The Super Bowl halftime show is a bizarre phenomenon. It’s a show in the middle of a main event, but one which is basically the antithesis of that central event. (When’s a good time for a Disney medley? How about in between two hours of giant millionaires trying to kill each other?) This massive production has gone through many phases. There were the early years, which was mostly made up of marching bands and baton-twirlers; the early-aughts youth movement; and the post–Janet Jackson’s boob old-guy movement. Now with Beyoncé set to likely kill it on Sunday, let’s look back at the weirdest and most ridiculous performances from the past.
1976 (Performer: Up with People)
The oddest part of this mid-seventies love-fest is that the peppy Up with People collective was then asked back to do the Super Bowl again, another three times. The only thing cheesier would be if they had aired fifteen minutes of a still photograph of cheddar cheese soundtracked by Liz Lemon singing “Night Cheese” — which, come to think of it, actually sounds much better than this.
1989 (Performers: Elvis Presto)
Avatar gets a lot of credit for bringing 3-D to the masses. Why does nobody ever acknowledge this halftime show, in which magician/Elvis impersonator Elvis Presto did a giant card trick in 3-D while a nation watched at home in cardboard glasses? Is it because Avatar was pretty stunning, while this starred a magician who was an Elvis impersonator? That could be it. (Enjoy the introduction in the first clip, in which Bob Costas balances being a good NBC soldier with being mortified by what he has to present.)
1991 (Performer: New Kids on the Block)
Halftime shows these days don’t have enough boy bands singing love songs to children. It’s not at all creepy when they sing “You got to know you drive me wild” to a gaggle of girls dressed in “It’s a Small World” outfits. You hear that, One Direction? You better start rustling up toddlers for next year’s big game.
1992 (Performer: Gloria Estefan)
If you are ever having a bad day, just try to think, At least I’m not hearing a rap about Frosty the Snowman right now. Yes, a tribute to winter during a game being played in Minnesota in January makes a certain amount of sense. But then again, so does frostbite, and that’s not pleasant either.
1993 (Performer: Michael Jackson)
This was really the performance that kicked everything up a notch, making Super Bowl halftime a venue for huge musical acts. But it’s funny how silly his teleporting gimmick was. Not silly is how Jackson stood completely still for more than a minute. By today’s Super Bowl standards, that’s equal to nearly $8 million in ad time.
1995 (Performers: Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval)
This clip suggests that in 1995 a real person pitched the idea of doing the Super Bowl halftime as a tribute to Indiana Jones and the only note he got was “Can Tony Bennett show up in the middle and perform a lounge act to someone sitting down dressed up like Jones?”
1997 (Performers: The Blues Brothers [Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Jim Belushi], ZZ Top, James Brown)
Sure, everyone loved Blues Brothers 2000, with Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman, and — Oh, what is that? Everyone actually loved The Blues Brothers, which came out seventeen years earlier with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi? And in 1997, everyone was completely indifferent to a reprisal, even with the presence of Belushi-DNA-sharer Jim Belushi? Well, it seems like this whole thing could have been better thought out, then.
2000 (Performers: Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Phil Collins, Toni Braxton)
This is the Super Bowl halftime show at its Julie Taymor–iest. What football fan doesn’t want to hear a medley from everyone’s least favorite Disney movies? Sorry, hakuna matatites, you’re getting the song from Tarzan and you’ll like it.
2001 (Performers: N*Sync, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly)
The Super Bowl hired MTV to bring youthfulness to halftime. The result is exactly what every American grandfather had always imagined MTV to be: an aggressive, disharmonious clash of random noises and styles and outfits. When all of these incredibly different acts had a big dance-off while trading verses to “Walk This Way,” at least 20,000 beer bottles were thrown at TV screens across the country.
2004 (Performers: Janet Jackson, Kid Rock, P. Diddy, Nelly, Justin Timberlake)
Who first floated the idea of Justin Timberlake tearing off a part of Janet Jackson’s shirt to reveal her ornamentalized bare nipple in the middle of one of the most all-American events of the year — and was then met with a chorus of “What a great idea! What could go wrong?”s? And putting aside all of the moral outrage, as a creative choice, using this move to accent the lyric “I’ll have you naked by the end of this song” just seems a bit on the nose, doesn’t it? Say what you will about Aerosmith’s performance in 2001, they never actually put kitties in the middle during “Walk this Way.” And as one final complaint, who thought that Diddy/Kid Rock/Janet Jackson was a palatable song order?
2011 (Performers: Black Eyed Peas, Slash, Usher)
We’ve lived a couple years now without the Black Eyed Peas popping up everywhere. With that distance, can we admit how freaking crazy they were? What was that? Why do they sound like that? Why are they dressed like extras in a nineties porno set in the distant future?