Es Devlin on creating the set design for the Super Bowl half-time show

After creating replica buildings of Compton on the Super Bowl stage, Es Devlin reveals how she tackled the work.

16 February 2022

Over 29 million US households tuned in to watch the Super Bowl half-time show on Sunday; Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and Anderson Paak all performed, all taking place on a stadium “street” created by artist and stage designer, Es Devlin.

In collaboration with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine, Devlin approached the Super Bowl project as a narrative art installation, using Compton as a “protagonist in the work” and casting a selection of buildings from the city as “characters in the narrative”. Throughout the 15 minute-performance, the artists move throughout replica buildings, including Tam’s Burger #21 and Audio Achievements Recording Studio, each of which reference specific experiences for the artists.

Inspired by Dre’s sense that they could “etch a map of Compton on the global Super Bowl stage”, Devlin explains that the stadium floor cloth was printed using high-resolution aerial photographs of Compton. Images were supplied by Google Earth, with more detailed photographs taken by a local helicopter pilot. The buildings are placed within the map along Rosecrans Avenue – “although we have used artistic licence by introducing a replica of the Audio Achievements Recording Studio at 1327 Cabrillo Avenue in Torrance which featured in the 1988 movie Straight Outta Compton,” states Devlin.

Early on during initial Zoom meetings, Devlin explains how Dre and Lovine were drawn to examples of art installation works more than shows: “The installation Dre was drawn to in the first meeting is a 2017 art work called Memory Palace – a re-imagined model city map of the world at Pitzhanger Gallery in Ealing, London, which plots the location of 73 millennia of significant shifts in human perspective”. This idea of “placeness” came to shape the set.


Es Devlin, Dr. Dre: Super Bowl half-time show set design (Copyright © Es Devlin, Dr. Dre, 2022)

Devlin says their replica buildings all feature a “bone” or “stone” coloured tone, functioning “like neon-lit museum pieces” to frame the human story within them. The Compton buildings chosen for the set include The Martin Luther King Memorial and The Compton Courthouse. A replica of Tam’s Burger #21 at 1904 West Rosecrans Avenue has been created, which is cited in Kendrick Lamar’s Element. Devlin explains this is: “Another incidence of pain being crafted into art: the Pulitzer Prize winning poet / rapper recalls witnessing his second murder at Tam’s Burger when he was eight years old.” Audio Achievements Recording Studio has also been recreated. The studio serves as Dre’s link and meeting point with all the other artists; their lived experience, which informs much of the music, having “passed through Dre’s desk and hands”.

Fatima Robinson choreographed and directed the artists and dancers moving through the space, often performing alongside symbols and icons of Compton, such as lowriders. During Snoop Dogg’s segment, Devlin says you’ll spot a Compton Cowboy proudly riding their horse past a window; “In the 19th century one in four cowboys were of African American descent and it’s the Compton Cowboys’ mission to… increase representation of equestrians of African American heritage,” Devlin explains.

At the end of the performance, the rows of lights within the audience echo the rows of sliders on a recording desk. Devlin concludes: “Dre plays the stadium like he plays his recording desk – transposing lived experience from a very specific place, into music, which reaches and touches a global audience.”

GalleryEs Devlin, Dr. Dre: Super Bowl half-time show set design (Copyright © Es Devlin, Dr. Dre, 2022)

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Es Devlin, Dr. Dre: Super Bowl half-time show set design (Copyright © Es Devlin, Dr. Dre, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

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