Leave it to Madonna to transition from over-the-top Roman decadence to a gospel revival meetin' within the span of barely 15 minutes.
The veteran pop star's satisfying halftime spectacle in the middle of Sunday night's Super Bowl XLVI hopscotched through her musical career and featured its own second string team of special guests.
Entering Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium in full Cleopatra mode, the mighty Madonna Louise Ciccone, now 53, was preceded by a legion of Roman soldiers clad in black and gold armor. Revealed behind enormous palm fronds, she barked, "What are you looking at?" before launching into "Vogue." Poses were struck, nothing was to it.
The Material Girl's next song was the dancefloor-designed title track to her 2000 album "Music," and from that point on, Madonna's performance wasn't entirely her own.
A track-suited dancer flipped back and forth on a tight wire, while Madonna bobbed helplessly to one side. As the song ended, the wacky rock duo LMFAO joined Madge on stage for a smidge of their own "Party Rock Anthem" and "Sexy and I Know It."
Next up was "Give Me All Your Luvin'," the humdrum single released ahead of next month's new Madonna album, "MDNA." As in the video for the thin dance-pop tune -- complete with a shameless tied-in football motif -- Madonna (now shaking golden pompons) shared the spotlight with M.I.A., Nicki Minaj and a squad of gyrating cheerleaders.
In a mild version of Janet Jackson's 2004 halftime scandal, NBC let M.I.A. get away with a briefly extended middle finger and later apologized for the "inappropriate gesture."
If everything's over-the-top (including the marketing) and the costumes are outlandish, you know who comes next. After a marching drum corps strode on stage, suggesting a Fleetwood Mac appearance, the omnipresent Cee Lo Green joined Madonna for a one-two punch finale of "Express Yourself" and "Like a Prayer." Despite the song's gospel groove and Green's sequined choir robe, no one, thank heaven, Tebowed.
Green didn't contribute much and seemed to be there largely as a means of promoting "The Voice." This is Madonna, and she sounded great (however "supported" her vocals might have been) by herself. It's the Super Bowl, of course, so spectacle is a given. But with all these side characters crowding her on stage as well as in the new video and recording, we're left to wonder as we approach another album from once such a singular personality: Can this sister still do it for herself?
The show's ending was anticlimactic -- but interesting. Instead of basking in a flash-bulbed, curtain-call moment, Madonna suddenly disappeared through a smoke-shrouded trap door. She sang the last note from under the stage, while our focus was redirected to the words "World Peace" illuminated across the Super Bowl field. An admirable momentary secession of her own glory.
Before kickoff, the feisty Kelly Clarkson delivered a rock-solid national anthem, saving us all from a repeat of last year's Twitter meltdown after Christina Aguilera flubbed some of the words.
Clarkson, sporting black hair with bangs, provided a performance that should be game films for future Super Bowl anthem singers. She kept to the tune, she showed her talent without going off the rails -- the super-high note on "land of the free" was a big gamble, but she nailed it -- or grandstanding. Military precision, backed by military drums.
Before that, country couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton sang "America the Beautiful." Despite both being clearly terrified by the gig, they provided a fuzzy warm-up for the anthem and infused the New England match-up with a welcome Midwestern vibe.