10 of the Most (In)Famous Super Bowl Halftime Shows

The Super Bowl halftime show is arguably the single most difficult event to book in the US entertainment industry.

The earlier years: simple and uncool (Book Up with People once? Shame on you. Book Up with People four times??? Shame on us all.)

In the early nineties, producers upped the ante with contemporary artists like New Kids on the Block and Michael Jackson. But then, following the Janet Jackson / Justin Timberlake fiasco of 2004, halftime producers threw in the towel with trying to be “sexy,” ushering in six years of relative peace (and actual music).

How will the Black Eyed Peas stack up in Super Bowl halftime history? Before we can answer, let’s look back at some crucial halftime show wins (and fumbles) from the past 25 years.

The halftime show categories are:

1. MOST BLATANTLY COMMERCIAL

RUNNER-UP

Super Bowl XXXI: “Blues Brothers Bash” (1997)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Allow the revamped version of a 19-year-old SNL comedy duo to plug their upcoming movie sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.

Where They Lose Points

Say what you will about Dan Akroyd and John Goodman re-booting the Blues Brothers fifteen years after John Belushi’s death, but can we all just agree that Belushi’s younger brother, Jim, is tone-deaf? Throwing him into the mix at the halftime show comes across as a token commemorative gesture – except that instead of giving you the impression that the Belushi family condones the arrangement, it simply beats you over the head with the fact that John isn’t around anymore.

Of course, for those who aren’t familiar with the original Blues Brothers, it simply means trying to figure out how someone with no discernable musical talent landed a singing gig at one of the most-watched events in American broadcasting.

AND THE “MOST BLATANTLY COMMERCIAL” LOMBARDI GOES TO…

Super Bowl XXIX: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” (1995)

Instant Replay

Not available for reasons involving your personal well-being.

The Game Plan

Have Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood make a halftime appearance to coincide with the opening of a new Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

Where They Lose Points

Allow us to give you a synopsis: Indy parachutes into Joe Robbie Stadium to chase after the stolen Lombardi Trophy with his trusty gal, Marion Ravenwood. For reasons so obvious that we clearly don’t even need to go into them, Tony Bennet and the Miami Sound Machine also wander in and out of the plot, after which the entire debacle closes with a rendering of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Oh yeah, and neither Harrison Ford nor Karen Allen is in any way involved with this production.

We know what you’re thinking: link, or it didn’t happen. Well, apparently the internet world has collectively decided to take charge of their wikiality by agreeing never to post this video. Ever. In a community where “rickrolling” is a post-worthy endeavor, that’s sure saying something.

2. MOST HEARTFELT

RUNNER-UP

Super Bowl XLI: Prince (2007)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

After the Jackson-Timberlake disaster of 2004, invite a musician who fits the bill of being “older” but has more edge than the previous two headliners, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

Where They Score Points

It’s highly doubtful that Prince was invited to the Super Bowl with the intention of making anyone teary-eyed. The fact that he manages to do so – while using his guitar to cast this shadow – makes the 2007 halftime show that much more of a Super Bowl miracle. Seriously though, watching Prince belt out “Purple Rain” during a lightning storm through the gently blurred lights of a dampened camera lens? We believe the phrase you’re looking for is “borderline transcendent.”

AND THE “MOST HEARTFELT” LOMBARDI GOES TO…

Super Bowl XXXVI: “Tribute to 9/11 Victims” (2002)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Use a band of non-US citizens to pay politically-neutral homage to the lives lost on 9/11.

Where They Score Points

Regardless of where you stand on the whole “Bono is annoying” debate, it’s hard to deny that U2 nails this halftime show. Between the anthemic set list, minimalist effects, and continuously scrolling list of 9/11 victims, the performance manages to deliver a tear-jerking, goosebump-inducing eulogy that somehow still leaves you feeling uplifted. Coming from four Irish rock stars that nobody can seem to agree on, that ain’t half bad.

3. LEAST CONVINCINGLY THEMED

RUNNER-UP

Super Bowl XXXIV: “Tapestry of Nations” (2000)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Commemorate the new millennium of globalization with an Olympics-esque production of lights, dance, ethnically-ambiguous costuming, and giant puppets on stilts.

Where They Lose Points

Did we mention that the musical guests are Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, and Phil Collins? And that the narration is randomly provided by Admiral William Ada—er, James Edward Olmos? We’re no geographers, but we’re pretty sure that three Americans, a Spaniard, and an Englishman don’t qualify as a “tapestry” of anything.

AND THE “LEAST CONVINCINGLY THEMED” LOMBARDI GOES TO…

Super Bowl XVI: “Salute to the ’60s and Motown” (1982)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Celebrate the emerging culture of liberation of the 1960s with a buoyant performance by Up with People.

