Any pop darling knows that being named the headliner for a Super Bowl halftime show is kind of a big deal. Not only is the 12-minute performance flanked by million-dollar ads and a showdown catering to football loyalists, more eyeballs tune into the show than the game itself. Last year’s performer Katy Perry raked in 118.5 million viewers in comparison to the game’s 114.4 million viewership as the most watched halftime show, per Nielsen data.
Enter British director, Hamish Hamilton, who has helmed broadcasts for everything worth tweeting like the Oscars to the MTV Video Music Awards. Super Bowl 50 will mark his sixth year as director for the halftime show (he landed the gig in 2010), headlined by rock group Coldplay. He says the process starts in the stadium’s tunnels, where players and cheerleaders get hype before the game.
“To stage the show, you have to get the stage down a tunnel or a number of tunnels,” says Hamilton over the phone. “You start with, ‘How big is the tunnel? How many tunnels are there? And how much shit can we get through those tunnels in the eight minutes that we have to set up this spectacle?'”
This year’s extravaganza presented a first-time challenge, though. “One of the guiding principals [of putting the show together] has been the fact that this year’s Super Bowl is in the daylight, so that has a big impact on the show because we don’t have a darkness or the power of lighting,” he says. “But we have the greatest light in the world which is, of course, sunlight.”
While Coldplay will swap the spotlight for sunlight on-stage at San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016, Hamilton kept their set list — the chart-topper’s catalog stems back to their 2000 debut Parachutes — in the dark. “Within any artist’s repertoire, there are big hits, big ballads, big energy and big emotion, and those songs are usually the most Super Bowl appropriate,” he offers.
As for a potential cameo from past SB headliner Beyonce for a live performance of Coldplay’s “Hymn For The Weekend”? “Everybody can hope lots of things for Super Bowl Sunday, and one of the great things about Super Bowl Sunday is that everybody has their own hopes, opinions and dreams, but obviously only a certain number of those dreams can come alive,” he says. “I’m not gonna be the guy who tells you that Santa Claus isn’t real.”
The parameters for Super Bowl halftime shows could almost be considered nonexistent. For reference, the aforementioned Perry brought a large, moving gold tiger and dancing sharks and beach balls as her props along with special guests Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott. Still, Hamilton can sometimes rule out certain ideas that seem absurd — which he admits happened during the “Firework” singer’s set.
“There was one part of the Katy Perry show last year, which I was [like] “This is never gonna work, this is terrible. It’s awful. No! Rubbish! What are you guys thinking about? That just doesn’t work on television!’,” he recalls. “And actually it worked really really well. Even before we got to Super Bowl Sunday, I realized that what I’d been saying was completely stupid and completely wrong. I’m not gonna tell you what it was, but that’s the beauty of it. All the creative [input] is fairly, heavily stress-tested before you get there. It just goes to show you can have opinions, but your opinion is not always right.”
Regardless of the chaos that is sure to unfold before millions of viewers in February, Hamilton is confident in one thing: the headliner will shock and awe once they hit the stage.
“I think Coldplay themselves are gonna surprise a lot of people,” he says, before reiterating the sentence for emphasis. “They write great music. They’re great performers. They’re great individuals. They’re a great band, and I think they and their energy and their positivity will surprise a lot of people in a very positive way.”