Once upon a time that thing that’s pictured up there happened. It was not really one of the The Worst Super Bowl Halftime Performances. But it does mark a turning point after which Super Bowl Performances would be scrubbed within an inch of their life of anything resembling hormonal charge. (Unless we’re talking about Prince’s phallic guitar slinging inside a giant condom or The Boss’s national crotch shot impregnating my eyeballs.) Not that they were all that great before all the sexual sanitation. Honestly, after watching too many halftime shows for this post, most of them do not qualify as the worst at anything, aside from keeping my attention. They’re just dull! And occasionally, awkward. So it’s the awkward that we’re focusing on here. The Super Bowl is America’s game, and nothing is more American than supersized, garish endeavors lacking class or tact or any sense of consequence. So of course the halftime show is an American curiosity. And like lots of things having to do with pop culture and American curiosity, it all changed with Michael Jackson.
MJ brought people together, but he divides alot, too: eras in music, fashion, and tabloid sensationalism; public opinion over his personal affairs. One such area that doesn’t immediately spring to mind is that of the Super Bowl Halftime show, but consider it: Before 1993 the most outlandishly “spectacular” this thing got was, like, Chubby Checker and a marching band. Dope. But when MJ came out that year, wearing those aviators and a white forearm warmer and dressed like a South American war general that had staged the most fashionably fabulous coup in military history, the Super Bowl spectacle was born. And so was the tradition of halftime show one-upsmanship, to ends occasionally fantastic, fleetingly nippled, generally log-jammed with no organizing principle save maximizing celebrity factor. And in the name of the spectacle have been committed some heinous crimes to our collective attention spans.
Speaking of: The Black Eyed Peas. We’re on the eve of their Super Bowl halftime show, which will occur between halves of the sportsball match this Sunday. In honor of everything will.i.am represents aesthetically, here are the worst Super Bowl halftime shows since we were born:
#5 Super Bowl XXVI (1992): Gloria Estefan, Dorothy Hammil, Brian Boitano
[In the interest of preserving space/your sanity, I’ll just deeplink Part Two.]
Quoth NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue at this video’s cold open: “Enjoy the halftime show that follows, it says a lot about all of you.” In other, hyperlinked words, “You are America. You are this.” 1992, the year before MJ would change the halftime game forever more, not coincidentally the nadir of halftime history. This show was the perfect reflection of the time when budget went entirely to procuring preposterous props and producers stiff-armed any creative director with redeemable vision. Instead there were snowflakes on the 30 yard lines with the circumference of flapjacks for Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hammil to perform their quadruple Lundys, or whatever, on sheets of Teflon and ridiculous outfits on uncoordinated people who were I think dancing? It would take 15 years of Super Bowl halftimes before Prince could reclaim the color purple from this shit show. Oh, and there was also Gloria Estefan, who has done the Super Bowl halftime more than any other (aside from the 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization Up With People and school programs with the suffix “marching band”). Gloria’s here if you care. FOX anticipated the sadness of this show by counter-programming a simultaneously airing In Living Color live episode. Next year the NFL would up their game with their version of must-see TV: Michael Jackson surrounded by like 3,500 children.
#4 Super Bowl XXXIV (2000): Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, Phil Collins, Edward James Olmos(?)
By this point the halftime budget was funneling primarily toward upgraded costumery with a hefty allotment set aside to procure some head-scratching narration. Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Phil Collins perform, intercut with video of actor Edward James Olmos, in full gravitas mode here, unleashing a string of platitudes about “the gateway of time” opening and “hope for a better tomorrow” under a bombastic brass soundtrack, all of which must have come in handy as his audition reel for the role of Commander Adama on Battlestar Galactica. (Very intergalactic space commander-y performance here, is what I’m saying.) Disney produced and called it “Tapestry Of Nations” with a song called “Reflections of Earth.” Reflecting on an Earth that is fundamentally Anglo-American and Hispanic, by this tapestry of nations’ fabric. It’s a small world after all, etc.
#3 Super Bowl XXIX (1995): Indiana Jones And The Temple Of The Forbidden Eye, Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Arturo Sandoval, Miami Sound Machine
The best part of watching the Super Bowl is watching the commercials, except for that one time THE ENTIRE HALF TIME SHOW WAS A COMMERCIAL. Disney made this happen (if you are detecting a pattern, good!), making this show an extended advertisement for the new Indy ride at their theme park. Harrison Ford didn’t deign to participate (don’t let that earring fool you, he has dignity), neither did Karen Allen (Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s Marion Ravenwood). Instead some doppelgangers set off on a high-stakes mission to steal the Lombardi Trophy from the clutches of some evildoers in an elaborate plot to make America cringe. Musical guests featured the contents of your parents’ Case Logic Disc Wallets™. Gloria Estefan was not there and so somehow managed to dodge this bullet, while every other member of the Miami Sound Machine died onstage that day. Very sad!
[Note: There is no known video of this halftime show, anywhere. #disneyrevisionism]
#2 Super Bowl XXXV (2001): ‘N Sync & Aerosmith Featuring Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly
Nothing like a testosterone-fueled match of modern day gladiators intercut with lithe and harmonizing pretty boys and power ballads courtesy of a future American Idol judge to make all the sense in the world. To their credit, ‘N Sync “kept it real” with their singing. Still, no offense JC Chasez, none taken, but it’s weird that there was a dance routine that had you out in front of Justin Timberlake, even for a minute. But I get it, it is the Super Bowl halftime show, weirdness is at a premium. Also: That whole “Walk This Way” remake at 6:10. Britney Spears inappropriately flirting with Steven Tyler the way he does with contestants on his new day job, Mary J. Blige looking a little lost, an admittedly energy-surging Nelly, and ‘N Sync hamming it up as Run-DMC who immediately rolled over in their Adidas.
#1 Super Bowl XLV (2011): Black Eyed Peas
“Hi! We’re the worst. Already!”
But this year’s Super Bowl isn’t solely The Worst. There are some great things about it musically, like the back and forth between Wiz Khalifa’s Steelers fight track “Black And Yellow” and Lil Wayne’s response “Green And Yellow.” Dig in:
Lil Wayne – “Green And Yellow”
Happy Super Bowl, sportsball fans. I hope the teams score all your points!