From Grambling State and Elvis Presto to Prince
The Super Bowl halftime show has come a long way since the inaugural event in 1967, when the University of Arizona and Grambling State marching bands entertained the crowd. (Apparently Grambling made an impression; the band returned the next year, then again in 1975. True story. No charge for that.)
Nowadays the Super Bowl halftime show is a cultural event responsible for many ill-advised medleys and the term “wardrobe malfunction.” So before every sensible American roots against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, Feb. 3, we thought we’d look back at some memorable Super Bowl halftime shows over the years — the good, the bad and the unconscionable, ranked from worst to best.
“It’s a Small World” (1977)
If you thought the Disney ride and the song were bad, just wait till you add in Mickey Mouse sweater vests and some shaky, nosebleed camera work.
Be Bop Bamboozled (1989)
This performance featured “Elvis Presto,” which sounds like a mashup of an Elvis Presley impersonator and a magician because that’s exactly what it was.
Up with People (multiple)
This Lawrence Welk-like group wore polyester outfits and plastic smiles and sang themed medleys in four Super Bowl halftime shows, which is four times too many.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (1995)
This was an elaborate theatrical production involving an Indiana Jones storyline (minus Harrison Ford) with a villain who stole the Lombardi Trophy. Eventually, Tony Bennett becomes involved (of course), as does Patti LaBelle (why not?), and, naturally, it’s all topped off with music from “The Lion King.”
Bruce Springsteen (2009)
Springsteen and the E Street Band were pretty good, but I’ll never forget when Springsteen slid across the stage on his knees — right into the camera.
Tom Petty (2008)
A set list consisting of “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” is hard to top, and the producers wisely decided to keep things toned-down (by Super Bowl standards, at least), making it feel like 12 blissful minutes of a Petty arena show.
Michael Jackson (1993)
“Heal the World” is not a good song, but MJ could put on a show. It’s also the Super Bowl that ushered in the era of huge, glitzy productions headlined by pop stars.
Yes, she also showed up alongside Bruno Mars and Coldplay in 2016, but in 2013 Queen Bey had the stage to herself — as it should be.
There was no better band to lift up America in the months after 9/11. Go back and revisit the stirring “MLK” tribute.
Normally a rainstorm in the middle of a halftime show would be a total downer. But when it’s Prince performing “Purple Rain” in a downpour? That’s perfection.