In February of 2004, the Halftime Show at the Super Bowl would be changed for the foreseeable future. One nipple, barely visible to the untrained eye, would spark a tidal wave of outrage and over-reaction. What would follow would be years of safe choices, a few mildly risky choices, and course corrections due in large part to those mildly risky choices. It was the dawning of a new era, the Post NippleGate Era, the most recent era the show has endured.
The Halftime Show at the biggest sporting event of the year has gone through a series of eras. First there was the Marching Band Era (Super Bowls I and II) where the show’s entertainment was college marching bands. The show then transitioned to the First Thematic Era (Super Bowls III through XXIV), when each show had a particular theme, followed by the Second Thematic Era (Super Bowls XXV through XXXVIII), where big name acts were now included in the show’s theme. The Second Thematic Era’s high point was Michael Jackson’s performance at Super Bowl XXVII, which technically didn’t have a theme, but was book-ended by Halftime Shows that did. If anything, you could say the theme of Super Bowl XXVII was “ground-breaking,” because that’s what Jackson’s performance was. Michael’s sister’s performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas didn’t just usher in a new safe era, but ended the Second Thematic Era, as her performance capped a Halftime Show that also featured P. Diddy, Kid Rock and Nelly had a theme of “Rock the Vote.”
The cloud of NippleGate, Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” during her duet with Justin Timberlake at the end of Super Bowl XXXVIII’s Halftime Show, would hang over every Halftime Show in the following years. Safe was now the operative word when selecting acts — not relevance or popularity. Starting with Paul McCartney performing the following year at Super Bowl XXXIX, the choice of performers was done in direct response to what happened in Houston. The goal was not so much about entertaining the masses, but trying incredibly hard not to offend them. In the years that followed, occasionally a show would get a little too close to the line, resulting in a course correction the next year.
Looking back at Super Bowl Halftime Shows that occurred during the Post NippleGate era, performances can be ranked on a Safety Scale:
- We totally trust you
- We feel pretty good about this
- Well, your references did check out… so okay
- We’ll need you to sign a few legal things beforehand
- Yeah, we’re going to need see a rehearsal first
2005: Paul McCartney
I actually kind of feel bad for him here. One of the greatest musicians of all-time was presented simply as “someone who definitely won’t show their boobs.” McCartney’s performance was derided as boring, but I don’t think that was a fair criticism; he was as good as ever. The problem was, we knew *exactly* why he was there, and unless you were a huge Macca fan, it was probably hard to look past that. I’d actually like to see him be invited back in a context where his music would be appreciated more than it was here. – John Hugar
Safety Scale: 1