DDT: DiRienzo’s Deep Thoughts – Super Bowl Halftime

January 12, 2016
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January 26, 2003.

I was in London, England during my last semester of college. I knew I’d be up late that night and knew I’d be calling in sick to my internship the next morning.

I didn’t care. I needed to see the Super Bowl, and kickoff was at 2am, local time.

The game itself was pretty lousy (Bucs over Raiders 48-21) but as a whole, the experience was a bit strange, mostly because there were no commercials. A Super Bowl without commercials? Heresy! Plus, every time there was a break, they cut to a studio panel, which consisted of a random American dude, a Scottish rugby player who was a former member of the San Diego Chargers, and Seal. Yes, Seal. The dude who sang “Kiss From a Rose” and “Crazy.” His lower third read, Seal: San Francisco 49ers fan. Seal.

I can remember exactly where I watched every Super Bowl. The one in London stands out, but others were almost as remarkable. I watched one at a bar in Plymouth because they promised an amazing halftime buffet. (Super Bowl XXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21. The game was disappointing. So was the buffet.) I watched quite a few at friends’ houses, a few in church basements, and a few at home. Some games were good. Others were blowouts. But even if the game was bad, the halftime show always made me happy.

Like the games, some halftime shows were better than others.

With that in mind, I decided to rank the 20 greatest Super Bowl halftime shows.

NOTE: For the purposes of this list, I don’t care about the overall quality of the artists’ careers, just the show that was seen at halftime. For instance, if One Direction did a halftime show that was incredible, I’d rank them pretty high even though I don’t particularly care for them. Likewise, even though I love ZZ Top, their halftime show (Super Bowl XXXI with the Blues Brothers and James Brown) sucked so I left them out of the top 20. Got it? Good.
Let’s go.

#20
2010: Super Bowl XLIV – The Who

Really, it wasn’t The Who. It was Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. (Sadly, Keith Moon couldn’t make it since he died 32 years before.) For guys who famously hoped they died before they got old, this performance showcases why they should have followed through on that promise. And despite that, it’s #20. That should show exactly how bad the other Super Bowl halftime shows were. (Spoiler alert: Up With People didn’t crack the list.) The Who’s slow and uninspiring performance was ultimately responsible for the death of classic rock acts at the Super Bowl. So for anyone who thought the following year’s Black Eyed Peas fiasco sucked, you have Pete Townsend to thank.

#19
1991: Super Bowl XXV – New Kids On The Block, Disney characters

It was NKOTB’s heyday and Disney is timeless. It was the 25th anniversary of the Super Bowl. It was a very good game, with the Giants winning by 1 point on a last second field goal miss. So why isn’t this halftime show ranked higher? Because no one even remembers it. As far as history is concerned, as soon as Whitney Houston finished singing the National Anthem, there was no more music that night.

#18
1999: Super Bowl XXXIII – Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Savion Glover

It was Gloria Estefan’s 2nd (second!) headlining Super Bowl halftime spot, after she’d performed seven years earlier with Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill in Super Bowl XXVI, where even the good people of Minneapolis were saying, “I can’t believe they’re putting on an event in January in Minnesota.” The performance itself was fine, if only to highlight the fact that at one point, the American zeitgeist in the late 20th Century included a swing band and a tap dancer. If that wasn’t a giant blinking red neon warning that there would be a deep recession a few years later, I don’t know what was. Did we learn nothing from the Jazz Age in the 1920s?

#17
2000: Super Bowl XXXIV – Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton

Again, this show wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t particularly good. It was produced by the Walt Disney Company in the year 2000, which tells you all you need to know about its Hit-And-Miss quality. (Even though Disney released great movies like The Emperor’s New Groove and Remember The Titans in 2000, it also pooped out The Little Mermaid II, 102 Dalmatians, and Dinosaur.) It featured “Proud Mary” and a bunch of other songs that had as much entertainment value as Bruce Willis in The Kid.

#16
2001: Super Bowl XXXV – Aerosmith, NSync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly

Aerosmith had a hit on the radio (Jaded) and another #1 from two years before (I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing). In 2001, that was enough to headline. Justin Timberlake and the Funky Bunch, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly were also on the stage, as was Britney Spears, who would have headlined the halftime show a year later if she wasn’t on stage for this one. (Her album Britney would be released 9 months later and have 3 more genuine hits.) The game itself was a mauling, with the Ravens destroying the Giants 34-7. The halftime show left me feeling just as disappointed. That’s what happens when you include Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler.

#15
2004: Super Bowl XXXVIII – Janet Jackson, Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake

Everyone remembers the wardrobe malfunction, but how can we forget the fact that someone thought it was a good idea for Kid Rock and Diddy to do the halftime show, too? And Nelly made his second (SECOND!) appearance at a Super Bowl halftime show. Forget the nipple…this show should have never happened.

#14
2008: Super Bowl XLII – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The coolest thing about this halftime show was the stage. I like Tom Petty, and I thought he did an okay job, but this was the first indication that the knee-jerk classic rock response to Janet Jackson’s nipple might not be the best plan of attack for Super Bowl entertainment.

