February 04 2011
It’s Super Bowl weekend in Texas, the biggest sporting and gambling event of the year in the US. Even if you are totally unmoved by the mysteries of American football, Sunday night’s game should still give you something to look forward to. Indeed, for many of those watching, both in the stadium and on television worldwide, it’s not what happens between the teams that matters. They’ll just be waiting for the Halftime Show.
The idea of staging a musical spectacular halfway through a football match in Britain has never really caught on – partly because the 15-minute break doesn’t allow for much more than a quick chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone. But in the US, the home of showbiz, the half-time entertainment has always enjoyed a central role.
In the early days of the Super Bowl, which is 45 years old on February 6, the spectacle was provided by college marching bands – very slick and wholesome, but a bit of a yawn and hardly guaranteed to keep the television spectators hooked. But then in 1993 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Michael Jackson gave an absolute rip-snorter of a show, performing four songs and drawing higher TV figures than the game itself. Suddenly, the Super Bowl half-time slot had been catapulted into one of the most desirable appearances of the year for A-list music stars.
In the past decade the fun has been provided by the likes of U2, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and The Who. But the most talked-about Super Bowl appearance of all came in 2004 when Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” resulted in her right nipple being exposed for all of a nanosecond while she was performing with Justin Timberlake. The puritan tendency in American society went berserk and CBS Television, which was covering the game, was fined $550,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (later thrown out on appeal) amidst an anguished national debate about indecency on US TV.
But for a middle-aged rock fan like myself, even the excitement of “Nipplegate” couldn’t compare with the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit. The game, which I saw live, was a dull affair between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks, but the Halftime Show was a cracker, as you might expect when The Rolling Stones take the stage.
On a set based on the famous tongue logo, they played three numbers – Start Me Up, Rough Justice and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – and the estimated TV audience of 89.9m easily eclipsed the figures for that year’s Oscars, Grammys and Emmys combined. Nervous executives at ABC felt it necessary to censor some of the lyrics and at one point they switched off Mick Jagger’s microphone. But the band were at least permitted to strut their stuff without viewers being instructed to look away or shield their children’s eyes.
Sunday night’s Halftime Show in Cowboys Stadium features the Black Eyed Peas, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will vie for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Packers are the favourites to win Super Bowl XLV – at 4-6 with the Tote.