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10 of the Weirdest, Wildest Super Bowl Halftime Shows

10 of the Weirdest, Wildest Super Bowl Halftime Shows

10 of the Weirdest, Wildest Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Up With People! Carol Channing! Diana Ross on a helicopter! The Super Bowl halftime show is often a bizarre and kind of gay affair.


If you're a football fanatic and find yourself throwing a Super Bowl party that includes gay attendees, you know the halftime show cannot be on mute. This is the time that divas like Madonna, Beyonce, Diana Ross, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga strut their stuff and cut through the testosterone like a hot knife through butter. Memories are short, though, and for many, the halftime spectacle didn't exist pre-2004 (the year of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"). Starting in 1967, the shows were universally patriotic and almost always very weird. Things got very, very strange in the '90s, and by 2000, the producers were throwing anything and everything at the wall. See all the oddness below:

1. Super Bowl I: The Stadium Is Alive With...
Of course they pulled out all the stops for the very first Super Bowl. For the show in the middle of the 1967 game in Los Angeles, where the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, they didn't call in a pop diva or aging rockers. No, no. It was time for the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band to shine. The band played "The Sound of Music" and other pop hits such as "When the Saints Go Marching In" -- clearly precedents to "We Will Rock You." The performance sounds modest, but the band formed enormous, elaborate shapes (at least they appeared so when seen from above) that included stick figures, flowers, bugles, the Liberty Bell, and even a riverboat. To keep things weird, there was an almost-too-real, Western-themed shoot-out, followed by two daredevils catapulted into the air (don't worry, they landed safely). The show closed with Louisiana's Grambling State University band rushing onto the field and forming a giant map of the U.S. before the University of Southern California's chorus joined in and they all played "This Is My Country." Look, Katy Perry was nearly two decades away from even existing, so the Super Bowl Halftime Show was a ways away from being a tweetable show-stopping spectacle.

2. Super Bowl V, X, XIV, XVI, and XX: Put on a Hopeful Face
For many children of the '60s and '70s, the words Up With People trigger fits of laughter. This nonprofit organization recruited young people to travel the world and sing hokey songs of positivity and cultural sensitivity -- kind of like a massive Osmond show. If its 1980, swing-influenced performance at the Rose Bowl is any indication, Up With People brought a level of wholesomeness that probably made the Reagans very proud. It's funny to think that we've gone from people dancing in long dresses and polo shirts to "Come On, Get Happy" to whatever Justin Timberlake will bring this Sunday.

3. Super Bowl IV, VI: It's Carol Channing!
After two more years of college and high school bands, the Super Bowl booked its first solo act: Carol Channing. The Broadway star was wheeled in on a platform and performed "When the Saints Go Marching In" (the 1970 game took place in New Orleans and saw Kansas City defeating the Minnesota Vikings). Joining Channing were the Southern University Marching Band, Lionel Hampton, and Al Hirt.

In a move that is nothing like what we'd see during the Super Bowl today, Channing would have two more appearances during the big game. The original Dolly of Hello, Dolly! headlined the '72 halftime show, again in New Orleans. Joining her were jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald and the Marine Corps Drill Team.

Then, in 2014, Channing was part of a Pepsi commercial promoting the halftime show with Bruno Mars. In the ad, she performed in a retirement home, and it featured a man who was at Channing's original performance over 40 years earlier.

4. Super Bowl XXIII: Is Elvis Available?
The halftime entertainment from 1989 could easily be confused with a Branson, Mo., stage show your grandparents adored. Before anything happened on the field, Bob Costas awkwardly introduced a now infamous 3-D special effect -- glasses were distributed at stores around the country -- and performer Elvis Presto. Yes, an Elvis impersonator headlined the Super Bowl Halftime Show. He sang '50s songs and danced around with female singers before regaling the Miami stadium and television audience with a card trick. Hard to believe that only three years later, Michael Jackson would bring down the house and begin the superstar era.

