2021 Super Bowl Wrap : Pop Culture Happy Hour It has been a truly bizarre NFL season, as the pandemic threatened players' health and compelled teams to play in empty or near-empty stadiums all season long. But it all ended in familiar fashion: with Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl championship, this time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. We couldn't have a Super Bowl party this year, but we did gather around our TVs to watch the game, the halftime show with The Weeknd, and lots of commercials. Plus, we take a moment to remember actor Christopher Plummer.

2021 Super Bowl: The Game, The Halftime Show, And The Commercials

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It has been a truly bizarre NFL season, as the pandemic threatened players' health and compelled teams to play in empty or near-empty stadiums all season long. But it all ended in familiar fashion - with Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl championship, this time over the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. We couldn't have a Super Bowl party this year, but we did gather round our respective TVs to watch the game, the halftime show with The Weeknd and, of course, lots and lots of commercials, advertising products and services and the very notion that we're all in this together. Here's Bruce Springsteen for Jeep.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: There's a chapel in Kansas standing on the exact center of the lower 48. It never closes. All are more than welcome to come meet here in the middle.

THOMPSON: I'm Stephen Thompson. It's 10:57 on Sunday night, and we are talking about Super Bowl LV on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. So don't go away.


THOMPSON: Welcome back. Joining me from her home in St. Petersburg, Fla., is NPR Music's very own Tampa Bay Buccaneers correspondent, Lyndsey McKenna. Hi, Lyndsey.


THOMPSON: I am so glad that you are here to join me and that I can bask in your celebration.

MCKENNA: I literally cannot believe it. I really am in shock.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) All right, so just to recap the actual game itself - this was supposed to be an epic shootout between two generations of superstar quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year. Tom Brady was playing in his first Super Bowl since leaving New England at the end of last season. But the game was surprisingly lopsided. Brady threw three touchdowns in the first half. He was named most valuable player. Mahomes was running for his life, basically the entire game, behind a depleted offensive line. The final score was Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9.

So much of the story of this game is about Tom Brady, who won his seventh Super Bowl in 10 appearances, both records that will be very hard to match. But the Tampa Bay defense also played incredibly well at every level. Lyndsey, you are a Floridian. You are a lifelong Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. You are the only reason I can think of to be excited about this outcome (laughter). Tell me a little bit about how you're feeling tonight.

MCKENNA: Stephen, I'm feeling great. I'm going to Disney World. No, I'm not. It's a global pandemic. I am not going to Disney World, nor should anyone, I guess.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

MCKENNA: I'm a Floridian. I'm here in St. Pete. And sports has sort of been the talk of the town through the pandemic, especially baseball season. The Tampa Bay Rays had this great run. The Buccaneers - there's been such excitement. I've been on the other side of watching Tom Brady's success and feeling a little deflated. That - I chose that word intentionally for this. Yeah.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

MCKENNA: My husband is a diehard Patriots fan, so he's been bitter all season. It's been enjoyable for me. I sort of feel like I don't necessarily have, like, this commitment to Tom Brady, but I do feel commitment to my hometown teams. I've always been a Florida sports fan, so it just - it's exciting to feel that success, especially when there is a certain amount of guilt that you feel being a sports consumer right now. Mike, you know, on the other side of the coin, the Kansas City fan - producer of the show - and I have talked about this a little bit, about what it means to sort of be a sports consumer right now. And again, there's a certain amount of guilt, and I know that we'll address that. But for me, a Bucs fan, I have to say, I'm feeling relieved. I'm feeling excited. It was a good feeling to watch a successful victory.

THOMPSON: Well, I'm happy to bask in your reflected glory.


THOMPSON: I've only been bitter about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two weeks. So as a Green Bay Packers fan, this game was bittersweet because I wanted to play this Kansas City Chiefs team, the way they played tonight. How was the experience of watching this game different for you than previous Super Bowls? Did it feel different?

MCKENNA: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a communal aspect to the Super Bowl and to a lot of, like, big sporting events. And we're approaching award season, and I think for those of us that are sort of, like, pop culture consumers, when it comes to these big tent-pole events, like the Super Bowl or, like, the Emmys and the Grammys, I miss that feeling of being at a watch party and everyone being in on the jokes and, like, having that camaraderie.

