The Super Bowl halftime show is truly a global event, broadcast in countries ranging from Australia to the United Kingdom. More than 118 million people watched Katy Perry’s performance in Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, 2015. It’s no wonder that big-name performers such as Coldplay want to play the Super Bowl. The most memorable artists have a knack for taking ownership of a stage and making you feel like you’re enjoying a special moment crafted just for you even though millions of people are watching, too. Here are some examples of artists who have made the Super Bowl halftime show truly memorable, and lessons that anyone in event management can learn from them:
Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Prince
What do all these artists have in common? The NFL needed them more than they needed the NFL when they performed. We’re talking about music legends here with nothing to prove. Wisely, the NFL gave them their own stage rather than pair them with another act (although Beyoncé’s former band mates from Destiny’s Child eventually joined her on stage).
All these stars played with reckless abandon, as if they had everything to prove. In 2005, Paul McCartney made the stadium explode with a pyrotechnics display during his Super Bowl XXXIX show, especially during his performance of “Live and Let Die.” During the Super Bowl XLI in 2007, Prince gave fans a mixture of his hits (such as “1999”) with surprises (such as a cover of the Foo Fighters’s “Best of You”). In 2013, Beyoncé dazzled Super Bowl XLVII audiences with singing, dancing, and some killer animation onscreen to complement her performance. Bruce Springsteen laughingly exhorted the fans watching Super Bowl XLVIII in 2009 to put down their food and watch — and then within 12 minutes, he gave everyone a taste of what he usually gives audiences over the course of 3 hours, slapping high fives with spectators and, for good measure, sliding across the stage into a TV camera lens.
These artists relied on the Super Bowl to put an exclamation mark on already well-established careers. They were not the only globally recognized musicians who performed well — Madonna and the Rolling Stones also stood out for her performances. But Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen, set the gold standard.
Lesson: when you land a marquee performer, give them the entire stage.
Bruno Mars, who will perform at Super Bowl 50, was already a likable, well-known performer, especially among millennials, when he performed at the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show in February 2014. But he was not an obvious choice, with a young career and nowhere near the legacy of previous Super Bowl performers such as Madonna and the Rolling Stones. But his performance served noticed that he was a star to be reckoned with. He danced, played the drums, and lit up the stage with charisma. He made you feel like he was hanging out with you at your own party, which is saying something for a global broadcast. And at age 29, he not only injected a much-needed sense of youth and vibrancy, he also connected the NFL with the all-important millennial audience. He shared the stage with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who didn’t plug in their instruments), but he might as well have been flying solo because he dominated the moment.
The lesson: a younger, up-and-coming performer can make a legacy event seem youthful.
In February 2002, U2 performed for a wounded nation at Super Bowl XXXVI, just months after the September 11 attacks. The band played the moment with sensitivity during an inspired set. If you saw the show on TV, you remember the moment when U2 reminded us of music’s power to connect and even heal: Bono singing “Where the Streets Have No Name” while a backdrop scrolled the names of the victims of 9/11, and the Bono opened his jacket to reveal an American flag design. For one brilliant moment, the halftime show put the game in perspective.
Lesson: never underestimate the power of emotion. The right performance at the right time can elevate a moment to another level.
Only days from now, the Super Bowl 50 halftime show will feature Coldplay, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Rihanna. I’m sure Bruno Mars will give us a taste of some “Uptown Funk,” Coldplay will promote its recently released A Head Full of Dreams album, perhaps Rihanna will preview her upcoming album, and Beyoncé will just continue being Queen Bey. It’s going to be a crowded stage. Who do you think will stand out? And what are your favorite Super Bowl halftime shows?
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