The history of Super Bowl halftime shows is a history of escalation. The shows began innocently enough, a way to feature college marching bands. A humble but inoffensive intermission that allowed players time to recoup and afforded viewers the much needed opportunity to refresh dwindling meat and cheese plates.
As early as 1972, things began to change. Competing networks had the audacity to run popular, original programming during the Super Bowl. Network executives, in a rare display of emotion, narrowed their eyes. Numbers were crunched and the winds of war howled throughout the solemn halls of CBS. For the first time, the halftime show had a credited producer, Jim Skinner, who organized a salute to Louis Armstrong featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hirt and Carol Channing.
This battle for viewership again escalated in 1977, when The Walt Disney Company produced a halftime show themed around “It’s A Small World.” Any reservations about whether or not a war had been declared were quickly put to rest as 62 million viewers spent the rest of their lives trying to get the song out of their heads.
There are casualties in any war, even those carried out within the field of television. And there is a lot of room for headstones in 57,000 square feet. Today, the marching bands are gone, but the dirge of their brass continues and the march goes on. In every war movie there is one tragic, sacrificial hero. He is sometimes young and plucky. He is often old and battle-worn. The only constant is that we — the viewers — know that he is doomed. We see into his eyes and we recognize, we know that this is a man who will leave it all on the battlefield. He will hear the call of the dirge and he will march.
Just as this valiant soldier — legs broken, ammunition spent — now exists only in low whispers shared between former brothers in arms, so are there those performers who have carried the banners of their fame into the network battle and left it all on the field. Here is a list of halftime performers whose once promising careers dissolved into a low whisper after their Super Bowl performances.
1994. – Tanya Tucker
1994’s Super Bowl XXVIII featured a halftime show themed around a “Rockin’ Country Sunday” headlined by Clint Black, Travis Tritt, The Judds and Tanya Tucker. Tucker already had a long and successful career in country music despite being only 36 years old during her Super Bowl performance. By the end of 1994, she had released 19 albums and been nominated for 9 Grammys, having recorded her first album at the tender age of 14.
After her Super Bowl performance, 1994’s “Hangin’ On” would be her last Top 10 hit for 3 years, succeeded by 1997’s “Little Things,” which rose to No. 9 and marked her final Top 10 appearance. 1994 would also mark her final Grammy nomination, for “Soon” and “Romeo.”
Apparently the law of conservation of energy can also apply to fame, because from the fading notes of Tucker’s career, the sweet notes of a new melody made themselves heard. The Show’s sponsor, Wavy Lays, produced an advertisement that year featuring a shrewd, red-headed boy betting Dan Quayle that he couldn’t eat “just one” potato chip. A safer bet may have been to obscure the bag and wager on his ability to spell potato, but the proposition worked out for him, regardless.
Seven years later, that same boy would become the bearer of the One Ring, destroyer of the Dark Lord Sauron and the recipient of many awards.
1998. – Boyz II Men
The 1998 Super Bowl Halftime Show, themed around a tribute to Motown’s 40th anniversary, featured classic acts such as The Temptations and Smokey Robinson, accompanied by the modern stylings of Queen Latifah and Boyz II Men. Considered one of the better halftime shows of the last 40 years, Boyz II Men was nominated for two Grammy Awards that year. Its Super Bowl performance, however, marked the beginning of an unfortunate turning point in their career.
In 1999, the group’s label, Motown Records, was merged with Universal Records, and Boyz II Men found itself floating, untethered, amidst Universal’s vast catalog of artists. It released only a single album at the label, 2000’s Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, which went on to sell only 500,000 copies in the US and yielded no hit singles.
In 2002, the group signed a deal with Arista Records and began work on a new album with the hopes of recapturing the success it had enjoyed in the early 90’s. To that end, the group hired Babyface — a man who defined their early sound — to assist in the production of the new album and hired four different directors to create a high-budget video that debuted on BET. Both the video and the album failed to capture the public’s attention with the album, again, barely selling 500,000 copies in the US.
In 2003, Arista ended its relationship with the group and the members decided that it was time to take a break from the music industry.
2003. – No Doubt
2003’s Super Bowl Halftime Show in Qualcomm Stadium featured Shania Twain, Sting, and No Doubt performing an early hit that had helped put them in the public eye nearly 10 years earlier. During the performance, Gwen Stefani — clad in spandex and a sports bra — did pushups while belting out, “Just a Girl,” the song that made the band famous. It was almost as if she recognized that this battle required her to be in peak physical condition; this assessment would pay dividends in the coming years as her career would flourish while the memory of the group that made her famous would begin to fade.
Shortly after the performance, lead singer Stefani began work on a dance-pop side project while No Doubt members started work on a new album without her. The album would suffer repeated delays, due in part to slow song writing and Stefani’s second pregnancy. The band would go on to release not just a compilation album, but a re-titled, identical re-release of a previous compilation album.
As of 2013, the band was once again on hiatus, planning to regroup in 2014. Fans are expecting something big in 2014, willing to settle for nothing less than new artwork and a lower price point on 2003’s album The Singles 1992-2003.
1995. – Indiana Jones
Perhaps the most tragic soldier to give their life in the field of battle came in 1995. That year, the Super Bowl Halftime Show was produced by The Walt Disney Company and was themed around Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. No, that is not a movie. Yes, it is a ride at Disneyland. But it’s Indiana Jones, the man is an institution, and he deserved a better sendoff than the one fate dealt him.
At the time, the only ongoing adventures featuring Jones were The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a show aimed at young adults that was nominated for 27 Emmy Awards and won 12 of them. It wasn’t a perfect show, but it was fun. Prior to Chronicles, audiences were treated to three theatrical releases of varying but decidedly adequate quality: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade.
And then the Super Bowl happened.
A year later, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was cancelled, and we wouldn’t see a big or small screen version of our favorite whip wielding archaeologist again until 2008, nearly 20 years after the release of The Last Crusade. Some things are worth the wait. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not one of those things.
Most notable for featuring Shia LeBouf using poisonous tree snakes to swing through the trees Tarzan-style, the entry is rightly noted for having garnered the lowest aggregated critical scores in the series and being the only Indiana Jones film to not receive a single Academy Award nomination.
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