If The Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Starring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent wins for outstanding variety special (live) at the Creative Arts Emmys on Saturday, Sept. 3, it would mark the first time the halftime show has ever won a top program Emmy.
Hamish Hamilton, who directed the show (and has directed every Super Bowl halftime show since The Who headlined in 2010), and Adam Blackstone, who served as music director (as he did on two previous halftime shows, starring Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez & Shakira), are justifiably proud of the show.
“It was one of, if not the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows ever,” says Hamilton, 56. “That [artist] lineup changed the world – they changed music, they changed politics, they changed the way that we dress, they had a seismic influence in music, culture and beyond and not one of them had been on a Super Bowl bill before, and all of a sudden they’re all on the same Super Bowl bill, and by the way it’s [near] Compton, where some of this started, where Dre started, literally this is his backyard.
“And, of course, you’ve got the home team in the final. It was a hip-hop L.A. Super Bowl once-in-a-lifetime moment. It just had everything extra going for it, from that first shot of Dre in his studio in Compton.”
Hamilton is nominated for two Emmys this year, a first for the British-born director. He’s up for outstanding directing for a variety special for the halftime show and outstanding variety special (live) as one of the producers of the Grammys. This brings Hamilton’s career tally of Emmy nominations to eight.
Hamilton gives a lot of credit to Jay-Z, who executive produced the halftime show (and is also an Emmy nominee, as are all the principal performers). “It was his vision ultimately,” Hamilton says. “When the bill filtered down to us, my first thought was ‘This is tough. How is that energy going to manifest itself?’”
This year’s halftime show was in some ways a long-overdue recognition on the part of the entertainment establishment that hip-hop is the music of a generation. “It was long overdue, but it was almost like the stars were aligned,” says Hamilton – “the location, the time, the lineup in the final.”
Blackstone, 40, is Emmy-nominated for outstanding music direction for his work on the halftime show. It’s his third nod – which means he has been nominated for all three of the shows on which he has served as musical director.
Blackstone thinks this year’s halftime show had both universal and specific appeal. “Our world is going through a lot right now,” he says. “People were excited to see people have fun. People were excited to see people interact with one another. We cannot [overlook] the fact that there was something cool about seeing hometown heroes be in L.A. and get to be celebrated as well.
“I was very excited to be a part of history that many kids, and specifically Black and brown kids, can see the potential of where you can go and where you can be. I don’t think when Dre and Snoop were growing up that they even thought there would be an [opportunity] for them to be on that grand stage. I try to be a part of history to give those dreams and aspirations to young kids, my children included.”
When Blackstone is serving as musical director on a show, he tries to put himself in the audience’s shoes. “I approach my musical direction with what would I want to see at a concert. What song do I want to hear? What catalog is the most powerful in the limited amount of time we are given?”
He enjoys the challenge of Super Bowls. “I look forward to [working with] these incredible artists each time. This one was even more special to me because I grew up listening to this music.”
He notes that this year’s Super Bowl halftime show is fundamentally different from most others, which are often highlights from their tour set lists. “We’re not preparing for a tour. You’ll never see that happen again. This is a one-off – and it happens to be the biggest one-off in the world. We had to execute it with precision. I hope it gets the flowers it deserves.”
Blackstone has worked with Hamilton on all three Super Bowl halftime shows he has music-directed and also a Stand Up to Cancer special. “As hard as I work on the music, without it visually looking cool, sometimes it doesn’t matter. Hamish’s vision for how he executes those shots is second-to-none. So, it’s a total team effort.”
Hamilton notes that because of its brevity, the halftime show doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. “It’s not just the 12 minutes of directing,” he says. “It’s the year of planning. … It’s a crazy exercise. It’s almost a military exercise. It’s a stress management exercise. It’s an absolute roller coaster.
“There is absolutely huge jeopardy. You are microseconds away from a complete disaster. Also, you’re in the middle of a massive game as well, so you can’t be doing anything to the turf. You can’t be dropping anything in the turf. Nothing can break. There are so many things that you don’t have to face on any other show that you will ever do. It’s totally unique and electrifying – but you cannot mess up. You’ve got to be on your game and you’ve got to deliver under excruciatingly difficult circumstances. … I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“The level of expectation for this particular Super Bowl was monumental. I’m proud of it. That’s going to live on forever as a real kind of moment in time.
