MTV produced its first Super Bowl halftime show in 2001, an Emmy-nominated extravaganza that kicked off a four-bowl run of racier halftime shows. In addition to Britney Spears' pre-babies body and Mary J. Blige's attitudinal hotness, the halftime show featured a hip-hop performer for the first time ever — Nelly, whom MTV would bring back for its next (and last) halftime show in 2004.

For Super Bowl XXXVI in 2001, producer Clear Channel brought in U2, one of the biggest, flashiest bands in the world. The following year, Shania Twain, Sting, and No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani brought some sex appeal to the show.

Then Nipplegate. Not only was MTV's Super Bowl XXXVIII the most controversial of all halftime shows, but it was also the best, at least from a pop-culture standpoint. Every artist on the stage was a young, sexy, platinum-selling performer at the time: Jessica Simpson, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, P. Diddy, Kid Rock. But the "wardrobe malfunction" that led to a breast's bobbing in the air for all America to see was endgame for MTV, as it was for any sense of adventure for producers of future halftime shows.

Snoop
Scott Doctor / Splash News
Snoop
Don't need no nasty girls: Don't dig Tom Petty? Blame Janet.
Don't need no nasty girls: Don't dig Tom Petty? Blame Janet.

Frankly, that sucks for advertisers, too.

"Clearly, advertisers want the halftime show to be raunchy," says James B. Twitchell, professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida. "When Janet Jackson's nipple was exposed, that was the greatest thing that could have happened for them, because what's good for advertisers is what keeps people watching the show and watching the ads. If people think they might see something risqué or interesting in the halftime show, they'll watch. But if it's tame or predictable music, they're gonna go get a beer or talk with their friends during halftime."

"As an advertiser, you hope that whatever happens is interesting enough to hold people's attention," Twitchell adds. "What's more interesting than Janet Jackson's pastie?"

But CJ Comu, CEO of SUN Sports & Entertainment, a production company that's partnered with the NFL for 10 years to produce commemorative Super Bowl radios, says there's a reason halftime show producers don't want to book acts that are too hot or racy. "The networks that are broadcasting this are concerned about advertisers," Comu says. "Nobody wants to take any heat or flak when you have the most-viewed TV program in the country. So they're not not going to book somebody controversial, or somebody who's going to do anything that will reflect poorly on the networks."

Since Nipplegate, every Super Bowl halftime show has been a big scoop of vanilla that, though kinda tasty, could really use some sprinkles and syrup (not to mention a cherry). Since 2005, the halftime shows have all been produced by Don Mischer, a man who's won 13 Emmy Awards and produced everything from The Kennedy Center Honors to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Mischer played it safe by booking Paul McCartney for Super Bowl XXXIX in '05, a man whose biggest "controversies" were checkbook-wrestling with Michael Jackson to buy the Beatles song catalog and marrying a much younger woman with a prosthetic leg. The following year, The Rolling Stones played a pretty straightforward halftime show, with Keith Richards looking less dead than he has in years.

There was more flamboyance last year, when Prince stepped onstage in the pouring, un-purple rain at Super Bowl XLI and wailed his way through a medley of searing guitar solos. The performance was stunning (and it earned Mischer two more Emmy nominations), but the risk factor with Prince is much lower now than it was in the '80s and '90s, when he was crawling naked out of a steamy tub in his videos and wearing bright yellow, tiger-striped assless chaps at the MTV Video Music Awards. These days, the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince is a Jehovah's Witness, so the chances that he'll hump the stage or simulate an orgasm with a vagina-shaped guitar aren't as great as the chance he may have a copy of The Watchtower handy.

Looking at this year's halftime show with Petty, there's clearly not an increase in producers' risk-tolerance levels.

"Tom Petty is classic rock, and that's a very different thing from Justin Timberlake," Rapping says. "Classic rock represents a period when America was in better shape. He's not controversial . . . I think they're playing it safe by not booking anybody who's going to stir up trouble. It does seem they want [the halftime show] to be a re-definition of what American culture is."


So why not book hip-hop at halftime? The Super Bowl is one of the most popular sporting events in this country, and hip-hop is one of the most popular music forms.

More than 155 radio stations in the U.S. are classified as "urban-formatted." In the past five years, of the 77 number one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, at least 34, or about 44 percent, have been hip-hop songs.

With the exception of a 13-week run by Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" in 2005, the longest consecutive runs at number one were 12-week streaks by Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and "Yeah," Usher's club banger featuring Lil' John and Ludacris.

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2 comments
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John Schroeder
John Schroeder

Yippee! Law enforcement will have a field day working overtime! Why don't they just call it niggerfest?

Brendan
Brendan

"Usher's club banger featuring Lil' John and Ludacris." - just so's ya knows, it's "Lil' Jon," no H. ask Luda.

 

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