THE superbowl brings together 100 million people… and the decision to watch the Super Bowl is literally the only thing 100 million people could agree on. Sometimes millions of people will find themselves enthralled by amazing musical moments during the halftime show, and sometimes they will be unwitting witnesses to a multi-car cultural pile-up.
The halftime show didn’t really begin to appeal to a national audience until several decades into Super Bowl history, so we’ve ruled out the marching band, children’s choir, and “Up With People”. Instead, we’ll focus on when the people producing these shows really should have known better…or would find out the error of their ways in about 12 minutes, more or less. We start with a Beatle…
10. Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005): The ultimate boomer halftime show. NFL and halftime producers needed to figure out what they thought was the halftime trend of feistiness and immorality (gasp!), so following an infamous halftime incident which we will discuss below, the league brought the most harmless. possible interpreter. McCartney stroll through a laid-back Beatles tour and solo hitskicking off a string of memorable Boomer legends (the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty) who would hold the line with safe, family-friendly classic rock through the end of the decade.
9. Indiana Jones (Super Bowl XXIX, 1995): When is a halftime show not a halftime show? When it comes to a straight-up ad for an amusement park ride, a goofy, college-level dramatic performance on a multimillion-dollar budget. The 1995 halftime show was basically a TV version of a Disneyland Indiana Jones ride, and watching it was about as much fun as watching someone else enjoy a roller coaster. Whoever lit up this mess chose the wrong way.
8. The Who (Super Bowl XLIV, 2010): One of the quintessential early rock bands ended up being the last rock band to date – and possibly ever – to headline the halftime show. Considering The Who was talking about breaking up as far back as 1982, their Super Bowl halftime show four decades later wasn’t exactly cutting-edge material for young people. Everyone just looked tired as the group walked through a five-song medley of their greatest hits. The “hope I die before I get old” angle is tired, so let’s try this: meet the new boss, much worse than the old boss. Or maybe Old Man Wasteland.
7. “Winter Magic” (Super Bowl XXVI, 1992): Ah, those were more innocent days, a time when you could prepare an over-the-top Broadway show with skaters and sparklers and holiday songs and call it a halftime show. You know what? Those more innocent days stank. This Ice Capades silliness didn’t belong on an NFL pitch anywhere, and the league finally started kicking these productions off the stage soon after.
6. Black-Eyed Peas (Super Bowl XLV, 2011): Every generation has its own chaotic Super Bowl halftime show. It’s always a desperate attempt to get as much attention as possible by throwing familiar names together on stage, whether or not they can, you know, perform. The Black-Eyed Peas, Usher, Slash and hordes of local drill crews have come together to an attempt at a musical stew that ended up looking more like glowing neon slime. Don’t be embarrassed that you liked this stuff, everyone liked it. But let’s never talk about Fergie’s attempt at “Sweet Child O’ Mine” again.
5. Blues Brothers (Super Bowl XXXI, 1997): This one is bad from the jump “Fox News Special Report”. Yes, there was a time when America was fascinated by a group of comedians who danced to classic R&B. No, we don’t know why either. Not even appearances by ZZ Top and James Brown can redeem this disaster, though it’s amusing to think of little kids all over the country asking their parents what “Tush” is.
4. It’s a Small World (Super Bowl XXV, 1991): The boost of going from Whitney Houston’s transcendent national anthem to this gloppy Disney mess should have put viewers into concussion protocol. Is it wrong to hate a halftime show made up entirely of kids? If said kids are singing “It’s A Small World,” hating the show is practically your patriotic duty. If you’re tempted to complain about current halftime shows, look carefully at what your parents and grandparents had to put up with it and stop complaining.
3. Aerosmith, Britney Spears, N’Sync, Nelly, Mary J. Blige (Super Bowl XXXV, 2001): Just a mess. It was the equivalent of “Do you like pizza, burgers, wings and tacos?” How about a pizza-burger-wing taco! “Trying to please everyone, this musical styles dogs breakfast (and fashion) eventually crumbles into an incredibly awkward “Walk This Way” dance chant. Hey, it was 2001, nobody knew better.
2. Elvis Presto (Super Bowl XXIII, 1989): We dare you to pass this video of a magician pretending to be Elvis – “Elvis Presto”, of course – without backing up so hard that you pull a muscle. Mr. Presto lip-syncs through an attempted card trick – “Everyone in the stands, let’s hear it for your card because the choice depends on your applause” – which collapses, and the 3D glasses n didn’t quite work as advertised. Completely absurd chaosbut then you don’t make a huge miss if you don’t make a huge swing.
1. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004): Another hodgepodge halftime show throwing it all on the wall — everyone from Nelly to Jessica Simpson to Kid Rock were on stage at one time or another — culminated in one of the most infamous moments on TV, as Justin Timberlake ripped a part of Janet Jackson’s bustier to reveal – gasp! – her nipple. The performance itself was good in a typical over-the-top halftime show, but the backlash, from the destruction of Jackson’s career to the way Timberlake skated to the overstretched public moral posture, made this moment the one of the most notorious in American entertainment. history. The backlash of this moment would rock popular culture for years, and for no good reason.