And obviously, there were front-line workers at the Super Bowl tonight. So of the 20-something-thousand fans that were in the stadium, about 7,000 were health care workers who were fully vaccinated. I actually know a few, being from the area. But even knowing that some of those folks were fully vaccinated, you saw masks flailing. You saw people pulling their masks back up when they were on screen.


MCKENNA: You had to watch it sort of in the comfort of your own little quarantine. It's bittersweet. It's hard. It's difficult. Like I said, there's an amount of guilt that you feel. I don't think that there's a right answer to how we should be feeling. But I definitely think that seeing the cutouts in the stands and knowing that there were still a lot of people there, that it didn't feel necessarily like the safest environment, especially when you've seen some of the video of the events happening in the area - it's complicated. It's hard.

THOMPSON: I had somewhat of a similar experience watching this game. I mean, I - as I've talked about on this show before, I host a Super Bowl party every year. It's called the Chicken Bowl. It is a Super Bowl party/fried chicken-eating contest. This was to be Chicken Bowl 25, and it consisted of me on my couch watching TV, which I've done before. That's not a new experience. And I watched the Super Bowl more closely than I've watched a Super Bowl in the last quarter-century. It was not an electrifyingly close game. And so the experience really dragged, and I just missed my friends so much, more than I even already did, missing out on - as you said, Lyndsey, kind of the communal experience of enjoying a piece of the monoculture. We get so few pieces of monoculture left.

So let's talk about the halftime show. The Weeknd was the big halftime headliner. Some halftime shows in the past, we get a lot of guest performers coming in. You know, you get, like, whole segments that have, like, other big stars joining in. This was just a showcase, just a big medley of big hits by The Weeknd.

MCKENNA: Yeah. And I think in recent years, there has been a really big focus on sort of, like, who is appearing with the headliner.


MCKENNA: The big special guest has always been a feature.


MCKENNA: And I feel like this year, The Weeknd set the expectation that there was not going to be a special guest. It was going to be him. And obviously, I think there were a lot of extra precautions that were taken in order to make this. You know, the stage wasn't on the field. And there - until the very end, there wasn't this big, large audience of people all cheering and yelling. He was at this elevated platform. So it was just - it was a different halftime show.

That being said, I really enjoyed this halftime show. It was a spectacle. Like, the lights were incredible. I love the fact that it paid some fan service to people who have been fans of The Weeknd. Like, that first mixtape, "House Of Balloons," was released 10 years ago, and it was really great to hear a song - "House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls" - from that mixtape. Loved that. And I think it was just, like, really compelling, visually. Like, it was arresting. There's already a great meme of it, of him in that room with all the mirrors. Love that. Love when you get a memeable moment.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

MCKENNA: There were some touchy sound elements, and I'm not sure if maybe, like, was that because there was a smaller crew? Was it just because it's a big event? You know, who knows? I'm not going to be able to Monday morning quarterback that. You know, I said that it was a communal experience watching the Super Bowl, and I think that this is kind of a, like, your-mileage-may-vary situation. Like, as a longtime fan, like, I kind of knew what I was getting into. And The Weeknd has huge hits. I mean, "Blinding Lights," I think, is maybe, like, one of the most streamed songs ever.



THE WEEKND: (Singing) And I said, ooh, I'm blinded by the lights. No, I can't sleep until I feel your touch. I said, ooh, I'm drowning in the night. Oh, when I'm like this, you're the one I trust.

MCKENNA: These are big hits. But I think for someone who maybe isn't as familiar with, like, his discography and sort of his visual elements and, like, just the story and the narrative that he's trying to tell, you may have benefited from being at a Super Bowl party and having someone to explain to you, like, this is referencing this element. So I think that maybe, like, some of that may have gotten lost in translation just by being, like, a solo element. But I really, really enjoyed it.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I basically agree with you. I have always found, when I've seen The Weeknd perform on late-night television, on awards shows, I've always found him very underwhelming. I've always found that his charisma doesn't always translate to a TV stage. And this was kind of one of the first times where I really felt like it did. I agree with you that the mix was very spotty. The NPR Music folks on Twitter talking about how the Super Bowl needs to hire Josh Rogosin, the Tiny Desk engineer, to properly mix a Super Bowl halftime show.

