Friday Playlist – Good and Bad Super Bowl Half-Time Shows

Photo from the LA Times

This weekend brings us the Super Bowl, which is ostensably an important championship football game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. But more and more each year, people make the day an event, eat great food (perhaps the Asparagus Feta Pizza or Veggie Fries that Megan shared this week), tune in to see the crazy-expensive commercials, and watch the half-time show.

The concept of the huge half-time show is relatively modern – from 1967 – 1989 they stuck to the traditional marching band show and had all the retired players in the booth pontificating about what had happened on the field. But then suddenly they seemed to realize that rather than lose viewers like they traditionally did (apparently 22 million left to watch Living Colour on FOX in 1992) they could actually GAIN viewers … and the huge spectacle was born.

Readers will know that my music tastes don’t exactly run to the popular side (or even music with words for that matter). But I am a lifelong student and lover of music, so we watch the Grammies, Super Bowl half-time shows and so on. But because I am a lover of MUSIC, I find lip-syncing absolutely unforgiveable.

This year we get Bruno Mars, who we actually saw live at the New York State Fair, so I know that he can put on a great show – he is a real singer and performer in what I would call the ‘James Brown tradition’.

One comment – I chose the image of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake because it changed Super Bowl half-time history. Things were getting better year after year, they were starting to take chances … then one nip-slip and we end up with 6 years of old-fogey rock including snooze-worthy bits by Stones, Bruce, Petty and The Who. That 2004 show itself is largely forgotten – and was pretty mediocre by itself – but it left an indelible shadow over the half-time show.

Let’s take a look bad at the last 20 years of shows, taking 4 of the worst and 4 of the best as examples.

The Bad:

1. The Who – it is worth taking a moment to reflect that these guys were the great stars of Woodstock alongside Jimi Hendrix, and in 1970 produced perhaps the greatest live rock album with ‘Live at Leeds’, and are generally seen as one of the greatest live bands in the history of rock music.

You really need to let that wash over you … and in that light this performance becomes not just a mediocre but safe show by aging rockers (like the Stones or Tom Petty), but an appaling, atrocious and embarassing spectacle that is for me the absolute nadir of what rock music has become.

2. Madonna / MIA / LMFAO – Look, I love Madonna, and I know many people love this show. But beyond having someone in their 50s looking and moving like that, it is pretty clear she was largely lip-syncing her performance. Oh, and the moment she started sharing the stage with everyone else things tool a clif-dive. Vogue grabbed me, the rest was awful.

3. Black Eyed Peas (w/Slash and Usher) – I have little use for the Black Eyed Peas as a general rule, think Slash is a great but highly over-rated guitarist who has spent more time collecting paychecks for showing up with his iconic look than actually creating art with his prodigous talents. This show was cringe-worthy from beginning to end.

4. Aerosmith, NSync, Britney Spears, etc – deconstructed this isn’t really terrible, it just makes no sense, is generic and bland and a bit creepy at times. Aerosmith is reigned in, and everyone else is lip-syncing through their dance steps. Add Ben STiller, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler and you have a real hot mess of trying too hard.

The Good:
1. U2 – in the wake of 9/11, U2 took the stage and reminded us what it was like to have a stunning and moving performance by people who could sing and play and electrify an audience. Add to that the tributes to the victims of the attacks, delivered by a group from Ireland, a country torn by war and terrorism most of my life, and you have an incredible event.

2. Prince – too often Prince stood in the shadow of Michael Jackson, and too often the Super Bowl has featured over-choreographed bombastic dance & pyrotechnic shows. On this night in the rain, Prince came out and did what he does best – siing, play his guitar, and just put on an amazing spectacle. Of course, since he is a litigous luddite the show is gone from pretty much everywhere … but I did find this video on Veoh (which wouldn’t embed properly, so you have to follow the link … ).

3. Michael Jackson – the mother-effing king of pop. This was the first time we got a major spectacle, and the NFL really made a statement. Michael Jackson, popular songs, great production, visual spectacle worth watching … score on all fronts. You could tell he was singing at times … and not singing at others. But it was such classic MJ even I can forgive it.

4. Shania Twain, Sting, Gwen Stefani – I am not a huge fan of Shania Twain, but she came out that day and showed her talents extended beyond being the pretty face of modern country music with a stirring performance. Then we get Gwen Stefani doing (proper) push-ups and reminding us what someone who tries to sing while jumping and dancing and running around a stage SHOULD sound like (take note Madonna and Beyonce, etc). Finally a duet with Sting. Great organic, genuine moments that all worked.

The Rest:

The reality is most everything else I have seen during Super Bowls is mediocre from my standpoint. It is often like they are trying to be like the Grammy Awards, constantly ‘making history’ (note: when you script a moment to ‘make history’, it seldom does).

I expect that this weekend we will see some decent football, some amusing commercials, and a show that will be enjoyable and entertaining. And that is pretty much it.

What is your favorite half-time show memory?

6 thoughts on “Friday Playlist – Good and Bad Super Bowl Half-Time Shows

  1. The Aerosmith and everyone else halftime show has a special place in my heart because my team played in that Super Bowl. But yeah I do agree with you. Also last year’s Beyonce performance not because I particularly love her, but my team was there again. I’m sure you can sense a pattern here. 🙂

    I only have vague recollections of other ones. I do love the commercials though! I’m a total advertising nerd.

    • That is interesting – I don’t associate half-time shows or commercials with years that the Patriots were in the Super Bowl … the only one I specifically remember was the ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’ from ’86 when the Pats got obliterated by the Bears. 🙂

  2. OK, first of all, when I saw the trackback and then the title of this post, I was pretty sure you were going to make fun of me for my awful taste in music :). But thanks for choosing my good taste in Super Bowl foods instead! Haha! Now onto the point … I just watched that entire U2 video and have goosebumps. LOVE that halftime show! Also love Prince and MJ … who doesn’t? Your comments on the bad ones made me laugh, and I don’t disagree! Crossing my fingers that Bruno Mars puts on a good show this year!

    • Haha! I wasn’t making fun of you – just noting a distinction between the visual-heavy programs of these shows and a music-first focus. Though honestly stuff like U2 (and Prince & Michael) is a reminder that you can have both.

      Glad to give a chuckle 🙂

  3. That is so neat that they use to do the traditional marching band – but it does make sense that more people would tune in to see a celebrity. That would be neat if they combined the show and had the artist perform to a marching band background.

    • I think that in some of the late 80s early 90s things they did try a combined traditional / pop performance and people tuned out by the millions. Thanks for the comment!

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