History of the Best and Worst Super Bowl Halftime Shows

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By Rob Watts

Since the very first Super Bowl back in 1967, the NFL has entertained spectators with halftime performances, mostly by the likes of local university marching bands, Disney, and organizations such as Up With The People. Every year they zero’d in on a theme, whether it was Caribbean, Big Band, Motown, etc.

One of the first halftime shows that featured any form of celebrity entertainment was at Super Bowl XXI in 1987, when Comedian and actor George Burns was joined by Mickey Rooney and a slew of Walt Disney Characters. The following year featured Chubby Checker and the Rockettes.

It wasn’t until Super Bowl XXV in 1991 that the halftime show got it’s first superstars (at the time) to perform for the frenzied fans. New Kids on the Block were joined on stage with Disney Characters (Walt Disney was a big sponsor obviously) and 2000 local children. Unfortunately, the performance fell flat with die hard football fans. NKOTB might have been a big hit with little girls, but the Super Bowl was more important for their dads, who wanted nothing to do with the teen idols. Unfortunately for the band, their performance was delayed and re broadcast after the game due to news coverage of the ongoing Operation Desert Storm.

The following year was a game changer, but it had little to do with the halftime performer. A very out of place Gloria Estefan performed for the crowd, and although her music and live performances are usually top-notch; it simply has no place in front of this type of audience. Like the previous year, the majority of viewers (especially at that time period) were adult males. Men don’t want to be sitting on their couch or at a bar watching the halftime show and feel like they are sitting in the waiting room at their dentist office. Interestingly enough, in one of the first signs of counter-programming schemes, rival network FOX aired a live episode of In Living Color during the halftime show, attracting 22 million views over to FOX. This forced the NFL’s hand and set in to motion the need to bring on entertainment heavyweights from here on out.

And so they did. In 1993, they brought on the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Whether you were a man, woman or child, there is no denying that back then, Jackson was still entertaining everyone on Earth. It remains to this day, one of the most viewed events in American broadcast history.

Sadly, the NFL couldn’t keep the momentum going, as they chose The Judds, Travis Trit, Clint Black and Tanya Tucker as their halftime spectacle. You must remember, Country music didn’t have the popular foothold that it has today. Country music had a very isolated audience in 1994 and it simply wasn’t enough to impress either the fans or the NFL brass.

And if that wasn’t boring enough, let’s bring out Patti Labelle, Tony Bennett and Teddy Pendergrass. Because nothing says “let’s get this crowd fired up” like a trio of aging crooners.

Just in a nick of time, right before she went bat shit crazy, they gave us Motown legend Diana Ross. A vast improvement performance-wise compared to the previous years, Ross deliver a medley of well-performed classics from both her solo material and the Supremes.

But all good things must get placed on hold. 1997 offered us The Blues Brothers (well, one really) along with James Brown and ZZ Top. In addition to the fact that my New England Patriots had their asses handed to them by Green Bay that year, I just remember a very pathetic performance of the “New” Blues Brothers featuring Dan Aykroyd, JIM Belushi and John Goodman. Three overweight men with cigarette coughs dancing around lip syncing Soul Man and Everybody needs Somebody to Love. If not for James Brown performing I Got You and ZZ Top coming out to play Tush and Legs, I might have walked away from my television sooner.

1998s halftime show brought on some of their lowest ratings. Boys II Men, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson just couldn’t deliver the goods that night. Again, crooners and football…….

1999 gave us a pre-show performance from KISS. Loud rock and roll, party anthems and explosions are just what this halftime show needs. But, it was just the pre-show. No, to keep the party going in between the game was none other than Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder and again, Gloria Estefan. Because if it fails once in front of millions of people, why not bring it back again for another try? All three are incredible musicians, don’t get me wrong, but they are not Super Bowl caliber. End of story.

Overstaying their welcome in 2000, long-time halftime producer Disney put together Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Enrique Iglesias and Christina Aguilera. This was as boring as boring could be, even with an icon like Tina Turner. Maybe the abundance of bad performers in her presence took its toll.

It had looked as though the half times couldn’t get any worse. Then, in 2000 MTV announced it was to take reign of the producers duties and deliver a more up-to-date production that everyone could enjoy. Well……it was MTV after all, and when you think of the rock band Aerosmith, the next band that comes to mind is obviously ‘N Sync, right? No? Well, how about we throw in Britney Spears, Nelly and Mary J. Blige to make Aerosmith feel right at home on stage? Ugh, in theory it all sounded good. The result was one of the most ridiculous performances shoved down our throats. Aerosmith came off looking pathetic and desperate. Dr. evil said it best “There is nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster.”

