As soon as Pepsi announced the halftime performers for Super Bowl 56 — Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar — Gen Xers started getting excited. There were jokes and memes about how being pumped for the performance meant it was time to schedule a colonoscopy or how our kids were going to learn what’s up when they saw us Gen X parents getting down during halftime.
But then a strange thing happened. NBC said the show tapped into “millennial nostalgia.”
Umm, okay, sure. Most of the songs performed were released after the year 2000. The thing is, though, the artists themselves, minus Kendrick Lamar but including surprise guest 50 Cent, are themselves Gen Xers. You can’t just take them from us and claim they’re millennial nostalgia because their careers have stretched over multiple generations, though disappearing Gen X is somewhat of a theme in the media.
But it wasn’t just the halftime performance, the entire Super Bowl had a Gen X feel to it. Mike Meyer’s Dr. Evil and Jim Carrey’s the Cable Guy both showed up in ads. There was a commercial for Liquid Death brand canned water with kids partying as we used to back in the ‘80s, albeit with water, to Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law.”
Though perhaps now I’m guilty of generational appropriation as I am claiming Gen X ownership for things created by people who were not members of the meh-est generation.
Nevertheless, the halftime performance was a Gen X triumph. From Snoop Dogg being Snoop Dogg to Mary J. showing she’s still got it to Dr. Dre playing piano on stage to 50 Cent hanging upside down, it was a bunch of Gen Xers showing they’re still the champions, even if Eminem’s display of our generation’s rebellion was pretty lame. But the reason it was a Gen X triumph has nothing to do with the age of the performers and everything to do with what this guy from the Ringer got almost correct.
The problem with that tweet is that the average lifespan is still roughly 80 years. People born between 1985 and 1995 are not old, they’re middle-aged. And to my fellow Gen Xers who just realized that we’re beyond middle-aged and are officially old, whatever.
That age distinction is important, though. For those of us who grew up in the shadow of the boomers, we have spent the entirety of our lives seeing that culture represented as the dominant one in pop culture. “Forrest Gump” won an Oscar for being little more than a paean to baby boomer nostalgia, a loosely connected story centered around injecting one person into every famous historical moment from the 1960s and ‘70s, for Pete’s sake.
Now that Gen X is old, we can get our own paeans to nostalgia. But don’t think that it’s because we’re suddenly asserting ourselves as the heirs apparent. Our approach to that is about as whatever as our approach to aging. There is one crucial difference, though.
Now we’ve accumulated some spending power, particularly with regard to the types of products that are sold during football games. The boomers have mostly made their luxury purchases and are in the total fiscal responsibility portion of their lives, except when it comes to government spending. When it comes to that, we’ve all supported being irresponsible for decades.
Which means that now businesses need to set their sights on us, because even as they can count on millennials and whatever the other generations are called to also want to spend money, there’s the aforementioned fact that Gen X has been working long enough to generally have a little more cash of the disposable variety. Well, we did before a member of the silent generation helped usher in the worst iteration of late ‘70s/early ‘80s nostalgia in the form of crippling inflation and product shortages.
But that’s not what was on display during halftime, with Dr. Dre producing a show for the ages, one in which the performers actually performed live. It was a moment of speaker-thumping celebration of Gen Xers in their prime. Like it or not, and honestly this should scare everyone at least a little, we’re now the elder statesmen of the nation.
And the elder statesmen of the music business put on a show last night, one that some, with some being my wife and some random commenters I’ve seen on the internet, are saying was the greatest halftime performance ever. And while my generational pride wants me to agree, I cannot, for that distinction still belongs to Prince. But don’t worry, for even though he was born in 1958, as NBC showed us, we can still claim him.