From Diana Ross exiting the stadium from a helicopter in true diva fashion to “Left Shark” stealing the spotlight over Katy Perry, the Super Bowl halftime show has been a showcase for the unexpected. Obtaining the halftime slot is a career milestone for many stars. With big budgets on the table and pressures of the whole world watching, the show creates an atmosphere where artists want to bring their A-game.
However, the halftime show has not always been this massive of a spectacle and we can thank Michael Jackson – arguably the greatest entertainer of all time – for making this happen.
Before Jackson took over the halftime stage, the show was usually comprised of university marching bands, drill teams and other performance groups. The 1992 Super Bowl halftime show became a breaking point for show coordinators. To compete with the big game, Fox aired a live episode of “In Living Color.” This backfired on the CBS telecast when their viewership plummeted down over 20 percent while others tuned into the hit comedy sketch show instead.
Something had to change and Jackson was the perfect person to redeem these ratings.
Catapulting off center stage at the Rose Bowl, Jackson began his electrifying showcase standing completely still with no expression on his face for at least two minutes. Just the simple turn of this head made those at the stadium and those watching at home shudder with pure wonderment. In other words, this is what being a legend is all about.
With the toss of his aviators into the crowd and the execution of his classic spin, Jackson was at the forefront of history once again. The first part of his performance involved a medley of some of the most iconic installments in his unparalleled discography–”Jam,” “Billie Jean” and “Black Or White.” Known as the epitome of a perfectionist, no one was surprised to see Jackson effortlessly command the stage with his on-point timing and choreography.
The show used lots of pyrotechnics throughout and coordinated an audience card stunt during the finale. Jackson even brought on a choir of 3,500 local Los Angeles children to sing “We Are the World” and “Heal the World” with a massive inflatable globe on the stage. Like most musical events the King of Pop was involved in, it was simply larger than life.
This milestone performance not only set the record for television viewership at the time with an audience of over 130 million people, it also inspired the momentum of popular artists to follow the blueprint Jackson laid out for them.
To this day, Jackson’s influence has been referenced in many halftime shows since. Joining Coldplay and Bruno Mars during the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary in 2016, Beyoncé took her opportunity to deliver a powerful message while performing her anthem “Formation.” While her dancers paid homage to the Black Panther party in their classic berets, Mrs. Carter channeled the spirit of Jackson as she sported the same black and gold military jacket her idol famously wore.
Since 1993, plenty of legendary artists like U2 and Prince have cemented their own version of the halftime phenomenon into the history books. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, U2 put on a touching tribute to the victims by displaying their names on a backdrop. In 2007, just the image of Prince singing “Purple Rain” in the Florida storm resulted in many critics deeming The Artist as the greatest halftime show performer of all time.
Flashing forward to the current situation with artists reportedly denying the opportunity in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick – and rightfully so, the future is uncertain for the halftime show. However, we can still reminisce on the legacy Michael Jackson left behind in terms of creating monumental performances that will live on through future generations even if that means through other avenues.