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
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.)