But I thought - they did a nice job, I thought, of making weaknesses strengths. You're losing some of that crowd energy. You don't have all these guest features. So take advantage of that and do things that you don't usually see in halftime shows. I thought the visuals were extraordinarily striking. And like you said, Lyndsey, like, any time you get a meme out of a halftime show, you've basically had a successful halftime show. I thought it worked better than I thought it was going to, as somebody who tends to like The Weeknd's records better than I like his live appearances.

So obviously, it's the Super Bowl. You can't have a discussion of the Super Bowl without talking about Super Bowl ads. The ads this year often took on a very specific and, I think, pretty heavily anticipated tone. Not since the Super Bowl after September 11 have there been quite so many commercials about how we're going to get through this together (laughter).

MCKENNA: Truly. You know, there were a couple different tones. There were sort of, like, your boilerplate, like you said, we'll get through this together. There was your celebrity endorsement that was over the top and maybe gratuitous, and I'm still not sure what it was trying to accomplish. And then there was just sort of, like, the wow factor or the what factor for me - was definitely the Oatly commercial.


MCKENNA: I have a lot of feelings about the Oatly commercial.

THOMPSON: Let's hear a little bit of the Oatly commercial.


TONI PETERSSON: (Singing) It's like milk, but made for humans. Wow. Wow. No cow. No, no, no. Wow. Wow.

THOMPSON: I mean, we're talking about oat milk the night of the Super Bowl, so I guess it did something right (laughter).

MCKENNA: Definitely. And I talk about oat milk a lot, but I guess now I'm going to have to explain Oatly to more folks.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Well, a trend that I saw pop up again and again were these kind of big-budget nostalgia pitches. I mean, you could tell that a lot of big-name actors had a lot of time on their hands to take on some of these projects. You saw the resuscitation of "Wayne's World." You saw a kind of sort of reboot of "Edward Scissorhands" for Cadillac. Also, the Dolly Parton Squarespace ad, where "9 To 5" was repurposed as "5 To 9" to celebrate the side hustle because if there's one thing we want to celebrate, it's people being stretched that thin.


DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Working 5 to 9. You've got passion and a vision 'cause it's hustling time, a whole new way to make a living. Gonna change your life. Do something that gives it meaning with a website that is one that you're dreaming...

MCKENNA: I'm really glad that we knew that that was coming...


MCKENNA: ...Because I think that I would've been so, so much more frustrated if I would've seen it without being fully prepared to know that was coming. I was not, however, prepared for the Gwen Stefani-Blake Shelton T-Mobile spot...


MCKENNA: ...Which I'm still cringing over.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

MCKENNA: And I was also not prepared for Jake from State Farm meeting Drake from State Farm. So I guess, folks, like, that Drake album is definitely on the way.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Yeah, I suppose. I will say, favorite - probably favorite commercial of the night - Daveed Diggs and "Sesame Street"...


THOMPSON: ...Is just a full serving of what I like.


DAVEED DIGGS: (Rapping) There's a master chef.

ERIC JACOBSON: (As Grover) The burger flipper.

DIGGS: (Rapping) The corner store owner packing low-fat milk with gum and pink shampoo. There's a culinary artist with delicious cuisines.

DAVID RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) The famous cookie shop in the magazines.

THOMPSON: Just take two things I love and put them together. That I found delightful. It was a good night for memorable moments - I mean, everything from these ads that we're talking about to the weird Vince Lombardi quasi-hologram, "Polar Express" thing that was going on.

MCKENNA: I knew it was Vince Lombardi, to be clear, but I couldn't tell what kind of technology they were deploying, if it was sort of like an animated hologram. Not sure what that was.

