It’s interesting to note and likely disappointing for football fans to admit, that a healthy slice of Americana couldn’t give a pig’s snout about who wins Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
Oh, they will watch but not for the reason most of us will. It won’t be as much about the Patriots and Rams as it will be about the commercials, the halftime entertainment and the impact those will have at the water cooler on Monday morning.
So while Tom Brady and Jared Goff are stretching their hamstrings, let’s spend a moment talking about the history of the halftime show, the magnet that draws music fans to their widescreens on Super Bowl Sunday.
Just like the games, which began in 1967 in Los Angeles when the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, there have been 53 of them.
For the last 25 years or so, they’ve resembled made-for-television spectacles with sponsors, roadies and superstar diva boys and girls with song lists protected as if they were nuclear passwords.
On Sunday, Maroon 5 will headline the show, expected to last about 13 minutes and be watched by more than 100 million people. But unlike many of the past seasons, when bands and performers have mortgaged souls to star, there was a major problem finding acts.
Since Colin Kaepernick’s famous kneel down during the National Anthem, the NFL has become a wok filled with political hash. Fans have turned it off. Fans have turned the volume higher. And musical acts have found themselves walking a tightrope of public opinion when deciding whether to participate or not.
Many bands have begun telling the NFL “no thanks” to the Super Bowl, fearing a backlash from fans willing to tether their consent to what they perceive to be the acceptance of the league’s stance on freedom of speech.
There have been reports at least six acts refused Maroon 5’s invitation to play with them in Atlanta on Sunday, ostensibly out of fear of repercussion from the industry and their fans. We’re talking about megastars like Cardi B, Usher and Nicki Minaj. Eventually, rappers Travis Scott and Atlanta native Big Boi, agreed to share the stage.
There is even a rumor bubbling that Mick Jagger might show up to accompany Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine in the bands hit, “Moves Like Jagger.”
But we’ll have to see about that. Who knows if Mick even knows who Kaepernick is or if he even cares.
Regardless, this week’s show will be nothing like the first few Super Bowl extravaganzas.
At the first Super Bowl, three college bands performed and there was this guy named Bill who strapped on a jetpack and made like George Jetson flying around the stadium amid a flock of frantic pigeons.
At Super Bowl II, a number of high school bands played. At halftime of Super Bowl III, now in sports history as the day Joe Namath’s AFL New York Jets beat the mean, old Baltimore Colts of the NFL, the Florida A&M band played.
In ensuing years, Broadway’s Carol Channing, singer Ella Fitzgerald, and trumpeter Al Hirt were followed by corny thematic shows which seemed more in line with the sensibilities of football fans in the 1970s and 1980s. There were shows based around pianos, Paris, even the Peanuts crew in 1990.
It wasn’t until Super Bowl XXV in 1991 that things got moving. That’s when the Backstreet Boys headlined introducing, for the first time, the concept of the headlining act to the event.
Since then, there have been many memorable moments but just as many duds from bands who just weren’t able to grasp the essence of what a three- or four-song set might or should be.
We’ve seen Prince in a drenching rainstorm in Miami and Michael Jackson standing mute on the stage in 1993 for almost two minutes in Pasadena before singing a note. We’ve seen Paul McCartney and the Stones in back-to-back years, Tom Petty, Springsteen, and The Who, although they did sound like a bunch of guys who had no idea what football was.
We’ve also seen Olympic skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill gliding to dull music on a tacky ice rink and Coldplay bombing on the game’s 50th-anniversary show even with Beyonce and Bruno Mars as his wing acts. There was an act actually called “Elvis Presto,” a knockoff of you-know-who, at Super Bowl XXIII. The Black Eyed Peas also sucked at Super Bowl XLV.
In 1997, ZZ Top and the legendary James Brown were joined for a weird cameo by The Blues Brothers, sans the late John Belushi. After Shania Twain’s set with No Doubt and Sting at Super Bowl XXXIII, Rolling Stone magazine famously said her act was a “career-freezing bomb.” Go ahead and say it – that’s cold.
Then there was the time rapper M.I.A. flipped the finger to the camera, which made it past the delay into the live broadcast. The NFL sued her for more than $16 million.
And, of course, in 2004, Justin Timberlake inadvertently tore off a piece of the top worn by Janet Jackson during a performance of “Rock Your Body,” an incident now and forever known as “NippleGate.”
The halftime show is and always will be the show inside the show. It’s just another reason for some to watch the Super Bowl.