Behind the Scenes: Music at the Super Bowl


One of the highlights of the Super Bowl, apart from the football itself, of course, is the half time show. For a couple of decades or so now, the half time show has been a kind of high-status mini concert for pop stars and an extra attraction for the fans. Curiously enough though, the musical artists involved don’t actually get paid for their work. Let’s take a look behind the scenes of the music at the Super Bowl.

Michael Jackson: trend-setter….

It all really started back in 1993 with an amazing Super Bowl half time show performance by the one and only Michael Jackson. Before he sang a note, he stood still for almost two whole minutes to build suspense; and while that might not sound like much, it sure feels like it when there’s a stadium of thousands all waiting and watching! Jackson’s set consisted of five songs and went down a storm, increasing the ratings between the two halves for the first time in NFL history. The Super Bowl was to become more of a festival than a sports event, so that both those who follow the American football teams throughout the season, and those who just like a party could participate. This was really the beginning of something, and for all that the NFL knew that they were onto a good thing, the benefits proved mutual since Jackson’s album Dangerous subsequently rose 90 places in the album chart.

Ever since that incredible day (Dallas Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills 52 – 17, under head coach Jimmy Johnson, to take the Super Bowl XXVII trophy, by the way!) pop stars have seen the Super Bowl half time show as a quite unique event and clamoured to perform at one. Neither nationality nor genre seems to impose any limits either. There have been both US and international stars and many different kinds of music performed over the years. From the world of Motown and Soul there has been James Brown, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder; from the world of Rock there’s been Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones and ZZ Top; and from Pop there’s been Madonna, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake.


Performance without payment?

The attraction of the concert, both as an event and as a marketing opportunity, is in fact so great that acts will perform without payment. It is actually NFL policy to cover expenses but not to pay the stars! Typically, not only is there a general rise of interest in the artist after a show, reaching new fans both younger and older than the standard fan base, but there is also a spike in the consumption of their music for two to three days following the Super Bowl. Forbes has a great piece here that gets into all the details and looks at Justin Timberlake’s performance at last season’s Super Bowl, earlier this year.

Justin Timberlake

So as the NFL season continues and we look forward to the music of Super Bowl LIII, it’ll be interesting to think about the fact that whoever it is that performs this time round, and however good a show they put on, they won’t actually be receiving a paycheque from the NFL at all!

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