Super Bowl Music Past and Present

And the Super Bowl score is: Beyoncé 1, Coldplay 0. Yes, the official champions of Super Bowl 50 are the Denver Broncos, but last night’s game featured another contest, between the musical stars of the all-important halftime show.

Coldplay was a controversial choice to begin with, chosen as the show headliners, then Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were added as special guests. Perhaps the NFL organisers finally realised that the pseudo-epic modern rock of the Brit band would have been better suited to the FA Cup final than the most important annual contest for America’s game.

The additions proved valuable for viewers, if not for Coldplay, as the post-show verdicts almost unanimously declared that the fierce Ms. Knowles came out on top. Even the Brits conceded that, with The Guardian noting that “Beyoncé effortlessly stole the Super Bowl half-time show right from under Coldplay’s noses with a guest slot that affirmed her brilliance as a performer.”

The ever-savvy Beyoncé took advantage of the spotlight by releasing a powerful video for her new song “Formation” the day before, then delivering it with kinetic energy onstage in front of the biggest TV audience of the year.

Coldplay gave it their best shot. In typical over-the-top Super Bowl style, they were accompanied by hordes of exuberant teenagers plus the LA Youth Orchestra as they delivered big hits “Viva La Vida,” “Paradise” and current single “Adventure of a Lifetime,” but to little avail, once Beyoncé made the stage her own.

Also making a mark at the Super Bowl last night was Lady Gaga, whose rendition of the national anthem is drawing kudos. The often absurd betting possibilities for the big game included wagering that she’d complete the anthem within 136 seconds. Those placing that bet were upset when her elongation of the final notes took it over that limit!

There was an attempted nod to great Super Bowl performers of the past via footage of the now-departed James Brown, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston (plus others still with us) during Coldplay's set, but it was rather confused in its presentation.

It did, however, remind us of just how important music has become to the Super Bowl. It’s a safe bet that the ratings will again show this is the most-watched event on television in the United States annually.

A healthy chunk of the ratings comes from non football fans keen to check out the superstar talent performing on the halftime show. This portion of the event now comes loaded with hype, but did you know this tradition is only 25 years old?

Prior to the early 1990s, the halftime show was based around a theme, and featured university marching bands (the Grambling State University  Marching Band has performed at the most Super Bowl halftime shows, featuring in six shows including at least one per decade from the 1960s to the 1990s), drill teams, and other performance ensembles such as (the nauseatingly cheerful) Up with People.

That changed in 1991, with the introduction of major name pop acts to the show, starting with New Kids On The Block. Halftime shows since then have featured many memorable moments delivered by superstars from many different genres. Top of the list, no question, was provided by Nipplegate, aka Janet Jackson’s infamous exposure of a breast via Justin Timberlake during their performance at the 2004 Super Bowl.

The lineup of superstars to have played this gig is both impressive and diverse. It includes Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, U2, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, James Brown, ZZ Top, New Kids On The Block, Katy Perry, Shania Twain, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Tom Petty, and more.

Did you know that The NFL does not pay the halftime show performers an appearance fee, though it covers all expenses for the performers and their entourage of stagehands, family, and friends? Nielsen Soundscan data does show that significant increases in album and digital download sales do occur after an act performs on the show. A few years back, it was reported that the NFL attempted to have artists pay for this invaluable exposure, but this does not prove successful.

Here’s another interesting factoid: Shania Twain is the first artist to have performed at both the Super Bowl (in 2003) and the CFL championship, the Grey Cup, (in 2002). Since then, both The Black Eyed Peas and Lenny Kravitz have joined her as performers who have played both events.

The gradual decline of interest in the Canadian Football League and The Grey Cup likely means it will become harder to attract major international stars to our own Super Bowl equivalent. The likes of Burton Cummings, Celine Dion and Tom Cochrane performed in the ‘90s, with such lesser lights as Love Inc, The Nylons and Jack Semple also featured.

Since then there have been such notables as Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Blue Rodeo, Nickelback, The Guess Who, and The Tragically Hip featured. The CFL pulled out all the stops for the 100th Grey Cup in 2012, via the unlikely combination of Gordon Lightfoot, Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen and Marianas Trench.

Sources: The Guardian, Wikipedia, USA Today



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