When Super Bowl LV takes place in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 7, odds are one winner will be The Weeknd, who will headline the halftime show — and get the streaming and sales boost that comes with it. Compared with other big artist showcases like the Grammy Awards though, the Super Bowl hasn’t meant much to music for long: For decades, most halftime shows featured marching bands, with occasional appearances from crooners like Andy Williams or oddballs like magician Elvis Presto. Then, in 1993, a blockbuster Michael Jackson performance changed the game — plus drew 5 million more viewers than the main event.
In late 1985, Walter Payton and some Chicago Bears teammates released “The Super Bowl Shuffle” weeks before they went on to win the big game. It hit No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received a Grammy nomination, despite what the Feb. 14, 1987, Billboard described as “the deafening musical insignificance of the record.” Hits don’t come easy off the field though. After the release of the anti-drug rap “We Are the New York Giants,” the Jan. 31, 1988, issue reported that a local radio executive said, “We’re kind of overloaded on Super Bowl stuff.”
The 1988 Super Bowl halftime event, produced by Radio City Music Hall, featured the Rockettes, two marching bands and Chubby Checker — plus a jukebox maker’s promotion to celebrate the centennial of coin-operated music. “We liked Rowe International’s 70-foot-high jukebox on the field at halftime during the Super Bowl,” the Feb. 13, 1988, Billboard reported, then asked an impertinent question: “How did they manage to lift Chubby Checker all the way up there?”
The King of Pop’s 1993 halftime show drew “the largest total network viewing audience in history,” according to the Feb. 13, 1993, Billboard. The next week’s issue reported that sales of Jackson’s 1991 album, Dangerous, grew 40%, and the modern-day halftime show was born — although it took the NFL a few years to consistently book superstars.
The next time a Jackson got that much attention at the Super Bowl was in 2004 — for a “wardrobe malfunction.” Billboard covered the furor over Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s performance — the FCC fined CBS, although its decision was voided — as well as the backlash to the backlash. FCC chairman Michael Powell framed the Super Bowl as family programming, but “come on,” Syracuse University professor Robert Thompson told Billboard for a Feb. 14, 2004, article. “There’s gambling, there’s a lot of drinking, partying, a carnival atmosphere.”