The Rise and Fall of The Super Bowl Halftime Show

Chronologizing the halftime show’s effect on culture and vice-versa.

By Josh Tuper

The Super Bowl is not simply a sporting event viewed by millions of people worldwide, but a pop culture spectacle. The Big Game is a three ring circus full of excitement and entertainment; the advertisements, the halftime show, and oh yeah the actual game. Americans, and I can only assume a handful of other countries, are drawn to the Super Bowl for several reasons besides the fact it’s a football game to decide who the “best” team is that season. For example, I despise both the Giants and the Patriots equally and will forever be a bitter Eagles fan (bring on the “boo’s” if you’d like). During the normal season, unless I was at a friend’s house or a bar or I was bored out of my mind, I most likely wouldn’t watch a Pats/Giants game. I would check out the score later and groan at either outcome. But, goddamn did I watch every minute of the Super Bowl.

Whether it’s the snacks and ten foot party subs, or just love of the game, we will watch it and enjoy because we are products of mass media and we love a good circus. “Ladies and gentlemen, direct your attention to the main ring! Introducing the 85 year lip-syncing woman and the trapeze artist backup dancers!” Nothing reflects our culture quite like the halftime show. I strongly believe this is why the Super Bowl is such a big deal. The World Series and the NBA Finals don’t have it. The championship game for the NFL is going to give you a 12 minute show and you’re going to LOVE it! Or most likely, hate it.

History lesson time, kids! Did you know that for years the halftime show featured a college marching band? And not one led by Cee Lo Green, either, just a marching band. It wasn’t until 1991 (Super Bowl XXVI) that the producers of the half time show decided to modernize it and put New Kids On The Block on center stage to perform a medley of their hits with Disney characters dancing around them. This sparked a new trend to essentially say, “fuck you college marching band nerds, it’s time to get paid.” I paraphrase of course.

Then a few years later, the pop culture gods struck a deal with the NFL and the game was never the same again. It was Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, the Buffalo Bills against the Dallas Cowboys. But more importantly, it was the year Michael Jackson added a piece of sports glory to his list of achievements. Jackson’s half time show increased ratings tremendously and the game became one of the most watched events in TV history. To no surprise, half time show producers strived to get popular artists to perform making the Super Bowl the pop culture phenomenon it is today.

Half time shows afterwards became a rollercoaster ride of where we were at as a nation while trying to attract all demographics. Who would have thought Boyz 2 Men would share a stage with The Temptations (Super Bowl XXXII). Or even more bizarre, Christina Aguilera side by side with Phil Collins (Super Bowl XXXIV). The geniuses they are, the producers were able to showcase what the kids were into with the artists their parents love (i.e. Aerosmith, Britney Spears, and N’Sync). But while a vehicle for entertainment, the half time show was also able to stir emotion and remembrance. Super Bowl XXXVII gave us a beautiful tribute to 9/11 with the soundtrack of U2. Nothing flashy and crazy, but nice and thoughtful, and that’s exactly where we were at. And exactly what we needed.

But if the show truly reflects us a as a society, then it says we are not ready for boob on TV! Yes, in 2004 those crazy kids at MTV took over the half time show for what was to be NOT YOUR PARENTS HALFTIME SHOW! In fact, the only artist on the bill; which included Kid Rock, Nelly, P Diddy, and Justin Timberlake, was the one who caused the commotion. ‘Twas Janet Jackson and the breast seen ‘round the world! The youth was not allowed around the half time show again for some time and instead the show was toned down enormously.

Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, YAWN! The MTV generation blew it and we faced the consequences of boring half time shows for several years. Until last year, of course, when the kids were given another chance and The Black Eyed Peas and Usher took the stage. With, Slash? Well I guess they figured he wouldn’t be a risk for wardrobe malfunction. But alas, The Black Eyed Peas almost made me wish there was one so we could go back to the old dudes who played instruments and had talents. No offense to the Peas, but much offense at the same time.

So what does this year’s show say about our culture? That it’s okay if an artist lip-syncs all of her songs as long as she’s a legend and surrounded by Cirque du Solei performers? Or perhaps that the Super Bowl actually isn’t ready to let the cool kids take over because people like M.I.A. will flip-off the camera. Maybe, just maybe, it says that LMFAO is here to stay whether we like it or not. Whatever it may be, I anticipate where it’s headed for next year. My prediction is the halftime could one of two ways; either they tone it down with something like a Simon and Garfunkle reunion, or the whole show will turn into a rave with various house music and dubsetp DJ’s. Or maybe both? Excuse me while my brain explodes at the thought.


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