Super Bowl Halftime Shows: Who Are They Courting?

Jim Balint@MrJBalintCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2010

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 1:  Singers Janet Jackson and surprise guest Justin Timberlake perform during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Reliant Stadium on February 1, 2004 in Houston, Texas.  At the end of the performance, Timberlake tore away a piece of Jackson's outfit.  (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

The teams have been set for almost two weeks. We’ve had nothing but speculation and plenty of face time for guys like Merril Hodge and Mark Schlereth. 

We’ve also received a healthy dose of Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees talk, complete with analytical breakdowns of everything from which downs Manning prefers to use play-action on to which detergent Brees uses to get those tough grass stains out.

Something that hasn’t been touched with a 10-foot pole, however, is the halftime show. It has this fan very, very concerned.

For those without a team to pull for, what draws them in are the commercials and halftime entertainment.

Ever since Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake made us aware of the phrase “wardrobe malfunction,” we’ve been subjected to halftime performances that were boring and generic at best. Granted, it gives you ample time to refresh drinks, use the rest room, replenish the chips and dip, and do whatever else might need to get taken care of before the game starts back up.

I miss the days when I was actually looking forward to the halftime show. OK, OK. To be honest, there were maybe two good halftime shows in the Super Bowl era. 2002 gave us U2 and a touching 9-11 tribute . Say what you will about them now, but that year, it was the perfect band at the perfect time.

The next year saw No Doubt teaming with Sting . Because of the band’s energy, they didn’t seem overwhelmed in the stadium setting, and they came through with a fantastic performance. It seems like forever ago that Gwen Stefani was actually in a band, but this performance reminds you of how good No Doubt really was.

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The worst thing a halftime show can do is be average. If it’s an amazing performance, the viewers and fans of the performers get what they want. If it’s awful, the audience gets a nationally televised, multimillion-dollar train wreck that, if nothing else, sparks conversation.

That’s exactly what Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and MTV gave us in 2004. Since then, we’ve gotten a steady dose of artists we haven’t heard from in decades.

Which got me to wondering: Who are they looking to entertain?

Bringing in safe acts like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty are great for keeping the FCC off your back. If, however, Super Bowl promoters are looking to draw an audience away from the kitchen, those bands don’t really get the job done.

Bringing in noted “bad boys” The Rolling Stones and Prince notched 89.9 million and 140 million viewers for their respective halftime shows. It’s clear the American public responds to possible scandal.

But why are promoters so focused on older acts?

Don’t get me wrong: I love the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Prince and Paul McCartney. But there’s a reason they’re not touring the nation, selling out every venue they plug into like they did when they were younger.

Do the powers-that-be need to go to the extreme of booking safely nostalgic acts, all in the name of avoiding the dreaded “wardrobe malfunction?" Are they trying to reach a certain audience, or just making sure the public can safely refill that bowl of salsa without missing anything?

This all brings me to this year’s act: The Who.

Initially, I was ecstatic. I love The Who. Having them perform at the planetary event of the year sounded like a fantastic idea.

Then, it hit me. Is it pure coincidence the Super Bowl is in Florida? I haven’t actually seen Roger Daltrey or Pete Townshend in years. The last time I saw them perform, they were on The Simpsons . They’re going to sound—and look—like the elderly parents of the guys that wrote “My Generation," “The Seeker," and “Summertime Blues.”

Of course, there are going to be hordes of the uninitiated who will have no idea who these old guys are. I’m anticipating comments along the lines of “Who are these guys, and why are they covering CSI theme songs?”

I have no problem with that in and of itself. I first heard The Doors in 1999.

But what does sending up a band consisting of only two original members accomplish? Are promoters trying to bank on song recognition from prime-time dramas?

If the promoters were dead set on bringing in The Who, bring in a couple stars that original Who fans might not know, but today’s Top 40 listener will. That way, you’re at least initially pleasing everyone at once.

As for the show itself, it can either be a huge success, as with Sting and No Doubt, or a colossal failure, as with Aerosmith, N*Sync and Britney Spears. Either way, you avoid the mediocre, garner an audience, and get people talking.

I could drag on about who I feel should fill in (Dave Grohl on drums, Les Claypool on bass), but I have a feeling the resulting discussion/argument would need a separate story of its own—and that really has nothing to do with anything Bleacher Report is trying to accomplish.

Bringing in legendary acts is all well and good, but ultimately, it is something that has been seen before—and, in some cases, can be seen again. Isn’t the whole point of a Super Bowl halftime production to put together a unique event?

So here’s to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. I don’t know how you got selected, but break a leg. (Not literally, of course.)


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