Where They Lose Points

Three words: Up with People. We get it – the Super Bowl halftime show used to be a campy dorkfest that took uncool to new and dizzying heights. But seriously, whose idea was it to find hundreds of the most terrifyingly cheerful, milquetoast automatons ever to hi-kick and headline them at an event even remotely associated with the word “Motown”? This is like watching the entire population of Stepford guest-host an episode of Glee to do Smokey Robinson covers. We don’t know where the Up with People compound is, but if you’re ever invited there, stay away from the punch.

4. CLASSIEST

RUNNER-UP

Super Bowl XLII: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2008)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Tone down the sexuality with some no-shenanigans classic rock.

Where They Score Points

Tom Petty is a beloved musician, straightforward performer, and – let’s be honest here – guy with almost zero sex appeal. Is it a coincidence that he was chosen to perform the year after Prince made a ruckus with his guitar/phallus shadow puppetry? We think not. Petty loses a few points for the giant, tacky LED arrow that soars into his heart-shaped stage, but otherwise, his show is refreshingly low-key, music-oriented, and non-seizure-inducing.

AND THE “CLASSIEST” LOMBARDI GOES TO…

Super Bowl XXXIX: Paul McCartney (2005)

Instant Replay

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz38asyJkcU

The Game Plan

The year after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” invite a completely reliable, universally liked old-timer to navigate America through troubled waters.

Where They Score Points

Do we really need to ask? It’s Paul McCartney.  That is, Sir Paul McCartney, the rock legend who moonlights as a knight to the British throne. His performance consists of standing, singing, and playing an instrument – and what’s more, the songs are even good.  The closest Sir Paul gets to tasteless is when one of the four video-screen stages shows an image of a monster truck during “Drive My Car.” A lesser performer might come across as bland in so modest a setup, but as it turns out, having once been a Beatle isn’t something that ever stops getting our attention.

5. MOST FAILTASTIC

RUNNER-UP

Super Bowl XXXVIII: “Rock the Vote” (2004)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Engage the American youth in the democratic process.

Where They Lose Points

It goes without saying that Janet Jackson’s nipple slip is one of the most infamous incidents in television history. But to give credit where credit’s due, the performance was a weirdly jumbled politico-sexual spectacle long before “Boobgate” ever threatened to enter our pop-culture vocabulary.

Decked out in a steel-studded pleather corset that probably has “Xena” embroidered on the tag, Jackson goes from chanting, “Bigotry? NO! Illiteracy? NO!” to bumping and grinding with a man-child fifteen years her junior. We can only assume that letting Timberlake suck her index finger is Janet’s way of warning us against the danger of hanging chads – by which logic, “wardrobe malfunction” must be interpretive dance for “the importance of voter privacy.” Thank you, American media, for giving us totally unrealistic expectations about what happens in the voting booth.

AND THE “MOST FAILTASTIC” LOMBARDI GOES TO…

Super Bowl XXIII:Be Bop Bamboozled In 3-D” (1989)

Instant Replay

The Game Plan

Randomly commemorate Elvis Presley twelve years after his death through the magic of 3-D technology, gold lamé trousers, and a giant card trick.

Where They Lose Points

“Elvis Presto” is a self-styled Elvis-impersonating magician who doesn’t look, move, or sound like Elvis Presley (but might pass for a young David Bowie). Which is just as well, since his 1989 halftime performance doesn’t actually include any Elvis songs.

“Clap for the card that you adore,” Presto sings, intuiting from the scattered applause that the audience chose the King of Hearts. Presto then commands everyone to lift up their seat cushions to reveal the winning card.  As the camera hurriedly pans over a sea of mismatched cushions, we’re left to wonder, “What do those say?”, “Why aren’t they identical?” and “Is catastrofail even a word??” In the show’s swan song, an entire football field’s worth of performers line up in the shape of either an inexplicably black King of Hearts or deformed King of Clubs. Presto’s real trick, apparently, is making the magician from Arrested Development seem capable of taking on Hermione Granger.

2 thoughts on “10 of the Most (In)Famous Super Bowl Halftime Shows

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 10 of the Most (In)Famous Super Bowl Halftime Shows -- Topsy.com

  2. We know where the Up With People camp is and where the group came from. Now 45 years in the making, some still drink the punch. The trailer on Up With People is a hoot (www.smiletilithurts.com/trailer). The doc is even better with commentary by Jim Steeg who brought the group to the Superbowl. Retro can’t get any better than in SMILE ‘TIL IT HURTS.

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