The VII Greatest Super Bowl Halftime Shows Of Never

Jan 29th, 2009 // 32 Comments


Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Prince, The Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney: After this Sunday, this list will be the answer to the question “Who were the last five Super Bowl halftime show performers?” Boomer-friendly and safe-for-TV in the wake of Nipplegate, these big five have conspired to make the Super Bowl Halftime Show a Big Deal, water cooler fodder, something you might actually watch on TV. Some might point to 1993′s Super Bowl XXVII Michael Jackson show as a turning point, but the year after that brought America Rockin’ Country Sunday with Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, and The Judds—certainly big stars, but not exactly a glitzy, over-the-top spectacle. I’ve been a lifetime Super Bowl watcher, and I can’t remember most of the halftime shows I’ve seen. In fact, despite its billing as an annual entertainment extravaganza, most Super Bowl Shows have been forgettable, banal, or just plain awful. Seven examples, after the jump.



7. Super Bowl XXXV: The Kings of Rock and Pop featuring Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly

Aerosmith by themselves, as much as I love/hate them, would have been a fine Super Bowl halftime choice. Thank God the folks at MTV, who produced the 2001 show, decided that would make too much sense and added N’Sync, Britney Spears, and Mary J. Blige to the bill, complete with semi-funny opening skit by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler. None of it works. I’m sorry, but N’Sync just looks embarrassing now, and the “medley” that they perform is downright execrable. Like so many Super Bowl halftime shows, it’s overstuffed and to eager to please multiple demographics. Sure, the new picks aren’t imaginative, but at least they put on, you know, good shows with competent performances. More than that, they don’t feel so ADD and variety show-esque.

6. Super Bowl XXXIII: Celebration of Soul, Salsa and Swing feat. Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Savion Glover

In 1999, the medley bug bit again, as Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (they’ve played the Super Bowl and I haven’t) celebrated “Soul, Salsa, and Swing.” It’s certainly better than the Aerosmith atrocity, and Estefan’s inclusion befit the Miami setting, but the stage is filled to bursting with people, and the shoehorning of the different songs over that incessant salsa beat just doesn’t work. Once again, wouldn’t you rather see Stevie Wonder perform by himself for 12 minutes? This was the second halftime show for Gloria Estefan, whose 1992 Super Bowl XXVI show was called “Winter Magic” and featured Dorothy Hammill and Brian Boitano. Yep.

5. Super Bowl XXV: Walt Disney World Small World Tribute to 25 Years of the Super Bowl feat. New Kids on the Block, assorted Disney characters, Warren Moon, 2,000 local children, and a card trick

In 1991, the halftime show was preempted by breaking news coverage from the Persian Gulf, so the above spectacle aired during post-game coverage. That’s probably for the best. This Disney-produced affront to human decency is bathed in sugar and syrup, and features the New Kids on the Block honoring our Armed Forces with “Step By Step” while Mickey (dressed in an Uncle Sam outfit) and pals bounce around with a bunch of kids. Later on, Warren Moon and some Boy Scouts showed up and the audiences did some card stunt. I’m sure the troops loved it. This is the kind of thing that really gets you going when you’re being shot at.

4. Super Bowl XXI: Salute to Hollywood’s 100th Anniversary feat. George Burns, Mickey Rooney, Disney characters, and a bunch of high school drill teams and dancers




Most people don’t realize this, but for the first twenty years of the Super Bowl’s existence, the halftime shows featured marching bands, cheerleaders, and shows with names like “Carnival Salutes the Caribbean”. Carol Channing showed up a few times. The first really boldfaced names to perform were… George Burns and Mickey Rooney, who dropped by the above salute to Hollywood’s centennial in 1987. Disney strikes again. I swear that the crowd sounds like it’s booing. I would if I’d dropped a few bills on tickets and had to sit through this putridity. Watch this and try not to hate. This marks Indiana Jones‘ first of two appearances in a Super Bowl.

3. Super Bowl XVI: Salute to the 1960s and Motown feat. Up with People

Perpetually happy neo-hippies Up With People made four halftime appearances. In 1982, a year when the NFL could have been totally getting Journey to headline an Arthur-themed Super Bowl, Stepford Children Up With People chirped they way through a godawful medley of faves from the 1960s. Billed as a tribute to the “60s and Motown,” what’s ironic about this, or maybe just sad, is that Diana Ross, hot off “Endless”, diana, and Why Do Fools Fall In Love?, sang the national anthem. That bill couldn’t have been juggled a bit?

