I have been covering the Super Bowl for about 20 years, but I only occasionally pay attention to the actual game. As a pop culture reporter, for me — and for a lot of you — the main event has always been the action that happens between the football parts: the musical performances and celebrity-strewn commercials. (This year, some of the ads were stellar. Some were okay. At least one will haunt my dreams for eternity, and I want to seek compensation like on a midday television lawyer ad.)

Here’s my own evaluation of how the night went down, sans any talk about sports or scores.


This was one of the most inclusive presentations I can remember, in the most tasteful and organic way. It shouldn’t be difficult at this point — just have a lot of different, talented people doing their gorgeous, patriotic thing. And that they did. Sheryl Lee Ralph and her futuristic Bond villain outfit delivered a stirring “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by Babyface’s “America The Beautiful,” played on a red, white and blue guitar. I also loved the pairing of Chris Stapleton’s funky bluesy soul rendition of the national anthem with Oscar-winning “CODA” actor Troy Kotsur signing dramatically and movingly. Kotsur was one of three notable people signing during the game, along with TikTok star Justina Miles interpreting for Ralph, and Navajo scholar Colin Denny performing with Babyface. Featuring the interpreters in these performances should become a prominent tradition.


A lot of the big spots were teased in whole or in part before the game, which took away some of the surprise factor while still being mostly delightful. Mostly.

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My top three ads were:

T-Mobile: “Summer Nights” from “Grease” is a Gen X childhood favorite that was completely inappropriate for children. So I loved it as an excuse for gloriously bald John Travolta ― Danny Zuko himself ― singing about home internet with former “Scrubs” stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison. Is it cheesy? Sure is. But “Grease” ended with a car flying into the sky holding 45-year-old teenagers. It fits.

Dunkin’: Sure, everyone was laughing it up over all those memes of Ben Affleck looking completely miserable at the Grammys. That made it even more satisfying imagining that he escapes glamourfests he’d rather not attend to work the drive-thru at a Boston-area Dunkin’. When he hisses “You’re embarrassing me in front of my friends” to an irate JLo, it feels like one of the most realistic marriage moments ever.

Busch Light: So many of this year’s ads were targeted at Gen X nostalgia, and Lilith Fair goddess/defender of dogs Sarah McLachlan unknowingly sheltering a wolf in a beer ad is eight layers of meta wrapped in good-natured self-awareness.

And as for my three least favorite…

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Tubi: Two of my biggest fears are gaping holes in the ground and hellscape renderings of previously innocent things such as clowns and bunnies. How thoughtful of streaming channel Tubi to feature demonic giant rabbits tossing unsuspecting viewers down holes filled with bingeable shows! Get it? Rabbit holes? Funny, huh? Except I can’t watch TV anymore from this fetal ball I’m curled into as I sob under my bed. Sorry.

Hellmann’s: Jon Hamm is handsome and all, but he’s been milking that lame “Hamm and Fill-In-The-Blank” joke since he stalked Michael Bublé in that “Saturday Night Live” sketch 10 years ago. I’m sure he, Brie Larson and Pete Davidson bought new jet skis or whatever with the money they earned from this ad. But try harder next time.

FanDuel: Online gaming has been getting quite the push in ads as of late, and the Rob Gronkowski spots leading up to his live kick were inescapable. Him going wide of the field goal was not only anticlimactic but boring. Missing is forgivable. Boring me is not.

Rihanna, in red, performs atop a floating stage during her Super Bowl halftime show. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Halftime show

I’m going to be honest: Rihanna’s set was not the most exciting Super Bowl moment. That honor belongs to either Prince singing “Purple Rain” in a do-rag in the middle of a real-life downpour, or that time Beyoncé made you forget that Coldplay was the main attraction. But RiRi’s show was genuinely entertaining as she barreled through a cavalcade of hits such as “Umbrella” and “Diamonds,” stood atop fantastic floating stages, and emitted joy as she cradled her crimson-clad belly, revealing that she’s expecting her second baby. I love joy. And there were not evil bunnies tossing the dancers from their high perches onto the field below. All the better.


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This story has been updated with the correct name of the song ”Summer Nights,” and the proper spelling of Rob Gronkowski’s first name.