THOMPSON: Yeah, they used an actor named Russ Hutchison. I got to say I was disappointed that it wasn't a hologram.


THOMPSON: Because if there is a Vince Lombardi hologram, I want it in my house.

Well, we want to know what you think about this year's Super Bowl. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter, @pchh. Lyndsey, thanks so much for being here.

MCKENNA: Thank you so much, Stephen. And go Bucs.

THOMPSON: So before we go, I want to say a few quick words about Christopher Plummer, the actor who died late last week. He was 91. It is hard to sum up such a huge career in a few words, especially since Christopher Plummer's career goes all the way back to a bunch of stage work in the '50s. He won two Tonys. He won two Emmys. He was nominated for a Grammy. He often played major historical or Shakespearean figures. And he brought that gravitas to everything from "The Man Who Would Be King" to "The Insider." And, of course, he played Captain von Trapp alongside Julie Andrews in the 1965 classic "The Sound Of Music."


CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: (As Captain von Trapp) And where, may I ask, did they get these...

JULIE ANDREWS: (As Maria) Play clothes.

PLUMMER: (As Captain von Trapp) Oh, is that what you call them?

ANDREWS: (As Maria) I made them from the drapes that used to hang in my bedroom.

PLUMMER: (As Captain von Trapp) Drapes?

ANDREWS: (As Maria) They still have plenty of wear left. The children have been everywhere in them.

PLUMMER: (As Captain von Trapp) Do you mean to tell me that my children have been roaming about Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes?

THOMPSON: Naturally, "The Sound Of Music" popped up around the top of most obituaries and remembrances. It's one of the most popular movies of all time, and he was one of its leads. I mean, he formed a lifelong friendship with Julie Andrews. But otherwise, Christopher Plummer had kind of a complicated relationship with the film.


PLUMMER: I'm grateful to the film in many ways because it was such a success. It is not my favorite film, of course, because I do think it's - it borders on mawkishness. But we did our damned best not to make it too mawkish.

THOMPSON: What he really seemed to love, and so much of what I love about Christopher Plummer's career, is the way both he and it aged. He acted at a high level for almost 70 years. He did great work throughout. But for me, at least, the performances that jump out the most were right at the end. And that's incredible to me. His most famous role was in a movie from 56 years ago, and yet he kept getting better.

Plummer had an amazing run late in his life. When he was 82, he became the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar for his work in a movie called "Beginners." When he was 88, he was nominated again for his performance in "All The Money In The World." He replaced Kevin Spacey in that movie, did nine days of shoots and got an Oscar nomination to show for it. A couple years after that, Plummer did great work as the murder victim Harlan Thrombey in "Knives Out." "Knives Out," as you may know, is a big favorite of this show, if you haven't seen it, and you should. It is a wonderfully fun murder mystery that needed Plummer to pull off a really delicate balance. He had to be gruff and difficult enough for people in the movie to want him dead, but also warm and compassionate enough for you to really feel his loss.


PLUMMER: (As Harlan Thrombey) No second thoughts.

ANA DE ARMAS: (As Marta Cabrera) No, no, no, no, no.

PLUMMER: (As Harlan Thrombey) Get up here.

DE ARMAS: (As Marta Cabrera) I had a glass of Champagne. Harlan, listen to me. It's late.

PLUMMER: (As Harlan Thrombey) We are - you've only had one glass.

DE ARMAS: (As Marta Cabrera) Exactly, a glass of champagne.

PLUMMER: (As Harlan Thrombey) We are not breaking tradition on my birthday.

DE ARMAS: (As Marta Cabrera) Can you just take your goddamn medicine and go to bed?

PLUMMER: (As Harlan Thrombey) If you're going to put that vile [expletive] in me, you have to earn it. On my birthday - 85th birthday.

DE ARMAS: (As Marta Cabrera) Fine. Jesus.

PLUMMER: (As Harlan Thrombey) I'm so old. I'm so old.

DE ARMAS: (As Marta Cabrera) You really love drama, huh?

THOMPSON: That brings us to the end of our show. Thanks so much for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We'll see you all right back here tomorrow.


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