possesses that crackling, voltaic stage presence rare even among people who make their living performing in front of large audiences. Michael Jackson also had this quality, but even he, during his mesmerizing performance at the Motown 25 TV special where he debuted the moonwalk, had to lip-sync "Billie Jean" in order to nail his dance moves.
Beyonce's short set was the equivalent of returning a kickoff for a touchdown while wearing high heels and simultaneously singing.
Unlike Jackson, Beyonce's style never appears effortless. Quite the opposite, in fact. She is more from the James Brown "hardest working man in show business" tradition.
Ushered by her parents into the music business at a young age, the Beyonce brand is built on sweat equity, her flawlessness the result of practice and savvy.
For instance: Her voice is technically good, but it isn't especially unique, yet she has learned to wield it like a precision instrument. If you still aren't believer, go to YouTube and watch the mesmerizing shaky home video, filmed in a dressing room by her husband, Jay-Z, of her rehearsing "1+1."
Watching her perform at the Super Bowl, what I found interesting is how Beyonce remains the biggest pop star in the world, despite not being the biggest-selling. Although her last album, "4," a brawny, idiosyncratic mix of classic R&B and pop, was terrific and likely the right move for career longevity, not one of its singles cracked the top 10.
Furthermore, she has yet to have an album come close to selling as many copies as Adele's "21." All three of Taylor Swift's albums have outperformed Beyonce's three releases in the U.S., and Swift has broader crossover appeal. Katy Perry has more No. 1 singles and Lady Gaga has nearly five times more Twitter followers.
Yet it's difficult to imagine any of them pulling off what Beyonce did last Sunday. Her peers may be stars, but they don't necessarily have star power.
Also -- none of them can move like Beyonce.
Like all Super Bowl Halftime Shows, Beyonce's was steeped in spectacle: backup dancers, a guitar that shot fire and impressive digital effects, including one that made it appear as if she had cloned herself. But there were also moments, like at the end of "Single Ladies," where she was on that expansive stage, dancing alone, unflinchingly holding the audience's gaze, confident that she is her own best special effect.