Evolution of the Super Bowl Halftime Show


The first Super Bowl Halftime show featured marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling, as well as a high school drill team. The entertainment level has certainly changed, as the halftime show is often the only moment on Super Bowl night where the party stops and everyone – fan or not – pays attention.

Marching bands continued to be Super Bowl halftime entertainment until 1991, when New Kids on the Block played the half-time show, and, oddly, changed Super Bowl history. Star acts became commonplace after 1991, with the Super Bowl halftime show becoming a massive entertainment event, and the only thing worth watching if the game is a crappy one.

Super Bowl XLVII will feature Beyoncé at halftime, but before we see her performance, take a look at how the halftime show has changed since the early 1990s.

The Greatest – Michael Jackson at Super Bowl XXVII

The early 1990s held a number of ups and downs for the King of Pop, but Jackson’s display at 1993’s Super Bowl stands as one of the most memorable performances of all time. In this twelve minute show, the King of Pop ran through a medley of “Billie Jean”, “Black or White”, and “Heal the World” before the Dallas Cowboys one the first of 3 Super Bowls in the 1990s.

The Unusual – Aerosmith with N-Sync and Britney Spears at Super Bowl XXXV

What the hell? In one of the most bizarre combinations of musical talent ever, Aerosmith took the stage with N-Sync and Britney Spears. The audio insanity occurred after a skit involving Timberlake, Spears, and Adam Sandler. This would be Justin Timberlake’s first appearance in a Super Bowl half-time show, with Timberlake forming one half of an infamous duo three years later.

Did that just happen? –  P. Diddy, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XXXVIII

A performance headlined by P. Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock, this one is only remembered for Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” wardrobe malfunction. The organizers of the show would turn to more “tame” acts in the coming years, making the Super Bowl halftime show the home of safe, family friendly elderly rockers like Paul McCartney and The Who.

The Ultra-Safe – Paul McCartney at Super Bowl XXXIX

Hmm…what is the opposite of a nearly naked Janet Jackson? Science and advertising executives found the answer in Paul McCartney. Macca ripped through four Beatles songs in a solo performance even your grandparents would stick around to watch.

Old and Raunchy – The Rolling Stones at Super Bowl XL
In this 2006 performance, the Stones brought out a tongue-shaped stage and performed a trio of songs. Wary of fines and controversy in light of Super Bowl XXXVIII’s wardrobe malfunction, parts of “Start Me Up” and “Rough Justice” featured censored lyrics.

The Sublime – Prince at Super Bowl XLI

In my opinion — which amounts to nothing — this is the coolest Super Bowl halftime show ever. The reclusive Prince captured a world-wide audience, stealing the stage from Peyton Manning, if only for a few minutes. Prince reeled through seven songs during the show, starting with sports anthem “We Will Rock You”, touching on “All Along the Watchtower”, and finishing with “Purple Rain.”

The Bizarre – The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, and Slash at Super Bowl XLV

Probably the most ambitious Super Bowl halftime show, this weirdly futuristic show took a design cue from the recently released Tron: Legacy. Slash made a very interesting appearance, will.i.am wore an “I don’t want to be from this future” inspired clear plastic hair helmet, while Fergie sported bedazzled football shoulder pads.

Top image via Center Grove Trojan Band/Flickr.

Keith Veronese has a Ph.D. in chemistry and regularly writes for Gawker Media's science site, io9. His worked has appeared on the Gawker Media sites Lifehacker, Deadspin, Kotaku, and Jezebel in addition to Paste Magazine, AMOG, So Jones, Hip Hop Press, and FormatMag. Keith also has a non-fiction book in the works, Plugged In: Comic Book Professionals Working in the Video Game Industry, which will be released by TwoMorrows Publishing later this year.

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