Without getting too somber, in the wake of the 9-11-2001 World Trade Center attacks, U2s performance at the 2002 Super Bowl was both classy and stellar. The band and stage set paid tribute to every victim during those attacks while Bono and company played Where The Streets Have No Name. No agenda, no over-performing to look cool. Just U2 doing what they do best: playing good music, and being good human beings in the process.

2003 gave us a fun performance by No Doubt, Sting and Shania Twain. The attempt at a performance that appealed to everyone seemed to hit the mark that year. Party music from three different genres of pop.

And so it began, the pathetic attempts to use the medium of the halftime show to further their low-rent tabloid careers. P. Diddly, Nelly and Kid Rock were a bad enough mix. It wasn’t until Janet Jackson and the kid who made a career by imitating her older bother, Justin Timberlake took the stage to perform two songs together. Performance-wise, they were great. Good songs, great dancing and chemistry. Then by the end of their song, OOPS, Justin “accidentally” ripped off Janet’s brazier, revealing a pasty over Janet’s breast (because women always wear pasties under their clothing in the off-chance their clothing gets ripped off of them.) this was coined the “wardrobe malfunction” and it forever changed how we watch live events. Thanks Janet and JT.

Now that the halftime shows were deemed too out of control by certain viewers and sponsors, the NFL toned down its halftime show ten-fold by bringing in Sir Paul McCartney in 2005. And toned it down he did. I’m sorry but this was an all around snooze fest. Paul McCartney is a music legend. An iconic musical genius if you will. But there are some places that musical geniuses don’t belong. The Super Bowl halftime show is one of them. Paul with the Beatles at the 1967 Super Bowl? Yes! Paul solo at the 1985 Super Bowl? Yes! Paul at the 2005 Super Bowl? No.

The Rolling Stones played in 2006 and without question were one of the best halftime performers. I’m not even a fan of the Stones. I actually can’t stand them, but I’m always fair and I can recognize a band’s talent. They did their job. They played well, they kept viewers at home tuned in and they kept the energy and spirit of the game alive for the remainder of the game.

I’ll argue til the day I die with anyone who says Prince didn’t give one of the best performances of his career at the 2007 halftime show. Yes, I’m well-aware that he’s weird and all that. But talent is talent. He was in great form and knew how to put the smack down on stage, with Let’s Go Crazy along with well-chosen covers such as We Will Rock You by Queen, All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix and Best of You by Foo Fighters. The most incredible finale in halftime history came with him playing Purple Rain as it actually began raining. The rain being illuminated by purple lights didn’t hurt either.

2008 gave us the incredible Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Unfortunately, the performance game across as just ehhh. It was more of a Tom Petty concert. Nothing else went into it. Was neither bad or great. It was what it was.

Bruce Springsteen rocked it in 2009. I’m not the biggest fan of the Boss, but there is no arguing that he and his E Street Band delivered the goods that evening. Great energy, classic rock!

I was excited about The Who performing in 2010. Everyone gets up on their feet when they hear The Who, so there’s no question that they are amazing. Sadly, their performance was in line with Tom Petty. It simply just was. Nothing spectacular.

2011 saw the Black Eyed Peas perform, squeaking in just before their “has been” status took hold. In attempts to keep the men at home watching the show from feeling too feminine during their performance, they invited the iconic, yet overly exposed SLASH to join them on stage. Apparently there weren’t any supermarket ribbon cuttings that day.

Madonna was tapped to play in 2012. For months, all you heard out of her camp was how serious she was taking this and how much rehearsal was going into it. Well, um yeah! That’s what all performers tapped to play to the biggest television audience are supposed to do. Sadly, all her rehearsals couldn’t prevent what was arguably one of the silliest looking halftime shows ever. An aging pop star still grinding around on stage while trying to appeal to the younger fans by sharing the stage with Nicki Minaj and a middle finger waving M. I.A.

2013 brought excitement back in the form of a Destiny’s Child reunion. Even if you are sick of hearing about BeyoncĂ©, you must admit that her and Destiny’s Child’s music is fun and catchy. For fans, this was more of an event than just a typical performance at the Super Bowl. A reunion of one of their favorite acts. Even if they all went their separate ways once the lights went out.

2014 gave us the widely popular Bruno Mars and one of the biggest dick head bands ever, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bruno Mars put on an amazing show, prompting parents to buy Mars’s music, now understanding why their kids made such a fuss over him. Sadly, The Chili Peppers joined him on stage for what turned out to be a minute and a half of pointless nonsense. Bassist, Flea, didn’t even have his instrument plugged in, as made apparent on live television. Thank goodness Mars kept the show alive.

So now in 2015, Katy Perry will take the stage, joined by Lenny Kravitz. I have high hopes for this one but we will have to wait and see!

Agree or disagree? Tweet me @RobWattsOnline

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