Behold: my picks for the 10 next Super Bowl halftime performers.
The stars are aligning for an Adele halftime show at Levi's Stadium near San Francisco on February 7, 2016. It seems as if the follow-up to her blockbuster sophomore album, 21, won't be finished until the end of this year, and although the wait for new music has been longer than anticipated, a fourth-quarter album release would give the U.K. superstar a new single (or two) to perform on the biggest stage in the world. An austere setlist of "Rolling In The Deep," "Set Fire to the Rain," "Skyfall" and a brand new hit would serve Ms. Adkins, and the world at large, just fine.
Adele doesn't have the breadth of hits or choreography-heavy live show that the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza typically requires, but what she lacks in racing tempos, she more than makes up for in popularity. Most household-name pop artists are at least somewhat polarizing, but Adele's appeal is currently universal, largely due to the fact that everyone and their mother purchased 21. Imagine if, after years of toiling away in the studio and staying off the touring circuit, Adele made her live return at the Super Bowl halftime show next year; it would be the must-watch music event of the year.
2017: Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is going to play a Super Bowl halftime show in the near future, and 2017 in Houston seems like the right year and place for the country-turned-pop megastar to check off another box on her World Domination laundry list. If Swift follows her every-other-October album release pattern, she'll have another full-length ready by late 2016, and a Super Bowl appearance for early 2017 sounds like a natural way to promote the massive-selling follow-up to the massive-selling 1989. Swift has the cross-generational appeal, duffel bag of smashes and electric live setup to punch her ticket to the halftime show without a moment's hesitation. The only surprising aspect of a Taylor Swift Super Bowl halftime show is that it hasn't already happened.
2018: Maroon 5
Maroon 5 is not a "hip" pop act, but neither is Bruno Mars; Maroon 5 is not a "critically acclaimed" pop act, but neither are the Black Eyed Peas. The reality is, Maroon 5 is a reliably crowd-pleasing pop act, with a more impressive Super Bowl resumé than most people would care to recognize. The group has 11 career top 10 hits on the Hot 100 chart (for those counting, that's only five fewer than Taylor Swift), and the majority of those radio staples arriving in the past three years, beginning with the inescapable No. 1 hit "Moves Like Jagger." In fact, the past few Maroon 5 hits have all been bigger than most casual pop fans realize -- for instance, "One More Night" didn't spawn as many Internet memes as Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," but the songs spent the same number of weeks (nine) atop the Hot 100 chart at different points in 2012.
Behind the volume of hit singles, though, is a band with a recognizable frontman thanks to The Voice, a string of impressive album sales and a strong grip on Middle America, where the group is performing arena shows throughout the first quarter of 2015. Adam Levine and co. have mastered the art of bending their pop-rock appeal toward a general audience, be it through random Wiz Khalifa collaborations or a viral-primed wedding music video. When Maroon 5 is announced as the Super Bowl halftime performer in three years, the blogosphere will groan, but the majority of the country will gleefully hoist their payphones to the sky in celebration.
Despite the myriad songs -- "We Found Love," "SOS," "Umbrella" and "Where Have You Been" included -- that Rihanna could easily rattle off during a Super Bowl halftime performance, the Barbadian superstar has long been viewed as too "edgy" for a league that still winces when the words "wardrobe" and "malfunction" are positioned next to each other. Sure, past performers like Madonna and Bruno Mars have courted controversy, but neither of them rolled a blunt off of their bodyguard's bald head at Coachella. Rihanna's rating on the IDGAF meter is off the charts, which might cause her to miss out on the Super Bowl.
However, I'm betting that, by 2019, Rihanna's perceived transgressions against wholesome family values won't matter. She is simply too dynamic of a performer, a superstar who's still getting brighter, and an artist capable of making two years out of the spotlight feel like an eternity after delivering hits so consistently. By 2019, Rihanna will have released at least two more albums, maybe three; she will have raised eyebrows with her more risqué material but induced many more heads to knock, and will have likely continued the songwriting growth she exhibited on "Stay" and new single "FourFiveSeconds." Pencil Rihanna in as a future Super Bowl heavyweight.
2020: Justin Timberlake
The 2020 Experience! Get it?
No, but seriously, Justin Timberlake is playing a Super Bowl halftime show, and will take over the "older white man" territory from the aging rock acts that are no longer invited to perform at the big game. He's already played stadiums alongside Jay Z; he can bring sexy back, and then turn sickly sweet with "Mirrors"; he has an abundance of charisma and dance techniques; and he's already played the Super Bowl twice, so he's… well, he's at least prepared for the worst-case scenario, post-Nipplegate. If he keeps working at a album-every-seven-years pace, the follow-up to The 20/20 Experience will be ready for us in a half-decade; a Janet Jackson collaboration, at the Super Bowl or otherwise, seems highly unlikely.
