America's sporting events provide some of its biggest and best spectacle. But what would a spectacle be without a musical interlude for the half-time show? The most recent one that had people talking was Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown at the NBA All-Star Game. However, the granddaddy of them all is and always will be the Super Bowl. This year saw controversy yet again with the half time show featuring Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and MIA; a big brouhaha generating the most significant chatter since that thing with Justin Timberlake & Janet Jackson. But you know what? At least it's something to talk about. It's better for a halftime show to generate some controversy to add to the spectacle than for it to be just plain bad.
Case in point, the halftime shows of Super Bowls past. Although the game itself has always been a major event, it was not always such a prestigious venue for the biggest acts in pop music. At its worst, it was awkward and poorly-chosen filler.
It was January of 1989 and the San Francisco 49ers were taking on the Cincinatti Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. In the months before, the likes of Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Guns N' Roses and Whitney Houston were tearing up the charts. But superstars like these were not scheduled to perform. Instead, a singing magician/ Elvis impersonator, by the name of Elvis Presto, performed a giant card trick. Check this out:
There is absolutely no reason for this guy to have to sing his magic tricks – or, rather, lip sync his magic tricks. He doesn't really look like Elvis, either. As far as I can tell, the only possible reason for his shtick could be that he came up with that Presley/Presto pun, and justified it by building his entire career around it.
But the ultimate legacy of bad halftime performances has to be that of Up With People, which Wikipedia insists is an educational organization, yet they keep on dancing and singing. Seriously: Up With People performed during the Super Bowl halftimes for '76, '80, '82 and '86. One man with a narrow sense of entertainment must have been booking the show for the better part of a decade.
If you watch the performances
today, it is amazingly dated, yet somewhat entertaining in a bewildering, ludicrous nature. The tacky fashions of the day, the decidedly uncool choreography, the complete absence of youth; it is the type of pop culture time capsule that makes you think “I can't believe that people once considered this to be the pinnacle of entertainment”.
Of course, it's possible that you're just not jaded or cynical. Maybe you see these Up With People shows as good, old-fashioned, harmless fun. That's okay. But you have to think about this: Why, at America's biggest sporting event, was it decided that the musical entertainment would be an educational organization (sporting bad mustaches and bell bottoms, no less) doing musical theater renditions of other artist’s hits?
Halftime shows, in whatever sport, are always going to tread into some weird territory. Because of the one-time crossover audience, they often book acts that are irrelevant to the average sports fan. I doubt many NFL die-hards are big Madonna fans, let alone enjoy spending their off-nights watching Elvis Presto dazzle the crowds at the local VFW. Still, it's better to do it big and bold, rather than bad and butt-ugly.