Weekly Feature

Stephan Savoia/AP
Tom Petty performs with his band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, during halftime of
Super Bowl XLII.

Super Bowl Halftime Shows: The Good, the Bad and the Censored

January 28, 2009
by Rachel Balik
There are people who love the Super Bowl because they love football, but the truth is, many of the people who gather round the TV that special Sunday in midwinter are there for free beer, wings, commercials—and the halftime show. It’s certainly true that some halftime shows are more memorable than the games. We offer a retrospective of the best and worst.

The Boss Takes the Field

Ladies and gentlemen: he’s available for presidential inaugurations, football games, birthday parties and weddings. Well, we can guarantee the first two. Fresh from the inaugural concert, Bruce Springsteen,  (aka “The Boss”) will be the musical guest at Super Bowl XLIII. No doubt the latest round of layoffs will make the musical stylings of this working-class icon ring all the more true for audiences. A blog on Wired made some predictions about the Boss’s set that seem to be part wishful thinking, part jest and part likely possibility. Springsteen’s classics, like “Born to Run,” “Born in the USA” and “Glory Days” are probables. But it’s likely that he’ll spice up the show with a song or two from his new album, “Working on a Dream,” since his Super Bowl performance is helping to kick off the album tour.

Some have suggested that his Super Bowl performance might just be an avenue for publicizing the new album, and SI.com reports that many hardcore Springsteen fans are crushed that he will do the halftime show, calling his performance "the ultimate sellout." For years, Springsteen has turned down the chance to perform at the Super Bowl. At the beginning of his career, he preferred smaller venues, and even while he played stadiums, he remained committed to his musician-of-the-people persona. He has not publicly said why he accepted the invitation this year.

Keeping It Clean

The Boss follows in the footsteps of another American musical hero, Tom Petty, who played last year during the legendary Giants-Patriots upset. This is actually the fourth year in a row of classic rock acts. In 2006, the indomitable Rolling Stones required a crew of 600 to set up a stage in the shape of their signature lips. They performed three songs, “Start Me Up,” “Rough Justice,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The network censored the lyrics of the first two during the television broadcast.

ABC was probably being overly skittish; it’s not that they had any problems with 2005’s performance: former Beatle Paul McCartney soothed audiences with “Hey, Jude” and led a sing-a-long.

No, the network’s caution stemmed from 2004’s infamous “Wardrobe Malfunction.” At the end of the MTV-produced show, Justin Timberlake yanked off Jackson’s top, exposing her breast to TV audiences. The incident allegedly lasted for less than a second, but CBS was slapped with more than half a million dollars in fines, a ruling that was ultimately overturned last year.

In response, ABC ensured there was a five-second delay during the Rolling Stones concert.

Tugging on the Heartstrings

In 2002, U2 combined their concert with a tribute to the victims of September 11. The names of those who died were shown on a screen as the band performed, “Where the Streets Have No Name”; when the song concluded, lead singer Bono opened his jacket—revealing that it was lined with the American flag. SI.com rates the act as one of the top 10 best Super Bowl performances.

“What Were They Thinking?”

Of course, most half-time shows do not earn such a positive reception. And even when some have politely cheered an act, others were ready and waiting to let loose with the mockery. Cracked.com provides a rigorous, and unrelenting analysis of “The 10 All-Time Worst Choices for Super Bowl Halftime Performer.” Poor Gloria Estefan actually makes the list twice—for both of her appearances. And Cracked didn’t think it was very good idea to have ice skaters Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano show up on to serve as a Redskins-Bills sandwich during Super Bowl XXVI. Overall, Cracked seems to think that the halftime show should be just as macho as the game itself.

Only time will tell if Springsteen can “Prove it All Night” on February 1.

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