Looking through the vintage footage, it becomes clear that the more the Super Bowl tries to jam the halftime show with big names, the worse the show becomes. New Kids on the Block managed to be rotten single-handedly, but no one really expects flavor-of-the-moment manufactured pop to look good in retrospect. Fact is, no matter how much money you throw at a project, it’s still 12 minutes of entertainment, and having everyone run around and act silly actually makes the time move slower than if you just let them play a song all the way through.
I didn’t consider any Super Bowl performance pre-1991, because it’s not fair. That was the dark ages when Up With People! were regularly trotted out there, and if you know anything about them, you know they weren’t real entertainment but some kind of mind-control unit that never should have been allowed in front of the people they were so allegedly “Up” with.
5. Super Bowl XXV, Tampa: New Kids on the Block (1991)
Do I really need to go into an explanation as to why this wasn’t a great idea? I mean, it’s better than watching a bad marching band, but not by enough to be meaningful. And if you get a good marching band out there, well, game over.
4. Super Bowl XXXV, Tampa: NSync, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly (2001)
The prerecorded skit with Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock suggested things might go OK, but as soon as you hear the overchoreographed vocal knittings of NSync, it’s apparent that showbiz must go on. MTV produced the spot, but Disney could’ve handled this lot. Aerosmith’s appearance is watered down by the horrible Diane Warren “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” tune and by Britney Spears and anyone not named Steven Tyler opening their mouths. “Walk This Way”? Yeah, yeah, over here toward the exit sign. Keep going.
3. Super Bowl XXXVIII, Houston: Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, Nelly, P. Diddy, Kid Rock (2004)
Sure, the “wardrobe malfunction” made this infamous (and we are all waiting to see if there will be #JusticeForJanet when Timberlake plays the halftime show this year), but any show with Kid Rock involved is immediately handicapped, and having Nelly come out to sing his one big hit while P. Diddy’s genius consists of singing Diddy to the tune of “Mickey” just makes you wonder if anyone told any of these clowns that this was actually happening! In front of people!
2. Super Bowl XLVI, Indianapolis, Indiana: Madonna, LMFAO, Cirque du Soleil, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., CeeLo Green (2012)
For many years, Madonna could get away with anything. Even her miscues were held up as evidence of her uncompromising artistic vision (well, maybe not the acting thing). But by the time she was finally deemed safe enough to perform at the Super Bowl, her expiration date had significantly passed. Truth told, it was sad. Because we’ve all called her a lot of names over the years, but boring and irrelevant were never among them. And judging by her underlings — Minaj, M.I.A. — there isn’t anyone yet fit to carry her … jockstrap?
1. Super Bowl XXXIV, Atlanta: Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton (2000)
Anything produced by Disney is expected to be corny and sentimental, enough to make you angry and not go to work the next day. So it takes a full lineup of processed cheese to top the pack. But look at these song titles: “Reflections of Earth,” “Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand,” “Tapestry of Nations,” “Two Worlds,” “We Go On.” This race to the bottom was exponentially worsened by the appearance of a shiny little orb named Phil Collins, who has become such a symbol for lousiness that it’s now a cliché to pick on him!