In an age of atomised viewing habits, there are few events that capture as many eyeballs as the Super Bowl. Its ad slots are the most expensive on US terrestrial television – $5.6m for 30 seconds, thank you very much – and the Super Bowl Halftime show has become one of the most high-profile gigs of the year.
Things have come a long way since 1960, when the first Super Bowl Halftime show consisted of nothing more than the standard The Liberty Bell being performed by the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band. Today’s shows go through as much planning as any set at the Grammys or Oscars.
This year, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are gracing the stage at the Hard Rock Stadium at Miami Gardens in Florida. Ostensibly, the crowd are there to see the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Super Bowl LIV, but sometimes the few minutes of music designed for half-time entertainment linger longer in the memory than the games themselves.
Here, BBC Music looks at 10 of the most memorable performances.
10. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P Diddy, Nelly, Jessica Simpson and Kid Rock (2004)
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2004
OK, pub quiz music round time. Can you name the opening song that Jessica Simpson introduced the proceedings to? What song had its name rechanged to namecheck P Diddy? Name either of Kid Rock’s two numbers? Nope, us neither. That’s because what became the most famous halftime show of all time was overshadowed by a mishap that birthed a whole new phrase in the English language: “wardrobe malfunction”.
The halftime show at Houston’s Reliant Stadium saw the ensemble, including Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, rip through 10 tracks on top of the matching band interludes, but its legacy is for one half-second during the denouement, where Jackson and Timberlake teamed up for the latter’s Rock Your Body. Which Timberlake did, briefly exposing Jackson’s partially-covered right nipple as he ripped off part of her clothing. Fines and lawsuits followed “Nipplegate”, and Jackson briefly saw her music banned from radio and music video channels around the world because many assumed the incident had been a stunt. Legend has it that a software programmer was so frustrated that he couldn’t find footage of the incident online that he invented YouTube.
9. Michael Jackson (1993)
Michael Jackson at the Super Bowl Halftime show 1993
Another decade, another Jackson, though this time the wardrobe remained malfunction free. Michael Jackson’s 1993 appearance at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California was a turning point in halftime extravaganzas, becoming one of the most-watched events in US history.
The production began with Jackson appearing on each of the venue’s massive jumbotron screens, with stunt doubles then appearing on each of them in a puff of smoke. Jackson himself – dressed like a Middle Eastern dictator as imagined by the artist Jeff Koons – then appeared, star jumping up onto the centre of the stage in an entrance of split-second timing, especially considering he sent the following two minutes completely still as the crowd roared their approval. It is peak widescreen Jackson, a stadium-sized segue through Eighties-defining hits (Billie Jean), early 90s anthems (Black Or White) and choir-heavy singalongs (We Are The World, Heal The World).
8.Lady Gaga (2017)
Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2017
American football and Lady Gaga don’t seem the most obvious bedfellows, but the Millennial Madonna has earned a formidable reputation for her live shows – and Superbowl LI got a taste of what her Little Monsters have known for some time: Ain’t no show like a Gaga show.
The beginning saw Gaga performing the US National Anthem from the ramparts of the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, before segueing into Pete Seeger’s This Land Is Your Land and the Pledge of Allegiance – and if all this is sounding mystifyingly middle of the road, bear in mind that behind her, a fleet of some 300 drones were swarming to create a rippling Stars and Stripes flag.
Gaga then zipwired onto the stage – very Cirque Du Soleil – before landing on a tower looking like something left over from the nightmarish cityscape of Blade Runner; the perfect place to then launch into Poker Face. With costuming by Versace and a morphing light show courtesy of awards-show staples 22 Degrees, Gaga’s show ended with a Thriller-esque monster mash featuring seemingly zombified football players. That’s quite the show to have to follow with a ball game…
7. U2 (2002)
U2 at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2002
No vertigo-inducing zipwires for Bono in 2002 (the song hadn’t been released yet). U2’s halftime show – at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans – the ever-communal U2 opted for the more personal approach. With the rest of the band already on stage, Bono walked through the crowd to the stage to the strains of Beautiful Day.
This was the first Super Bowl to take place since the September 11 attacks; U2 marked it by showing a scrolling list of names of those who had perished as Bono sprinted around the circular stage to the characteristic chiming guitar of Where the Streets Have No Name. Love them or hate them, U2 know how to turns stadiums into communal services, and this was very much a day at the office.
6. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2009
Springsteen fans can thank Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, apparently for their Super Bowl appearance. The NFL’s head of programming, Charles Coplin, was on a train home after work when an email popped up congratulating him on the Petty show – from Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau. It was more than just viewer feedback – Landau was testing the water for possibility of The Boss’s own halftime show. When I got the note, it was, ‘Wow, they actually like what we do and they’re actually interested’,” Coplin told Rolling Stone in 2009. “It was one of the good e-mails.”
