Like a bald eagle lit on fire streaking over the countryside dropping bacon bombs, the Superbowl Halftime Show is American as fuck. It is the reason we won World War II. It’s the American concept of doing things that seem impossible that makes us Americans. The Superbowl is the biggest event in American life. It is bigger than Christmas, the Oscars, Tax Day and the birthdays of every celebrity on earth combined. Then doubled. If the NFL started a religion and only followers could watch the Superbowl, I am pretty sure it’d be the end of all other religions in America.
The game is the biggest event on Earth year in and year out. Advertisers pay incredible amounts of loot to buy air time to advertise their products. We watch the ads and rate them. We compete even when the game is paused. Who did the best? Who did the worst? Holy shit, this commercial has 3-D goggles?
So with it being a day filled with pre-game shows, billions of dollars worth of incredible creative advertising and not to mention the most popular sporting event of the calendar year, what does America insist on sticking in the middle?
The biggest entertainment event of the year. In the twenty or so minutes halftime lasts, America has made it possible to build a stadium within the stadium, light it, fill it with the world’s most popular celebrities, do a Broadway show, blow some shit up, and then take it down in time for the second half. Guys who love football love the Superbowl. Guys who don’t love football love the commercials. EVERYONE loves the halftime show.
It hit me that it is 2010. I have been watching Superbowls probably since I was five or so, making it about 20 or so I probably watched (one time I had a really bad fever and was hallucinating so it is totally possible I watched the game, or hallucinated a game between the Broncos and Packers in my brain). I started looking at old Superbowl half time shows and decided to take a look back. I think there is no single, more obvious indicator of what America was like at a point in time than the half time show. It is our moral, social and spiritual barometer. Or thermometer. Or even meter stick. Or that thing you had in 7th grade science classes that was like a clicking wheel you pushed around to measure distance. All of those things.
The first SBHS was in 1967 and it featured the University of Arizona and Grambling State bands. That was what you got. Some halftime marching band jams. In fact, besides Ella Fitzgerald sitting in one year with a marching band, the SBHS was basically a bunch of marching bands until 1987 when Disney grabbed the reigns and I was finally at an age where wiping myself was possible. What’d they do? They gave us George Burns, Mickey Rooney and a bunch of Disney characters and a Salute to Hollywood’s 100th Anniversary. This isn’t surprising because how on Earth could Americans watch a football game without being reminded how important movies are? In case you are curious, they are SO important.
Proving that California knows how to party, the 1988 SBHS in San Diego featured Chubby Checker, the Rockettes, 88 grand pianos and the mighty CSUN Matador Wall of Sound. I mark that as the first real SBHS. It’s kind of like the first time certain people smoke a cigarette. This was the moment we gateway drugged our way to the SBHS in 2004, which was probably our highest/lowest point. We’ll get to it.
1989 gave us the Diet Coke Be Bop Bamboozled SBHS in 3D. It was a 50s inspired set in 3D that had an Elvis impersonator as the star, but no Elvis songs. Also, it definitely looks like the first true corporate sponsor-named event. It used to be “brought to you by”. Now, it had naming rights.
This pissed people off so much I am guessing that America conservatively recoiled, opting in 1990 for a celebration of New Orleans and the 40th Anniversary of Peanuts. Yeah. Snoopy and shit.
Then, in 1991, the flood gates opened and we got Disney. We got 2,000 children singing “Small World”. We got a the fans flipping cards over and making giant drawings. We got New Kids on the Block. We also got to see it after the game because it was Desert Storm and we needed some news coverage. Here’s the clip. You are welcome, Lost Angeles:
Two years later we got what probably ranks as the best SBHS of all time: Michael Jackson. Watching these clips made me so sad. Yeah, a little because he is dead, but mostly because America was awesome then in my mind. Here’s a guy dancing around with James Earl fucking Jones narrating and he’s like basically telling us “black people and white people need to chill out” which we needed because there was a lot of heat there with the L.A. riots and OJ and all that jazz. If you see people cheering at the end of the clip, it almost reminds you of when Obama got elected. Forget your political allegiance, everyone should agree on trying to be colorblind. In a time where it was gangsta rap and a lot of racial tension, MJ told us to enjoy the Superbowl and each other. He did all that with some wild musician with crazy ass white hair shredding a guitar like they used to in the 90s. Sorry, this clip was just awesome. The Rose Bowl looks amazing. (by the way, I am skipping the clip where MJ is on stage with like 200 kids singing Heal the World. That part was awkward given what we know now).