“One of the most incredible things was the love – genuine family love that all of those artists had for Dre. I cannot tell you how many times I heard ‘We’re here for Dre.’ In a very mild-mannered way, he absolutely guided that show musically to a place that was absolutely sublime. It was just wonderful. Every artist left any kind of ego at the door and was there for Dre and to create something that had a greater good. They were there to make sure that the first hip-hop Super Bowl in history was an absolute throw-down to the world – and it was. It was everything that it wanted to be. It was everything that it needed to be and it will live on forever. It resonated in the hearts of so many people across not just music, but culture and politics.”
“In a way, it was long overdue, but it was almost like the location, the time, the lineup in the final – the stars are aligned.”
Hamilton on the Grammy Awards
Hamilton’s other Emmy nomination this year is as a producer of the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which is competing with the Super Bowl halftime show for outstanding variety special (live). It was Hamilton’s second Grammy show. He was also nominated for his first one in the same category. Hamilton also directed both shows. (He took over from Louis J. Horvitz as the director of the Grammy telecast in 2021.)
Hamilton says he had “mixed feelings” when his first Grammys was during the pandemic. “COVID that first year made it really difficult, but ultimately made it fantastic. The challenges and the parameters put on us by COVID also afforded us incredible opportunities and as a director, I loved it.
“I’ve done just about every other music show in the world. So when you get the call from the Grammys …you want to do it differently and you want to do it magically and you want to really make a difference. You definitely want to put your stamp and energy on it – and I’m big on energy. So COVID at first terrified me because you’re in a room with no energy. Then I [realized] that’s going to give me an intimacy that no other director who had done the Grammys before was given. So we were big on intimacy and the connection between the artists and artist community.
“[The 2022] Grammys was hard. Because how do you top [the 2021 pandemic show]? And you’re back in a big room [in this case, the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas]. I think a big room is difficult for a director. [But] I think that we absolutely nailed it. I think a lot of the performances that we did are quite cinematic.”
The current Grammys team is headed by three executive producers – Raj Kapoor, Ben Winston and Jesse Collins, plus Hamilton as director. “The team on the Grammys – Raj and Ben and Jesse – is really an amazing team of people and I’m very happy and very proud that they put me on the ticket,” Hamilton says.
“We all run rival production companies,” Hamilton notes. “We’re constantly pitching against each other for jobs, but we all come together on the Grammys. There is definitely a respect and brotherly love there. Everyone kind of lays down their tribal rivalry. It’s almost like an all-star game. The all-stars come together, and that’s new for the Grammys. It’s an incredible collaborative process and very respectful and everybody gives the space.”
“It’s a significant undertaking to direct the Grammys. My involvement spans probably nine months. So you’re really in there at the beginning. There’s only one Grammys. It’s the biggest and best multi-artist music show in the world.”
In addition to directing the Grammys twice, Hamilton has directed the Oscars three times and the Primetime Emmys four times. He is directing this year’s Emmy telecast – his fifth – on Sept. 12, nine days after the Creative Arts Emmys, where he is a double nominee.
Blackstone’s Dream Year
Blackstone’s dream year began with the Super Bowl, included being music director on the Academy Awards in March, and will end being music director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction gala in November. It’s Blackstone’s third time working on both the Oscars and the Rock Hall ceremony, but his first time, in each case, having the top job of music director.
Eminem, who was part of the halftime show, will be inducted into the Rock Hall, so Blackstone will both begin and end the year with the hip-hop icon.
Blackstone will also release his first album as an artist, Legacy, next month on Empire Records. He co-wrote all the songs and produced it as well.
“I would characterize it as progressive jazz – heavy on the big-band vibe. I’m a Maynard Ferguson/Count Basie fanatic, but also me coming from Philadelphia and being tapped in with The Roots crew, Jill Scott, some of it is coming from pop and hip-hop. I have a lot of those influences as well.”
Blackstone is also featured on-air on the NBC series That’s My Jam, starring Jimmy Fallon.
Since 2010, Blackstone has teamed with his wife Kaisha Blackstone in the company Basic Black Entertainment, which puts bands together for top musicians.
Blackstone counts Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Rickey Minor among his role models as music directors. This year, he’s competing with Minor for an Emmy. Minor is nominated for outstanding music direction for his work on the Kennedy Center Honors. Minor won in that category four years ago for his work on that same program.
“That’s a nice, full-circle moment,” Blackstone says, “where people that you look up to now become your peers.”