And so it was that on 1 February 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band appeared at at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, with The Boss thundering into the microphone with all the fire-and-brimstone fervour of a Bible Belt preacher: “For the next 12 minutes, we’re going to bring the righteous and mighty power of the E Street Band into your beautiful home! I want you to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put the chicken fingers down! And turn your television all the way up!” No fleets of drones or video trickery, but a band drilled into military tightness. When the band slipped effortlessly into Born To Run, the crowd’s roar must have been loud enough to trouble the foundations.
5. Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliott (2015)
Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliott at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2015
Giant puppet tiger? Check. Alice in Wonderland-style surreal chess board? Check. Dancing beach balls, sharks and palm trees? Check, check, check. No U2-style plug in and play here, though Lenny Kravitz’s contribution is the definition of stripped back – his guitar, leather and jeans in stark contrast to the dayglo lunacy unfolding around him.
The sudden switch from the Nickelodeon saturation of Teenage Dreams and California Gurls into Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On is one of the great mood changes in halftime show history, as the dancing sharks make way for oversized football shirts. The teen pop-meets-retro-rock-meets-hip-hop triumvirate became the most watched half-time show in history – getting more eyeballs than the game itself.
4. Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, MIA, Cee Lo Green (2012)
Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, MIA, Cee Lo Green at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2012
Allusions of grandeur meets moral majority-baiting mischief. Madonna took to the stage at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis flanked by a phalanx of oiled warriors like Cleopatra herself, giant fans revealing her as the intro to Vogue started.
It wasn’t just the Madonna show, however. Novelty dance act LMFAO, rapper MIA, the then rising hip-hop star Nicki Minaj and the soulful Cee-Lo Green – as the sweating centurions from the intro would attest – it takes many hands to support the Material Girl. A decade on from her MTV Video Music Awards controversy, where she kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Madonna herself swerved away from upsetting the staid stay-at-homes, but MIA couldn’t help herself: causing a minor scandal by flipping the bird at the end of her brief guest rap.
3. Aerosmith, Britney Spears, 'NSync, Nelly and Mary J Blige (2001)
Aerosmith, Britney Spears, N’Sync, Nelly, Mary J Blige at Super Bowl Halftime show 2001
Another genre-splicing megafest, throwing together a teen pop titan, the US’s closest answer to The Rolling Stones, a rap superstar, a queen of R&B and a five-headed, chart-topping boyband. The intro came on like a possessed jukebox, with 'NSync and Aerosmith trading hits like Bye Bye Bye and Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, and with 'NSync no doubt scaring the insurers with some handheld pyrotechnics.
Things definitely ramped up a notch for the finale, however. For Walk This Way, the supergroup roped in an extra couple of vocalists: Spears and Blige. At some point, amid Joe Perry’s guitar fireworks, you fully expected a kitchen sink on the mic next to 'NSync.
2. Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child (2013)
Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2013
Quite apart from this being the Super Bowl, Beyoncé had something to prove. At the press conference for her Super Bowl performance, Queen Bey admitted she had lip-synched at the inauguration of President Barack Obama days earlier. By the time she took the stage at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there was fire in her belly.
Jay-Z, rumoured to make an appearance at his wife’s show, in the end stayed away. This was very much a ladies’ night, including all the dancers, backing band members and the special guests – Beyoncé’s former Destiny’s Child bandmates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. Beginning with Bootylicious, the three-song mini-set included them joining forces on Beyoncé’s Run The World. It was a triumphant return after several years all ploughing their own paths, but Beyoncé also silenced any questions over her live abilities.
1. Prince (2007)
Prince at the Super Bowl Halftime show 2007
Most people never realised how much they wanted to hear Prince backed by a marching brass band until the 2007 Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins’ stadium was hemmed in by gathering stormy clouds, but that didn’t stop Prince taking to his drenched symbol-shaped stage, and signalling his intent by opening with the riff from Queen’s We Will Rock You.
While Prince hurtled into Let’s Go Crazy and Baby I’m A Star, the Florida A&M University Marching 100 providing a fitting backing band. Prince then deserted his own back catalogue in favour of a trio of songs from other artists – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary, Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, and bringing proceedings more up to date with Foo Fighters’ Best Of Me.
The finale, however, couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. The heavens opened as Prince closed proceedings with none other than Purple Rain. It’s unlikely Shakira and Jennifer Lopez will be able to top having Mother Nature as an accompaniment.
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