“Oh thank God, now I can go to the bathroom.”
~Super Bowl viewers during the halftime show
Hey! The Super Bowl is just a few days away! It’s the one time of the year where you absolutely know, unequivocally, that you’re going to be suffering at work the following Monday, and you know it’ll be absolutely worth it. Super Bowl Sunday is a day filled with the beer and snacks and a statistically-probably-underwhelming football game, and it’s the closest to a live national spectacle as you can find in this fine nation. Everyone watches the Super Bowl, everyone has stronger than necessary opinions about the importance or unimportance of Super Bowl commercials, and everyone wishes that the party they were at had 30 bathrooms once the Super Bowl Halftime show begins, because the only person who actually gives a shit about the Super Bowl Halftime show is your friend’s girlfriend that no one in your group of friends really likes, who is really into Katy Perry to the point that it’s kind of uncomfortable.
Otherwise, the Halftime Show is an extremely expensive spectacle that’s just a waste of fucking time. The phenomenon of people looking for something more interesting to watch during Halftime directly contributed to the existence of both the Puppy Bowl and a women-in-lingerie football league that still exists to this day. However, the Halftime Show does serve as an interesting indicator of our nation’s culture. Like, in the mid 00’s we were terrified of breasts on live television, so we went with safe performances by old rockers in their 50s and 60s. Last year, we were way into uncoordinated sharks, apparently. There are a lot of memorable Super Bowl Halftime performances. And there are also the Black Eyed Peas, but we managed to get drunk enough by halftime that year that we blissfully have no memory of it.
What we’re trying to say is that Super Bowl Halftime Shows are very much a product of their times. Sometimes that can prove to be ageless, like Michael Jackson destroying the Rose Bowl at the peak of his stardom. And sometimes…well, sometimes you get…
5 Super Bowl Halftime Performances That Have Aged Horribly
Blues Brothers Bash (1997)
The Blues Brothers are a very cool thing. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were a novelty SNL musical performance in the late 1970s that managed to become a legitimate music act, releasing one of the highest-selling blues albums of all time before making a classic comedy film. Then John Belushi died, and Dan Aykroyd sort of…plumped with age and got a little crazy, and by 1997 he got it in his head that he should get the band back together, only with John Goodman and Jim Belushi in tow, collecting chubby sitcom husbands like they were fucking pogs.
Here’s the strange thing about this whole performance. It opens with a breaking Fox News report, where we are informed that Elroy Blues has just escaped from jail in Chicago, and is on the loose and on a mission from God. As soon as she says “Elroy Blues” the audience absolutely loses their shit. Dan Aykroyd was 44 at this point, and Blues Brother was almost 20 years old. How is everyone losing their goddamn mind over that? That gets a larger reaction from the crowd than James Brown in his orange-orange-oh-God-so-orange-suited glory making his grand entrance. Though the crowd did seem more excited when ZZ Top came out. Listen, the 1990’s were weird. Considering that pretty much every Super Bowl Halftime Show since this has been centered around a major musical act, it’s strange to see people in the 1990’s going nuts for what was basically a precursor for Blues Brothers 2000, a movie that you either didn’t see or expressly remember as being essentially a worse plot-point-by-plot-point remake of the original.
Either way, the whole affair is all over the place. Half of the set consists of three overweight middle-aged white dudes singing covers of 1960s songs. It would be the equivalent of, 10 years from now, having the cast of High School Musical perform a reunion show where they sing versions of 2003 Kidz Bop songs, and having the audience being like, “Oh shit! It’s 40 year old Zach Efron singing a kids friendly version of Sk8er Boi! I am so stoked!”
More like Indiana Jones and the cultural appropriation. The choreography of this bad-at-the-time-even-worse-twenty-years-later halftime show is about 50% white people dressed in some approximation of “native” outfits and doing that “walk like an Egyptian” dance, 30% bad fight stunts, and 20% “going out of the way to make sure you can never see Indiana Jones’ face because they couldn’t find a truck large enough to fit all the money it would take to make Harrison Ford agree to do this bullshit, so they just put a hat on a random dude and played some super awkward pre-recorded audio of “Indy, watch out!” and “I’m not SAG certified!”
Apparently, Disney was trying to advertise a new Indiana Jones ride, so they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up a 10 minute halftime special where Indiana Jones rescues the recently-stolen Vince Lombardi trophy with the help of Patti Labelle, Tony Bennett, and Teddy Pendergrass. Reread that last sentence and let us know if we should call a doctor, because typing those words in that order actively made us feel like we’ve come down with a bad case of aphasia.
