Were you a little underwhelmed by the news that Bruno Mars was selected as the halftime artist for Super Bowl XLVIII? I was, and with one or two exceptions over the years, I don’t even watch football games. I think last time was in 2012 when I was invited to a Super Bowl party, mostly because Madonna was scheduled to perform. If you tuned in that year you may remember it was a bummer of a set made vaguely more palatable when singer M.I.A. flipped the bird on national television and actually mouthed the words, “I don’t give a shit” to her audience. Can’t say I blame her. In any case, we soon lost interest, changed channels, and I never did find out who won the game–or who else even played besides The Material Girl and crew.
But with the Super Bowl being the country’s most-watched televised sporting event each year, the halftime show has become the country’s most-watched live music event, even if they’re often pretty lame, and even though “live” may be a relative term from year to year. As such, even someone like me–who couldn’t tell you the difference between a fullback and a linebacker without the help of Google–can tell you a thing or two about halftime shows.
If Bruno Mars doesn’t wow you this weekend, here are five classic Super Bowl halftime performances that will:
1993: Michael Jackson Transcends Mere “Pop” at Super Bowl XXVII
The best performances always seem to be the most minimal (think Queen at Live Aid). Armed only with a handful of background dancers, a little smoke, and a children’s choir, MJ effortlessly shows why he’s the undisputed “King of Pop.” In fact, his star power and charisma was so great that this super bowl marked the first time only a single artist was asked to perform, rather than an ensemble of musicians. Also note the supreme axe-slinging by ginormously big-haired guitar virtuoso Jennifer Batten.
1996: Diana Ross Pulls A James Bond-worthy Escape From Super Bowl XXX
This Motown legend may seem like an unlikely candidate for a ManBQue music list, but check in around 10:20 on the performance where she says, “Here comes my ride,” and departs from the stage on a FREAKIN’ HELICOPTER!
1997: ZZ Top and James Brown Out Blue The Blues Brothers at Super Bowl XXXI
Not knocking the Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, or The Blues Brothers legacy (especially given I’m writing this from Chicago) in general, but… actually you can just fast forward through all of that until you get to the funk.
2006: Rolling Stones Lap Up Detroit at Super Bowl XL
Although the Stones formed years before the first Super Bowl was even a thing, the band was called to play halftime some 40-years later. Mick Jagger gyrates his way around a tongue-shaped stage while the band holds down the beat. While other “classic rock” icons have been featured in halftime shows since, the Stones arguably put on the most lively performance among their ‘60s peers.
2007: Prince Destroys Super Bowl XLI
Prince’s Super Bowl performance is arguably the best halftime show of all time, and it is apparently so hot you can no longer find a full broadcast on YouTube. Playing a guitar shaped as his name symbol (which looks strangely phallic in silhouette behind a white sheet) Prince courses through a set of his own material, plus classics from Queen, Bob Dylan, and Creedence Clearwater Revival and absolutely stuns with his flawless instrumental prowess. If he’s not already one of your guitar heros, by the end of his performance, he will be.
Watch (Purple Rain)Superbowl Halftime Performance – Prince in Music | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com