History of Super Bowl Halftime Shows
Written by Mac Watson on February 10, 2023
The Super Bowl is not just another sports contest, it’s an international event that encompasses almost anything a viewer would want in a spectacle. It’s got a (hopefully) competitive NFL football game, wickedly creative and sometimes moving commercials. But sandwiched in between the advertising and the two halves of the game is the all-important halftime show. Billboard magazine has ranked the Top 13 Super Bowl Performances and the list is pretty impressive.
Gone are the days when a marching band came out of the tunnel, marched around the muddy, cold field and played rousing renditions of popular songs that everyone could enjoy. The 21st Century Super Bowl Halftime show has lights, effects, drama, pathos and (again, hopefully) great entertainment from singers and entertainers that appeal to a wide audience.
The first Super Bowl Halftime show was a rather tame affair. It was Super Bowl I and the Green Bay Packers took on the Kansas City Chiefs. The game was a grueling slog of offensive and defensive schemes with the Packers soundly beating the Chiefs 35-10. But the halftime show consisted of the Liberty Bell that was performed by the (then) well-known in college football circles, University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band.
It wasn’t until 1993 when Michael Jackson changed the rather bland and innocuous halftime show into the juggernaut experience that it is today, making it must-see-tv. Before Super Bowl XXVII, the halftime show was a basic marching band experience with drill teams and ensembles later added for complimentary entertainment. But by the 1990’s, the performances were considered culturally outdated or, in a word: lame. In fact, in 1992 the halftime show featured a salute to the 1992 Winter Olympics with a never-seen-before figure skating performances by Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill. The musical guest was Gloria Estefan. The performances were good, but not the sensory explosion that it’s become in the last twenty years.
In 1993, in order to counterprogram against the highly-rated Sunday night sketch show In Living Color, the NFL knew it need someone, more than a star, but a mega-star to make sure people didn’t tune out and turn the channel from Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California to the popular comedy show. The NFL hired Michael Jackson who was still in his prime as the King of Pop and he did not disappoint. In fact, for the first time in Super Bowl ratings history, the ratings BETWEEN halves actually went up.
So what is the best performance at the Super Bowl? Was it Janet Jackson with Justin Timberlake and Nipple-Gate? Was it the wayward Shark from when Katy Perry performed? No matter who (or what) occupies the top spot, the Super Bowl Halftime show has come a long way since 1967.