2021: Ariana Grande
Although Ariana Grande has been famous for her music for exactly two years, it's safe to assume that she will be a Super Bowl-caliber superstar by the year 2021 based on her career trajectory over that time period. Along with Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande dominated the summer of 2014 after enjoying a breakout moment the year before with debut album Yours Truly; more importantly, her My Everything hits showed a heretofore hidden range of sounds, from the brash pop of "Problem" to the sizzling EDM of "Break Free" to the sultry R&B of "Love Me Harder." If Grande's sophomore album was entirely composed of the light rhythms of an early single like "The Way," it would be tough to imagine the pint-sized singer unhinging herself from those endless Mariah Carey comparisons; now, months after dropping a dancehall banger with Major Lazer and a cunnilingus ode with Nicki Minaj, it feels like Grande's career could go in any number of directions.
Perhaps the strongest reason to bet on Grande as a future halftime performer is the fact that she's already viewed as a premier act at top-line television events. Next month, she will add the Grammys to a list of award shows that she's conquered, which already includes the MTV Video Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards and the American Music Awards; one week after the Grammys, Grande will headline the halftime show at the NBA All-Star Game. If she's already snagging these notable appearances two years into her proper music career, imagine what she'll have done in another six.
2022: Calvin Harris & Friends
The 2010s have already seen EDM acts like Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex and Avicii command crowds of thousands and headline alternative music festivals. Could one of these artists headline the Super Bowl halftime show? Probably not yet, but by 2022, such a booking would be far from surprising. And right now, the producer with the inner track to the Super Bowl would be Calvin Harris, the Scottish DJ behind some of the bigger hits of the past half-decade, including "Feel So Close," "We Found Love," "I Need Your Love" and "Summer." Harris is the highest-paid DJ in the world, and anyone who has attended one of his eardrum-bursting shows can tell you that he's worth every penny.
For his inevitable Super Bowl takeover, Harris should be billed as a curator, with the promise of guest stars presented up front. If all of his smashes are performed with live vocals -- Rihanna steps out for "Where Have You Been," or Florence Welch glides into the stadium for "Sweet Nothing" -- Harris could be at the center of one of the Super Bowl's most memorable displays of talent. Keep cranking out those hits, Calvin, and we could very well be fist-pumping without abandon from our homes on Super Bowl Sunday.
2023: 5 Seconds of Summer
One name that did not make this list, despite already being stadium-sized, is One Direction; despite the U.K. boy band's international success, it's hard to imagine the NFL booking an act explicitly aimed at such a young pop audience (even if their new music sounds like 80's arena rock). Although 1D pals and former opening act 5 Seconds of Summer don't have any crossover radio hits yet and have only been on U.S. music fans' radars for barely a year, the Australian pop-rock act has primed itself for a long, sturdy stateside run. Because the guitar-wielding lads are ostensibly not viewed as a "boy band," the boys can pull in older fans as well as continue catering to its enormous teen-girl fan base as they stockpile successful albums (three top 10 entries on the Billboard 200 chart in 2014) and tour their faces off (a huge headlining run kicks off this summer).
Gone are the days of the Super Bowl halftime show being headlined by aging rock acts, as younger-skewing pop acts like Bruno Mars and Beyonce have pulled in teenagers and been more of a hit on social media. 5SOS would accomplish both, as well as beguile the dads with electric guitars! Calum, Luke, Michael and Ashton have to put some more miles under their belts before reaching Super Bowl status, but bet against them at your own risk.
2024: Kanye West
Like Rihanna, Kanye West would currently be ruled as too controversial of a musical personality to get the call for the Super Bowl extravaganza; also like Rihanna, Kanye West is too culturally dominant of a musician to never grace the world's largest performance platform. To make another loose comparison, if one imagines West's career trajectory to resemble that of Prince -- another outspoken, impenetrable luminary -- Yeezy's power as a performer will always be there, but he will be more widely accepted as a legend with another decade of imaginative musical output. He will add to his mountain of hits, continue making unexpected left turns and inspired another decade's worth of thinkpieces, but he will never fade out of our collective consciousness. Kanye will play a Super Bowl halftime show, and if there's any justice in this world, he'll do it by the time North West is old enough to dance onstage as a special guest star.
2025: Miley Cyrus
Miley? At the Super Bowl? Scoff if you must, but we're talking about a show that will happen in a decade; if we're still worried about Miley Cyrus' twerking antics at the 2013 VMAs at that point, there's truly something wrong with our society. Cyrus has exhibited an impressive knack for reinvention, shedding her Disney image after 2010's failed Can't Be Tamed album and scoring two of her biggest hits to date with "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball." If one believes that Miley's current tongue-wagging era will last forever, that denotes a failure of imagination; if one also believes that Miley is incapable of constructing more ubiquitous pop hits by the time she's 32 years old (!) in 2025, that just means you're a Miley hater.
Besides, a Miley Cyrus halftime show would give the world the one thing we all really want: to hear "Party In The U.S.A." live at the Super Bowl. See you in a decade, Miley.