New Kids On The Block (1991)
Disney should not be trusted with nice things. Also, the Gulf War was a weird time for our nation. The Halftime show this year wasn’t even aired until after the game, because during halftime they cut to live ABC News coverage of Operation Desert Storm, which is something that seems like it would never happen during a modern halftime show. But when they did finally air it…ho boy. Well, okay. It started with a massive throng of children, led by an Uncle-Sam-dressed Mickey Mouse, la-la “It’s a Small World” before tossing in some “We Are the World” and…”I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”? An announcer clears things up by pointing out that “And now, to honor our Armed Force’s children [editor’s note: huh?] Coca-Cola proudly presents…The New Kids on the Block!”
The rest of the performance is NKOTB singing “Step by Step” as hundreds (literally hundreds) of heavily costumed children sorta…waddle and hop around, not sure how to properly dance to “Step by step, ooo, baby, gonna get to you, girl.” They throw in some more Disney songs at the end of this thankfully short production, but it’s very clear that no one involved, outside of maybe NKOTB, was having a good time. Isn’t that right, Jimmy?
That’s a face that screams, “I hate my parents for making me go to that audition.”
Elvis Presto (1989)
Before 1989, the Super Bowl Halftime show was a completely different beast. They basically would take a college halftime, inject some steroids into it, and call it a day. Hell, in 1988, the biggest draw for the Halftime Show was Chubby Checker with the Rockettes, 72 grand pianos, and the combined San Diego State and USC Marching Bands. Then, Dan Witkowski came along and said, “Fuck it, let’s make this into a spectacle.” Now, Witkowski was a Milwaukee-based producer, so unfortunately his idea of a spectacle might have left a little bit to be desired.
Basically, he decided he wanted 2,000 dancers on the field. That’s pretty standard now, filling the field up like it’s the opening ceremony at the fucking Olympics, but before that you generally either had Disney floats or marching bands. Then, Witkowski decided that it was going to be the first ever event to be aired live in 3-D. That’s…well that’s a batshit insane novelty gimmick, but still, we like where his head’s at, it’s definitely out there. And finally, he wanted a big, single act to headline the entire event. So he went with… Elvis Presto.
Who is Elvis Presto, you ask? Well…okay we won’t tease this out any further than it needs to be teased, he was a fucking Elvis impersonator who did magic tricks. It’s worse than it sounds, which is saying something. While Elvis Presto and his assistants/backup singers seem all about it, everyone else involved clearly is aware that they are taking part in a heaping pile of awkward that will only worsen as time inevitably trudges onward. You can get this feel from the introduction, where the ageless Bob Costas tells you how 3-D glasses work (“just in case you can’t figure it out, the dark lens goes over your right eye” because apparently some people try to put on glasses upside down?) while being 100% aware of how ridiculous everything about the situation is. “And obviously, after the show is over, you’ll probably want to keep wearing these, cosmetically,” he lets you know in the tone of a man who understands how ridiculous he looks.
Do you want to know how little everyone involved in this production cared about a 3-D Elvis magician? Before Costas takes you down to the field, he sarcastically intones, while still wearing his goofy-ass 3-D glasses, “Before we go any further, I just want to say, publicly, that this is the single proudest moment of my life” at which point the camera crew audibly cracks up. We’re 100% not making that up. Seriously, see for yourself at the 1:30 mark. This is a real thing that people watched, and it actually changed the way we do Halftime Shows. And it aged about as well as a bowl of milk under a radiator.
Oh, and we should also point out that never at a single point in the halftime show did Elvis Presto sing an actual Elvis song. Seriously. They got an Elvis impersonator just so he could sing not-Elvis-songs and do magic tricks. In 3-D. Cocaine was a lot stronger in the 1980s, you know.
Up With People (1971, 1976, 1980, 1982, 1986, wait, they did FIVE fucking halftime shows? That can’t be right…)
You might remember Up With People, a super-smiley, culty, anti-hippie movement that formed in the 1960s. Or, if you were born after 1980, you watched the video linked to this group and thought, “Jesus Christ, these people are just singing super bland inoffensive songs and…the smiling. They don’t smile like real people. They smile like aliens pretending to be people. And they’ve performed in more Super Bowls than the fucking Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears combined?”
It’s weird to think that this group that, frankly, perform like a brainwashed Glee club (because by many accounts, that’s exactly what they fucking were) got to perform on the biggest stage that people use to make another beer run so many times. But the combination of the group being funded by a conglomerate of corporations hellbent on countering the notion of counter-culture, and the fact that the Super Bowl Halftime Show wasn’t viewed as such a celebrity-driven spectacle until recently apparently was enough to ensure we got to see a bunch of cardigan-clad smile-robots sing “Kumbaya My Lord” or whatever the fuck in front of an audience of millions for years. Up With People is not something that we can imagine coming into existence in the 21st century, and if a group like that did, they probably wouldn’t manage to get an audience bigger than a Public Access channel, let alone the goddamn Super Bowl. Watching Up With People perform a halftime show is such a daunting experience. You’re half expecting them to end the set by drinking arsenic-laced Kool-Aid, leaving the field littered with dozens of grinning corpses.
Still, they were at least better than the Black Eyed Peas, though.