3a. Super Bowl XXX: Take Me Higher: A Celebration of 30 Years of the Super Bowl feat. Diana Ross

Ross did get her Super Bowl chance…in 1996. It’s actually not a terrible performance, once she finds her footing after a timid beginning. Plus: helicopters.

2. Super Bowl XXXIV: Tapestry of Nations featuring Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, and Edward James Olmos as narrator

One of the greatest Super Bowls ever, the 2000 tilt between the Titans and the Rams, yielded one of the more bizarre pairings ever, indicative of the throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks philosophy of the ’80s and ’90s. Just writing its title out seems wrong. Apparently, hiring throwing three people of Hispanic descent along with Toni Braxton and Phil Collins constitutes a tapestry—a tapestry of shame.

1. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye: Indiana Jones & Marion Ravenwood, Patti LaBelle, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, Miami Sound Machine

[Embedding disabled; click here to experience the horror]

Unfortunately, embedding is disabled for maybe the worst Super Bowl halftime show ever, Super Bowl XXIX in 1995, wherein a non-Harrison Ford Indiana Jones and a non-Karen Allen Marion Ravenwood (I cannot overstate how “non-” these two are) “perform” a salute to failure.

After watching all of these in a row, a nice 12-minute performance by the same artist seems so simple and so nice—hell, two Up With People halftime shows, and I’m all, “Bring on the Eagles!” (The band, that is.)

  1. Christopher R. Weingarten

    bless you for sitting through these

  2. bess marvin, girl detective

    justin used to be so cute with his cute curls

  3. Dickdogfood

    Up With People? In 1982? 1982? For fucking serious?

  4. Anonymous

    Let’s get Lordi in there

  5. Anonymous

    Wow. The abortion that was Britney+Aerosmith=Walk This Way doesn’t seem nearly so awful now.

    Dunno what year it was, but I can remember one halftime show that had a fake Elvis, and was in 3-D. We had to get glasses from 7-11. I think I was somewhere between ten and twelve(?) and realized even then how awesomely cheesy the whole idea was.

    And the Michael Jackson one…I swear, he didn’t even move for like two minutes. “He got paid to just stand there like a statue?!”

  6. BigRicks

    The Youtube comments on the Patti Labelle/Indy disaster are fantastic for their ignorant positivity.

  7. Lucas Jensen

    @perfectomix: I tried to find that 3-D one, and I swear I will post it if anyone finds it. The name of the impersonator was Elvis Presto and Bob Costas hosted it, and I don’t think they actually performed Elvis songs.

    [football.ugo.com]

  8. Lucas Jensen

    @Christopher R. Weingarten: I deserve workmen’s comp.

  9. TheRunningboard7

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention that the NFL was quite proud of their 360 matrix cam to analyze football with, so during the aerosmith performance, they gave us an utterly useless spin-around of the band. That bit of crap stuck with me longer than who else performed.

  10. Anonymous

    Neo-hippies? Up With People were the clean-cut wholesome alternative to dirty fucking hippies.

    The NFL would have been as likely to hire Devo as Journey in 1982. Which is to say, it never would have happened.

    Different times.

  11. Lucas Jensen

    @clarknhilldale: That’s why they were “neo-”. They were all feel-good and yay everybody but they were clean-cut.

  12. Lucas Jensen

    @TheRunningboard7: There was so much crap to discuss that I couldn’t mention it all.

  13. drjimmy11

    I miss the days when there was a Beavis and Butthead special counter-programmed to air at halftime. Good times.

  14. Anonymous

    Can we get an Up With People Behind The Music?

  15. The Illiterate

    Up With People is still one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. They, or one of their sub-groups, did an assembly at my high school that all students were required to attend. This was around 1974, I think. They were awful, and what’s more, pointless: there was no religious message attached, no moral other than that being clean and well-dressed and smiling a lot was supposed to be fun. One famous person did come out of the group, though: Glen Close, who was a member in the early 70s along with her sister. When Close first became famous, she refused to talk about it in interviews. And who can blame her?

