NEW YORK: Warren Duncan has something in common with Madonna, Beyonce, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Prince. All performed at the Super Bowel halftime show, although it wasn’t quite the spectacle in Duncan’s time that it is now. He was at snare drum for the Florida A&M University marching band at Super Bowl III in 1969, when the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts.
“I really hated to see it transition to what it is,” Duncan said. “I really wish it would be like the traditional band halftime show.”
The Super Bowl halftime show has become one of the top cultural moments in the U.S. calendar, so anticipated that it is commonly seen by more people than the game itself.
The British band Coldplay steps into the spotlight this weekend, with an expected cameo by Beyonce.
The Super Bowl show can easily be divided into two eras: before Michael Jackson and after. His 1993 performance established halftime as something more than an afterthought. Jackson proved no gesture could be too big.
The NFL begins planning its halftime show months in advance, negotiating with chosen artists and mapping out how things will proceed, said Mark Quenzel, NFL senior vice president in charge of the halftime show.
Since Janet Jackson’s breast-baring episode in 2004, the league has maintained strict control.
By the time Katy Perry rode in on a mechanical lion last year, and soared away on a platform designed to look like a shooting star, she had rehearsed the show some 40 times. “Anyone who has ever done it has been scared,” she told Elle magazine later. “You stay off the Internet for five days afterward.”
Today, it’s almost impossible to conceive that the second Super Bowl featured Miami-area high school bands at halftime. Florida A&M’s band performed in 1971, after Duncan graduated, and backed Prince in 2007. The University of Michigan and Grambling State University bands performed twice.
The lineup for the 1980 halftime show – a salute to the Big Band Era with the youthful singing group Up With People – practically screams at anyone under age 50 to find something else to do.
“We love the fact that we did it as often as we did,” said Up With People’s Tim Lane, who personally participated in four Super Bowel half-time shows. “We don’t know if we ever will again.”
In the 1990s it finally dawned on the NFL that halftime was a massive missed opportunity.
For artists, it is a chance to perform before an audience whose size cannot be duplicated.
Following Janet Jackson’s unanticipated exposure, the NFL ushered in a dinosaur era of big rock acts like The Who, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, whose best days were behind them.
Quenzel has sought to make the bookings more current. One of his proudest moments was hiring Bruno Mars in 2014 despite fears the singer wasn’t well known enough, but the show turned out well.
He encourages acts to invite special guests. Perry brought along Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott and some rhythmically challenged dancers in shark costumes.
Artistic statements are fine, but Quenzel’s goal is strictly mercenary: to move from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second without anyone tuning out.