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Unusual musical pairings bring fire to day's festivities

By GINA VIVINETTO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001


TAMPA -- Surely it is listed in the Bible as a sign of the Apocalypse, right up there with the natural disasters: the joining together on one stage of those musical polar opposites, 'N Sync and Aerosmith.

MTV made it happen. At Super Bowl XXXV. The big game's halftime show at Raymond James Stadium, produced by the network, featured a wild hodgepodge of pop music's biggest names. Teen pop giants 'N Sync, snazzily dressed, got things started with a boundlessly energetic, typically choreographed and -- yes -- unlip-synched version of their smash Bye Bye Bye, only to be interrupted by flamboyant hard rockers Aerosmith leaping onstage and into their hit I Don't Want to Miss a Thing.

The two acts "dueled" between tunes, finally joining forces on Walk This Way, the Aerosmith crunchy guitar classic that's already been updated and properly hip-hopped by the band's 1980s collaboration with Run DMC. On Sunday, the song was given even more oomph as the two acts were joined by saucy, scantily clad teen pop diva Britney Spears, who strutted her stuff -- and held her own -- next to Aerosmith's long-haired, nasty ol' Steven Tyler.

The pastiche of pop grew even odder as the song coaxed soul singer Mary J. Blige, in leather pants and fur jacket, onto the fantastically lighted stage. Hip hopper Nelly was next to emerge. Pop fans in the know must have savored the sight of Spears sashaying across stage with newly close-cropped Justin Timberlake, of 'N Sync, her boyfriend.

Pyrotechnics and bursts of smoke capped off the set, which was met with wild applause and vigorous sign waving by the many 'N Sync fans that MTV bused in just for the halftime show.

The evening started out on a far more sober note with the planet's other most famous boy band, the Backstreet Boys, who came to sing the national anthem.

The quintet showed up in fashionable leather duds with edgy new hairdos and facial fuzz. They looked, frankly, like male models, which may have been a mistake, because the sports-loving, beer-guzzling football fans cooly received the act. In fact -- and this will break some hearts -- the Boys met with an unfortunate smattering of boos.

Backstreet, however, did our anthem proud. Although they had a taped musical accompaniment, the Boys performed the notoriously difficult tune live. By the end, they had even the beefiest guys in the stadium patriotically holding hands over hearts. Strident fireworks and a military flyover during those powerful lines about rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air made the Boys' rendition one of the finest in recent memory.

The quickly paced pregame show also included a gorgeous rendition of America the Beautiful by the legendary Ray Charles. In a black suit with bright red ruffled shirt, Charles dazzled the crowd and had many in the stands singing along even before he asked them to do so. British rock star Sting also was there (heck, who wasn't?) for the pregame festivities to perform his hit, Desert Rose, with Algerian singer Cheb Mami and a field full of dancers swirling around in gold lame. That tune morphed into Roxanne (backed by dancers in red), the hit the singer scored with his former band, the Police.

A taste of Tampa came in an untelevised performance of Come Sail Away by classic rock act Styx, sans original lead singer Dennis De Young. It featured a Gasparilla theme with hundreds of dancers dressed as pirates firing faux guns and swashbuckling about. That song never seemed to lend itself to a pirate motif before, but on a musical day in which Justin Timberlake and Steven Tyler throw their arms around each other's shoulders and wiggle their hips together, truly anything went.

MTV kicked off the festivities with a 90-second, tongue-in-cheek film starring a moustachioed "halftime coordinator" played by Ben Stiller, who advised 'N Sync and Aerosmith on the proper stage moves to cement their partnership as " ' N Sync-osmith." Directed by Charlie's Angels auteur McG, the film also featured Adam Sandler (as choreographer and DJ Stanley Steamer) and Chris Rock clowning on the unorthodox pairing.

- Times television critic Eric Deggans contributed to this report.

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