Look back on five favourite halftime performances
Super Bowl LVII is approaching Sunday, February 12th, the day the most chicken wings are sold (according to America’s National Chicken Wing Council (yes, that exists; fyi, in 2022, it was 1.42 billion) and people who never watch football during the regular season tune in for one thing, the Halftime Show. That is often followed by a days-long debate, ranging from “it sucked” to they “get it” to it was the best in the championship’s 57-year history. This year, Rihanna has the pleasure — and the pressure — of mounting the notoriously unpaid slot during halftime for odds-favoured Philadelphia Eagles vs Kansas City Chiefs.
As one would expect, the halftime show had humble beginnings, mainly with marching bands. The inaugural one kicked off in 1967, with The University Of Arizona and Grambling State marching bands — not Elvis Presley or The Beatles, although The Three Stooges did appear, as well as the release of 300 pigeons and the suited up and propelled Bell Air Rocket Men (look it up on ‘images’ – they should bring it back).
The ’70s saw some names, including Doc Severinsen, Al Hirt, Lionel Hampton; Woody Herman and Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Channing, and Al Hirt. So when did it all change? When did it become the big deal that it is today, the coveted gig, the must-watch?
His 1993 show-stopping performance set the bar and drew bigger ratings than the game.
Since then, there have been memorable halftime shows for various reasons, from Janet Jackson’s headline and vernacular-making “wardrobe malfunction” at the end of her performance with special guest Justin Timberlake to the rare opportunity given to Canadians, first Dan Ackroyd (with The Blues Brothers), then Shania Twain (with Sting and No Doubt), then The Weeknd, the first to do it solo.
My faves? Prince, U2, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and last year’s “Hip-Hop All-Stars.” It’s personal preference, of course. Some prefer the pop acts with dance troupes, others — like me — the straight-up bands. Below are my five standouts. Each performance is about 12 minutes.
Prince – Super Bowl XLI – 2007
The man made it rain even harder during “Purple Rain.” I choose to believe that. With his symbol-shaped lighted stage, Prince ignited the stadium with “Let’s Go Crazy,” “1999,” plus nods to CCR’s “Proud Mary” and Jimi Hendrix’ “All Along the Watchtower.” But it was the finale, “Purple Rain,” that will forever go down in history.
Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band — Super Bowl XLIII — 2009
Appearing in silhouette back to back with the Big Man (RIP), Springsteen asked viewers at home to “step back from the guacamole dip,” “put the chicken fingers down,” and turn the TV “all the way up.” He’s The Boss. He then proceeded with a mini-set of what any Bruce disciple knows: there ain’t no beating a live Springsteen show, always up close and personal with the fans, including sliding across the stage on his knees into the TV camera, crotch first.
U2 — Super Bowl XXXVI — 2002
Not even six months after 9/11, Bono walked through the on-field crowd singing “Beautiful Day” and onto a heart-shaped stage, but the most impactful part of their set was when all the names of the people who perished in the attacks were scrolled on a backdrop, and around the stadium, as they played “MLK” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Bono capped it by making a heart symbol with his hands and opened his jacket to reveal the American flag lining.
Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent — Super Bowl LVI — 2022
Just one year shy of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, for the first time in Super Bowl history, a rap group — and we mean a group of rappers and the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul — got their time to shine. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem all came to represent, along with two surprise guests, 50 Cent (emerging upside down) and Anderson .Paak. Note Eminem took a knee. This halftime show was the first to win a Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Variety Special.
The Rolling Stones — Super Bowl VL — 2006
The Stones, along with Springsteen, are my all-time favourites, so I am admittedly biased. It was fun to see the World’s Biggest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band take the stage as-is, with only their famous lips logo for a stage design and nothing else but the band. Not the coolest song picks, “Start Me Up” and “Rough Justice,” but they don’t need backing vocalists or a horn section, and then the requisite “Satisfaction.” “Here’s one we could have done at Super Bowl I,” Mick Jagger quipped of the 1965 single. “Everything comes to he who waits.”