The Super Bowl half-time entertainment shows have slowly evolved into one of the biggest deals in the entertainment industry. Get it right, get richer (you’ll already be rich, if you’re performing at the Super Bowl, these days). Get it wrong? Suffer at least 12 months of ridicule and about a fortnight of humiliation every year subsequently, as people like us dig up lists like this to remind everyone of your shame.
A good Super Bowl Halftime Show can be life-affirming. Patriotism in its finest form; live music at its glitziest and its most extravagant. Here are five of the best:
5. Diana Ross, Sun Devil Stadium, 1996
That pearly white smile, that perfect medley of those classic songs, that slinky red dress; the choreographed dancers, the millions of balloons, ascending into the sky, above the stadium (look, no one really cared about the environment that much in the 1990s, OK?), the jubilant atmosphere as she breaks into ‘Chain Reaction’? When it comes to good honest, gimmick free (well, apart from the balloons and the fireworks) feel-good entertainment, you really can’t get better than Diana Ross. Dancers filled the pitch for a large-scale visual spectacle and Ross did not stop gleaming the entire time, even through her slightly awkward costume changes. Top marks, Diana.
4. No Doubt, Qualcomm Stadium, 2003
You know you’re onto a winner when you upstage Sting during a cover of his own song ‘Message In A Bottle.’ Luckily, Gwen Stefani and co. were also to able to perform their own songs, before attacking Sting’s own number, playing it a little faster than the old-timer was obviously used to (and thus rendering him unable to sing in time). With Gwen strutting around the massive stage, clad in black cargo pants, and a silver bra top (leaving the world weeping with envy at her washboard-stomach, as usual). A pretty ‘alternative’ choice for the Super Bowl, even at the height of their fame, No Doubt, for a few moments turned the USA into a nation of ska-punk loving moshers.
3. The Who, Sun Life Stadium, 2010
Judging by some of the YouTube comments on the footage of The Who performing at 2010’s Super Bowl, many younger Americans were all, like ‘Uh, The Who? Who? Who The Who?’ But you know what? They slayed it. Asking The Who to cram a solid Who concert into a halftime slot at a football game is a bit like asking a scientist to explain, a brief history of time (huh? he… did he..? Really? Oh. well, you get my point, anyway). With Zak Starkey filling in for the late Keith Moon, the band gave a taste of that raucous spirit that made them the rock gods they are, Townsend rocked the windmills, Daltrey made the harmonica cool again, Jon Entwhistle gave it the mean and moody vibe. The staging was magnificent (a lit-up circular stage, used as a reminder of the mod-symbol), fireworks used sparingly, effectively. Everyone knew who The Who were in 2010.
2. Whitney Houston, Tampa Stadium, 1991
Oh, man. The National Anthem. What is it about the national anthem? Whose idea was it to insist that an entire nation gets behind a song that is so freakin’ hard to sing well? Thank goodness for Whitney Houston, then, who nailed the national anthem in 1991 and, in light of many others that have gone before and after her (check out the worst performances for more news on that one), gave us hope, reminded us that there are still talented souls out there who can hold a tune and do their nation proud. Not a bum note in ear-shot, Houston’s immaculate, ambitious performance was one of those spine-tingling patriotic moments that will be remembered for years. They even released it as a single. THAT’s how good it was. Okay, that proves nothing. Just watch.
1. Beyonce, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 2013
What? It’s our list, we can make the rules! There is little doubt in our mind that Beyonce is going to SLAY at this weekend’s Super Bowl half time. She’s Beyonce! You saw the footage of her live performance at Glastonbury Festival, right? This girl knows how to put on a show! And hey, even if she WAS lip-syncing at he President’s Inauguration, so what? Just means she’s got more puff left in her for this! Everyone knows the Super Bowl is more important than politics, anyway. Quit bitching at the back, if we were writing this list next Monday, she’d be up here.
Here's a glimpse of how good it's going to be... OH LOOK, SHE'S ACTUALLY SINGING, QUEL SURPRISE!
And, so on to those performances that have been remembered for all of the wrong reasons. The bum notes, the tired ‘controversies,’ the ‘what on earth were they thinking’ wardrobe choices. Performing at the Super Bowl means taking risks, for a lot of performers. Sometimes, it simply doesn’t pay off.
5. Christina Aguilera, Cowboys Stadium, 2011
You kinda get the feeling Christina had been studying Whitney’s version of the national anthem before she took to the pitch two years ago at the Cowboys stadium, to sing the national anthem. Now, we all know that Miss Aguilera has a decent set of pipes on her. And we’re quite sure that, away from the pressure of it all, she’d be able to come up with a better rendition than this, which was flat as pancake, growly and lacklustre. Frankly we’d have preferred it if she’d have donned her leather chaps and got on with a performance of ‘Dirty,’ but we guess that’s not really in the spirit of things.
4. Up With People, Louisiana Superdome, 1986
(More times than we care to remember) Bridging cultural barriers and promoting peace love and harmony is, obviously, a noble thing to do. Obviously. But you know what, sometimes you just need to leave all that stuff to one side and let the music do the talking. Up With People were an educational organization aiming to promote global understanding, via the medium of song. Sound like a bad summer camp workshop? Well, yeah. Up With people got in on the Super Bowl action back in the early 1970s and managed to get on that stage a total of five times, spreading their message via a mixture of really tedious funk, pop and soul. 1986 was the last time they performed at the Super Bowl half time show. 1987 was the year the world came to its senses, it seems.
3. Madonna, Lucas Oil Stadium, 2012
Bit of an opinion-splitter this one, but we were cringing most of the way through this one. “What must your children think!” we screamed, unreasonably, at the screen as she flashed her crotch for the umpteenth time. The dancers were great, the costumes were great. Madonna? Awkward as hell. LMFAO? No thanks. Nicki Minaj and MIA? Just made Madonna look shonky. This was one performance that we could have lived without.
2. Enrique Iglesias & Christina Aguilera, Georgia Dome, 2000
Sorry to bring you into this again, Christina. And to be fair, your singing was spot on this time. But you and Enrique should never have let Disney bribe you onto this. It’s the Super Bowl, not the Olympics. Disney were in charge of producing the half time entertainment in 2000 and as such, what we got was not the pomp, grandeur and national pride that we're used to, but an overly-sentimental stage show that looked like a low-rent Disney on Ice performance, just without any ice.
Ah, the ‘controversial’ nip-slip. You know, the totally rehearsed nip-slip that had been carefully thought out and planned, to create controversy, even though you couldn’t even see her nip because she had a special little metal sun thing sitting on it… I mean, c’mon guys – you especially, Janet – you’ve been in the entertainment industry for years and THIS was the best you could come up with? Believe it or not, the world actually stopped spinning on its axis until Janet Jackson apologised and promised never to show her little metal sun thing again and Justin vowed never to lurch at a woman’s breast on live TV ever again. Because THAT, ladies and gentleman, is the power of the Super Bowl.