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From Marching Bands to Mega-Star Performers: The Evolution of the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Katy Perry is set to perform at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.

by Sean Smith

This Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots square off for the NFL title at Super Bowl XLIX, many Americans will be tuning in with as much interest in Katy Perry’s performance at the half as they will the game’s final score. For over two decades now, the annual halftime show has served as a showcase for some of music’s biggest stars. It has turned into an event that rivals the popularity of the Super Bowl itself. However, this was not always the case.

In the early years of the Super Bowl, the halftime shows were not the extravagant star-studded performances  they are today. In fact, they weren’t much different than a halftime show you can see put on at most college or even high school football games. In Super Bowl I the show was comprised of the University of Arizona and Grambling State University marching bands playing, alongside a high school drill team and color guard. In the years that followed that first Super Bowl in 1967, the halftime entertainment remained largely unspectacular for the next two plus decades. Sure, the NFL did try to make the shows somewhat more entertaining by incorporating themed shows, like in Super Bowl IX when they had a Tribute to Duke Ellington, but they were still rather vanilla compared to what we see today. As time went by they tried to add even more excitement to the halftime festivities by having more known musical acts take part in the themed programs, such as when Chubby Checker performed at Super Bowl XXII in 1988. But again, compared to today’s standard, the shows were nothing to write home about. That would all change though in the early 1990s.

In 1992, at the half of Super Bowl XXVI, the Fox network, who was not carrying the broadcast of the Super Bowl that year, decided they would try to steal some of the big game’s uninterested halftime audience by airing a special live episode of In Living Color. Fox’s attempt at counter-programming to the Super Bowl halftime show proved viable as more than 20 million viewers turned the channel from the bland offering of the NFL’s halftime show to check out the more fresh and entertaining alternative. The NFL took notice, and vowed to keep viewers from turning the channel away from their premier game.

For Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, the NFL decided to revolutionize their halftime programming and pitched to the Michael Jackson the idea of holding a mini-concert during halftime. Despite initial skepticism, Michael Jackson was convinced to perform after being told that his halftime performance would be televised live in 120 countries. It was the idea that the King of Pop could perform for his fans around the world, many of which that would otherwise never be able to see him perform live, that convinced Jackson that it was a worthwhile endeavor. And so in 1993, when Michael Jackson performed live at Super Bowl XXVII, the modern Super Bowl halftime show was born.

So regardless of whether you are a fan of Katy Perry or not, when you watch this years Super Bowl halftime show take pleasure in the fact that you get to watch a relevant pop music mega-star perform rather than some college marching band and high school color guard as was the case in the early years of the Super Bowl halftime show.