What are the best Super Bowl halftime show performances ever?
Michael Jackson’s highly choreographed performance at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 raised the bar for halftime entertainment
For many of the early editions of the Super Bowl, halftime entertainment was provided by marching bands performing popular hits, and some years, there was no musical interlude at all during the interval. It all changed in 1993 when Michael Jackson performed an epic five-song set at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, California - a defining moment in Super Bowl history and is even today considered one of the most entrancing spectacles ever witnessed at the event.
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At the first Super Bowl in 1967, spectators were kept occupied by two university marching bands and trumpet player/bandleader Al Hirt. The bands ran through a medley of well-known songs - including When the Saints go Marching In while an 80-strong troupe of high kickers went through their drill team routine in a colorful, visual backdrop.
Ella Fitzgerald’s homage to Louis Armstrong
In 1972, the First Lady of Jazz Ella Fitzgerald was invited to the VI edition - as a tribute to her old musical sidekick Louis Armstrong who had passed away the previous summer. Trumpeter Al Hirt led the band as Fitzgerald ripped through a rousing rendition of her 1960 hit Mack the Knife, becoming the first black woman to perform on stage at a Super Bowl halftime show. Three years later there was a tribute to another of Fitzgerald’s former collaborators, the great Duke Ellington.
But on the whole, during the next two decades, halftime entertainment was provided by organizations such as Up with People, university bands and drill teams. By the early 90s, television audiences had started to drop and viewers were switching over to other channels during the interval. In just 12 months, between the XXIII edition and the XXIV edition, the national television audience plummeted from 81.59 million to 73.85 million viewers.
The King of Pop
It had become obvious that something needed to be done and in 1992, the NFL turned to the experts, those who really do know how to put on a show - Radio City Productions. They put forward the idea of Michael Jackson, the biggest artist on the planet, giving a 15-minute mini-concert, fully choreographed, meticulously produced for broadcast with special video effects, including ‘Jackson’ (two lookalikes) popping up onto the gantries on the video scoreboard and with a cascade of fireworks, the real King of Pop jettisoned up onto the main stage through a trap door like a Jack in the Box.
Jackson stood motionless center-stage for a minute and a half before his band kicked into a five-song medley of some of his biggest hits - Jam, Billie Jean, Black and White, We are the World, and Heal the World. A television audience of 133 million watched transfixed from their own homes worldwide - still, a record as the most-watched Super Bowl halftime show globally.
Michael Jackson was a difficult if not impossible act to follow. From now on, halftime acts would have to up their game considerably. Diana Ross was the star attraction at the 30th-anniversary game in 1996 and kicked off her set of old Supremes hits raised up on a mechanical platform, accompanied by hundreds of dancers in another, elaborate and finely-tuned extravaganza. Several songs and costume changes later, Ms. Ross was whisked away, exiting the stage in style, and disappearing into the night sky by helicopter.
Mr. Dynamite himself, the hardest working man in show business James Brown was one of the highlights of the 1997 halftime show, along with ZZ Top and the Blues Brothers.
Moving into the 2000s, there was even more razzmatazz. Aerosmith rocked the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show, ending with a ramshackle version of Walk This Way, with help from NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly.
It’s not only American artists who have graced the stage at the event - invited artists and groups from other countries in previous years include Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, and U2 who performed three songs at the 2002 Super Bowl which was dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Then there was Prince playing in the rain in 2007 and Madonna, who stole the show by setting a new national tv audience record when she appeared in 2012 - 114 million viewers tuned in for her show nationwide, more than the 111 million who followed the game.