  16. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: “a tapestry of shame”–OK, you just killed the game with this post! Thank you for making me laugh for real at work today. I needed that. Gold stars all around…

  17. T'Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: “a tapestry of shame”–OK, you just killed the game with this post! Thank you for making me laugh for real at work today. I needed that. Gold stars all around…

  18. T'Challa

    @juiceandgin: co-sign!

  19. T'Challa

    @juiceandgin: co-sign!

  20. westartedthis

    the “Tapestry of Nations” was good fodder for a hilarious Conan O’Brien routine where “Edward James Olmos” called in and continued spouting the incomprehensible drivel they’d written for him during the halftime show – “That majestic wafer shared by both man and beast, Conan.”

  21. Lucas Jensen

    @The Illiterate: I saw them many times with my parents. One year, I asked my mom if they would do a “robot song” because I was into Mr. Roboto. Sure enough, they trotted out their own “robot song” that was almost-but-not-quite as awesome as Mr. Roboto. I was satisfied.

    Also…they had sub-groups?!

  22. Anonymous

    @Lucas Jensen: Yeah, I’m not sure they performed *anybody’s* songs. Meaning, I’ve got this memory of the musical material being a really generic stereotype of ’50s rock-&-roll, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a medley designed just for the halftime show. (On a side note, the medley is the foulest creation in the history of rhythmic sound.)

    On the other hand, my memory could be faulty, since the link says that was part of the ’89 Super Bowl, which would’ve made me barely eight years old! Holy crap. I can remember those three-dimensional spinning vinyl records like it was yesterday. My brain is officially useless.

  23. Cam/ron

    Up with People? Ha, I recall that Simpsons parody where they had a UwP-like group perform Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” in the Duff Gardens episode.

    Anyhow, I still recoil in horror over the Indiana Jones show – dance-fighting just doesn’t work. I can’t forget the “When is this goddamn show over?” look on Tony Bennett’s face

  24. cheesebubble

    @The Illiterate: Wow. Thanks for that bit of trivia. Who’d have thought that Fatal Attraction’s crazy Alex Forrest was once a chanteuse in Up With People?! I felt compelled to troll the innernets for proof. YouTube didn’t disappoint. Glenn’s song clip around the 2:20 mark…

  25. Lucas Jensen

    @cheesebubble: YouTube rarely disappoints. Amazing.

    @Cam/ron: I think the name of that UWP group was Hooray For Everyone or Hooray For Everything, right?

  26. Cam/ron

    @Lucas Jensen: I believe they were Hooray for Everything.

  27. Lucas Jensen

    @Cam/ron: Genius. Do you remember when Springfield was trying to get the Olympics and the kids sang that song “Children Are The Future” where the only lyrics were variations of “Children Are The Future”? Also genius.

  28. The Illiterate

    @Lucas Jensen: Well, the group I saw definitely wasn’t as large as those you see in most pictures, maybe eight or ten as I remember. I do remember that not only were they performing, but they were actively recruiting, talking about how wonderful it was to be a member of UWP. Maybe that’s how they kept up their ranks, splitting up into platoons in the off-season and trolling small town high schools.

    @cheesebubble: That’s a great clip. I actually found out that Close had been a member when I came upon one of those albums in a thrift store. As I remember, the photo caption spells her name Gleen Close.

  29. cheesebubble

    I had to return and file another report. This eve, whilst perusing the vinyl at a local thrift shop, I encountered an Up With People album from 1965! It’s the very one that The Illiterate mentioned, featuring the “Green Glenn Singers” which include a Vee Entwistle (a killer bass player, no doubt). This quartet claim “to write and sing songs which give people a purpose and inspire them to live the way they are meant to live.” It cost me a whopping $1.99 and I’m going to give this thing a listen. If I was able to sit through the videos posted in this article then by god I’m primed for this.

  30. Lucas Jensen

    @cheesebubble: Wow. That’s awesome. Please do report back!

  31. jessica

    Not saying the last 4-5 SB half-times haven't been great, but come on! Which dinosaur, old fart band will they dig up next? I'm not a teeny-bopper (if that term is still used) by a long shot, but at least pick someone more relevant to today's music. There's the “safe-choice” and there's the “metamucil choice.”

  32. Can I just state the obvious here. Two big films this year about women and aimed at women and both were directed by men and both didn’t live up to the hype.

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