#13
2011: Super Bowl XLV – Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Slash

Will.I.Am and Company rode the coattails of I’ve Got A Feeling into this gig and by the time they took the stage, America collectively was done with them. The human eye is attracted to bright flashing lights and motion and this show had enough strobe lights, lasers, and smoke to last a lifetime. The music itself? Meh. But the show was interesting to watch. It should be noted that the show might have been better a few years earlier, before HDTV. Close-up shots of Fergie gave all the kids nightmares for weeks afterwards.

#12
2012: Super Bowl XLVI – Madonna, LMFAO, Cirque du Soliel, Niki Minaj, M.I.A., Cee Lo Green

1998 Madonna would have crushed the Super Bowl halftime show. 2011 Madonna put forth a good effort, but came up short. It’s like when aging wrestlers do a few ‘comeback’ matches—they’re technically good enough, they have the name recognition, but the cheers are for the performances of the past, not the one the crowd is currently watching. The closing rendition of Like A Prayer saved an otherwise forgettable performance.

#11
2007: Super Bowl XLI – Prince, Florida A&M Marching 100 band

“Live At Superbowl XLI” music video by Prince

I’m leaving this out of the top 10 only because it was the halftime show at the Super Bowl my beloved Chicago Bears lost because it was raining and they trusted Rex Grossman to throw the ball. (Of course if it wasn’t raining that would still have been a mistake.) I digress. A good show.

#10
2016: Super Bowl 50 – Coldplay, Beyonce

It’s going to be a great show. Mark my words.

#9
2005: Super Bowl XXXIX – Paul McCartney

It had Beatles hits. It had a James Bond theme. It had a massive Hey Jude sing-a-long at the end. It was the first post-Nipplegate halftime show, so you knew it was going to be rated PG. All in all, Sir Paul’s performance was good, but it felt a little flat. (In retrospect, that was probably because Tom Brady was in the stadium. #DeflateGate)

#8
2003: Super Bowl XXXVII – Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting

This is probably two slots higher than it should be based solely on the fact that Shania Twain was probably the best-looking woman in North America in January 2003 and was at the peak of her popularity. (Plus, as mentioned before, this was the game I watched in England. When Shania came on the screen, it was 3:30am, I was quite a few beers deep, and the closest thing I had to a romantic prospect was 3,496 miles away. Seeing Shania and Gwen Stefani made me happy and homesick.)

#7
2006: Super Bowl XL – Rolling Stones

The stage was cool. The band was on point. I’d say more about it, but I was sick for most of that game and was in the bathroom for most of this performance. I saw it after the fact, and I liked what I saw.

#6
2009: Super Bowl XLIII – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Remember when America got a high-definition shot of Springsteen’s crotch as he slid towards one of the cameramen? Not The Boss’ finest moment. Also, why didn’t he close with Born To Run? C’mon, man! You gotta finish with Born To Run!

#5
1993: Super Bowl XXVII – Michael Jackson

This was when Michael Jackson was the undisputed King of Pop. It was also at the height of his weird performance phase, which made all of America wonder what the hell he was doing when he just stood motionless for about three full minutes at the beginning of the performance. (Somehow he gets a pass on that. Why? It was weird.)

#4
2013: Super Bowl XLVII – Beyonce, Destiny’s Child

Who run the world? That girl. They had to postpone the game because Beyonce was so electric, the lights didn’t work right for the rest of the actual game. Just an amazing 12 minutes. If Beyonce was beloved before the show, after she left the stage, she became American royalty.

#3
2014: Super Bowl XLVIII – Bruno Mars, Red Hot Chili Peppers

There was concern about the Bruno Mars halftime show. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were added a few weeks as a panicked move from people worried that Bruno couldn’t carry the show by himself. At the time, he had some hits but wasn’t an established star “big enough” to pull off a show for 115 million people. The Chili Peppers got mixed reviews, but after the show, Bruno Mars download sales increased more than 300% for weeks. Boom.

#2
2015: Super Bowl XLIX – Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott

This was the show that started with Katy Perry riding into the stadium standing on a giant robotic lion and riding out on a comet. In between, we had 11 ½ minutes of hit after hit, dancing beach balls, Missy Elliott, and Left Shark not giving a single f***. What else do you need from a halftime show?

1
2002: Super Bowl XXXVI – U2

It’s hard to describe the feeling at that exact moment. America was still reeling after the events of September 11th. The game wasn’t going how the experts said it would. It was Pat Summerall’s last game as the greatest play-by-play announcer in football history. Security was one of the bigger storylines of the game. It was tense, but it was freeing to be thinking about a game rather than about America’s enemies. Plus, there was a team called the Patriots playing. This game was an extension of the highest pro-America sentiment since 1945. Somehow it was appropriate for the most pro-America band in the world to do the Super Bowl halftime show—they just so happened to be from Ireland. It was cathartic. It was dynamic. It was touching. It was appropriate to the moment. And it was amazing.

Let’s hope the NFL continues the recent trend of good shows at halftime.

Just, please…no more Nelly. Okay?

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