From that point on, we tried a lot to top Michael, but we didn’t. I still don’t think we did and I am not a crazy huge MJ fan. We tried the country music angle, but network execs realized most people fucking hate country music and those who love it were already watching for the football part. Additionally, let’s be honest. Diverse halftime shows are a good idea because there are parts of the country where this is the only 20 minutes a year where they see diversity. For them, I am pretty sure it feels like it felt for us when we went to the movies, put on the glasses and watched Avatar for the first time. Mind blowing.
E*Trade took over for three years and gave us some of the first cross-genre collaborations including the now very famous 2001 collaboration including Ben Stiller, Britney Spears, Aerosmith and N’Sync. And they even let Mary J. Blige like sing for 12 seconds. Sorry ladies, but this one explained one thing to me: Aerosmith songs are still awesome. N’Sync was kind of a what-the-fuck-were-we-smoking thing. Sorry JT, you ended up being pretty cool. Good call on cutting those other dudes loose. Also check out Britney before the flood. Crazy.
The world was nuts before 9/11, wasn’t it? That’s all I could think about. Even MTV still showed a video or two. We hadn’t totally jumped the shark yet. Before I get into it, just watch Bono and The Edge here:
I am not a huge U2 fan, but that clip took me back. It reminded me of being in the dorms at USC, only a few weeks after moving to the city and how much the world changed overnight. There was something of the American spirit going on. It was some Irish guys telling us to hang in there in a way. We were doing what we did before the towers fell, watching football and celebrating the things we loved. I wish we had held onto that place and skipped all the mistakes we made for the better part of the next decade. Clearly though, we went into denial as a mere 2 years later we get the most famous halftime show of all time: Nipplegate.
All the lying afterward about a “wardrobe malfunction” was ridiculous because it just shows what level we were comfortable with being lied to at that point. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Wardrobe malfunction? Torturing prisoners? Whatever, just tell me what I want to hear. What really was so crazy was how pissed off people got over seeing .5 seconds of a boob with a pasty on it. You see more during on Labor Day when TBS plays European Vacation censored twenty times. Seriously. You do.
Still, it was nice to see five short years after dancing in a boy band, JT finally got the note that it was cooler to tear off a girl’s clothes than to syncronize dance with a bunch of your buds.
So how do you put a “sexy and controversial” SBHS out of your memory? With a Beatle of course. Because you are NOT allowed to talk shit about any of the Beatles, their music or anything else. You don’t get to, okay? Check out Paul’s entrance dance. It seems to say, “See America? No nipples. Just Beatles.”
Then Prince did Purple Rain with a guitar that was very phallic and he solo’d behind a white curtain and I was pretty sure this was more intense than all .5 seconds of Nipplegate, but it was hilarious. I was all for that kind of behavior. And then it STARTED TO RAIN. It wasn’t purple, but it was pretty cool.
We got Tom Petty. We got Bruce. Now we get The Who. It looks like the SBHS mashup thing has gone away for the time being and that is probably a good call. Give me some Pinball Wizard and let me take my mind of Peyton Manning’s happy feet dance in the pocket.
Have a great weekend Lost Angeles. You have enjoyed it. I’ll be tweeting a lot tomorrow before our show at the Troubadour (tix at the door, call ahead) and on Superbowl Sunday. Drop me a line.