We would be the first to admit that we don’t really expect entertainment of the conventional sort when it comes to Super Bowl halftime shows. We realize that weeks of hype culminate in about 12 minutes of mayhem from some performer on the downside of the popularity curve. This is how we wound up with, a couple of years ago, The Who, all of whom looked like advertisements for taxidermy.
We are not really going to comment on Madonna’s ridiculous attempt at cosmic significance with her Cleopatra theme that also included gladiators, inexplicable bleachers, guys in track suits, some dude in a toga slacklining, a marching band (!), and a bunch of people in choir robes. This is halftime hyperbole, it doesn’t have to make sense.
But we did get to wondering about how this whole thing got started. I mean, back in the day, who gave a halfback’s toenail about any of this?
No one, it turns out.
Back in the day, the halftime entertainment was provided by the likes of the Southeast Missouri State Marching Band (1971), or the Apache Belles Drill Team (1978).
During the 1980s, halftime entertainment alternated between the musical educational exchange group Up with People and the Grambling State University band.
Things were starting to get out of hand by the end of the decade, where the 1988 Super Bowl Halftime Show featured Chubby Checker, the Rockettes, and, for some reason we cannot begin to explain, 88 grand pianos.
Perhaps there was one piano for each Rockette? We were not paying attention to football that year, on account of we were busy keeping our toddlers from eating all the bean dip. You really don’t want a person who still wears diapers to eat all the bean dip.
In fact, I do not remember a Super Bowl halftime until 1993, when Michael Jackson ruined it for everybody by being incredible. MJ’s amazing performance of hits like “Billie Jean,” “Jam,” and even a tear-jerking “We Are the World,” made the television producers realize that good halftime entertainment could actually INCREASE THE RATINGS. Wow.
So it was no more Gloria Esteban teaming up with figure skaters (which really happened), and now each Super Bowl was an occasion to trot out some serious musical muscle, at least early on.
The very next year, they rolled out Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, and the Judds. Diana Ross came next, another memorable performance, and after her, the floodgates opened: The Blues Brothers, ZZ Top, Boyz II Men, Queen Latifa, Stevie Wonder, Kiss, Phil Collins, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Chaka Khan, and yes, the Grambling State University Band.
Naturally, some of these people appeared together, apparently on the theory that thirty seconds of a performer is better than no performer at all.
In 2001, halftime viewers were treated to Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Mary J. Blige, Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, Nelly, and Britney Spears. We did not find records of the riot when Chris Rock, Nelly, Stephen Tyler, and Britney Spears were fighting over a microphone, but that had to have happened at some point.
Even the mavens of halftime entertainment must have decided this was overkill, and the next year, U2 delivered an almost tasteful tribute to, yes, the victims of 9/11. Only in America.
Tasteful really doesn’t sell, so a year later, Shania Twain was singing “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” but we were trying too hard to keep our kids’ youth group supplied with bean dip to notice.
We also missed Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, although everyone on the planet got the replay, including people in societies where televisions are banned by religious edict. We missed Paul McCartney.
The Rolling Stones came out of retirement, or perhaps the crypt, for a halftime show, as did The Who and Bruce Springsteen. We’re absolutely certain that the only thing more painful than watching old guys flounce around the stage pretending they’re still 26 is being those old guys the next day. It made us sad.
Watching Madonna miss her cues, misjudge her choreography, and mess up her sound did not make us any happier. Perhaps the era of over-hyped and under-powered halftime shows needs to be over.
After watching the various excesses of Halftimes Through the Decade, and taking stock of all the entertainment value therein, we think it’s time to bring back the Grambling State University marching band.