5. Super Bowl XXV: Jordan Knight to the Rescue
The halftime show from 1991 truly has to be seen to be believed. Produced by Disney, the performance featured a boatload of company characters, clunky set pieces, little girls as cheerleaders, an anxiety-ridden boy singing "Wind Beneath My Wings," a televised speech from President and Mrs. Bush, a few hundred children dressed up in ethnic attire, and "It's a Small World" on blast. Then, "to honor our Armed Forces' children, Coca-Cola proudly presents New Kids on the Block!" The boys danced to "Step by Step" before moppets ran into their arms, the foreign children swayed awkwardly, and they all sang another round of "It's a Small World." Oh, and there was another card trick!

6. Super Bowl XXVI: Winter...Magic?
If your idea of heart-pumping, testosterone-laden entertainment involves ice skaters and giant snowflakes trotting around to Christmas music, little kids in Hammer pants rapping about "cool" Frosty the Snowman, the 1992 Halftime Show is for you (yes, they rap "Yo Frosty, yo!"). And of course, one of the gayest Super Bowl Halftime Shows ever has to actually include a gay athlete -- Brian Boitano with beloved skater Dorothy Hamill skating to "One Moment in Time." The whole thing is capped off by Gloria Estefan in an incredible ice-skating outfit homage demanding that everyone get on their feet.

7. Super Bowl XXIX: At Least It Had Patti LaBelle
If you thought '91's show was bizarre, it was rivaled by the 1995 extravaganza. This over-the-top performance was again produced by Disney. The show featured an Indiana Jones plot (an Indy ride just so happened to also be premiering at Disneyland) that apparently demanded enough culturally insensitive extras to fill a D.W. Griffith set. If this wasn't strange enough, out pops Patti LaBelle, tottering in heels and wearing numerous hats that weighed more than her head. Shrieking through her performance, LaBelle was likely trying to maintain the audience's attention, what with all the natives and Egyptians doing the butterfly around her because, hey, it's 1995. Then Tony Bennett came out and they all sang "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King. And with how odd it is, it's somehow incredibly enjoyable.

8. Super Bowl XXX: Now That's How You Do It
This could have been a complete disaster, but as Diana Ross sang "Take Me Higher," a helicopter came and took her away out of the stadium -- you know, after she said, "Here comes my ride!" Flawless.

9. Super Bowl XXXIV, XXXV: The Britney and Christina Era
After Diana Ross and late-'90s shows with Boyz II Men and Gloria Estefan, halftime producers knew pop stars were a relatively safe, if expensive, bet that kept asses in the seats. But in the 2000s, they may have overdosed on giant pop extravaganzas. Disney again took the reins in 2001 and produced another wholesome show, this time with Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, and Phil Collins. Aguilera, Iglesias, Braxton, and Collins were fine, but the music was broken up by crazy narration from Edward James Olmos talking about the millennium and "celebrating your dreams." The worst part: Tina Turner relegated to a pre-game act.

MTV was wisely given control of the 2001 show, which stuck with the pop star all-star act but included the vigor and humor missing from the previous year. An amusing pre-show skit featured Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, 'N Sync, and Aerosmith. Once onstage, the boy band kept up with the Boston legends, with each segueing gracefully from pop song to rock classic. The climax, featuring a strange hodgepodge of Mary J. Blige, Nelly, Britney, and the aforementioned bands doing "Walk This Way," somehow worked. And wow, Britney looked amazing.

10. Super Bowl XXXVIII: It's Miss Jackson If You're Nasty

Until Katy Perry levitates with silly string shooting out of an orifice or they bring Elvis back from the dead, this MTV-produced halftime show will remain the most infamous in history. Thirteen years after the fact, the whole "waldrobe malfunction" simply seems sad, mostly because of how badly Janet Jackson was treated after the incident. For those born yesterday: Jackson mostly headlined the 2004 show (P. Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock were there too), though Justin Timberlake closed it with "Rock Your Body" as Janet strutted and writhed around him. It's amazing to see how Janet was so warmly embraced before the finale -- the audience went wild for "Rhythm Nation" -- and how that goodwill simply evaporated a half-second after the "Rock Your Body" performance. At the end of the song, as Justin crooned, "I'll have you naked by the end of this song," he tore off part of Janet's leather bustier and out popped her right breast in front of 140 million viewers. The live telecast shocked much of the nation, even though Janet was wearing a nipple cover. Janet herself looked flabbergasted, and she and Justin claimed it was an accident; her bra was supposed to be exposed, not her breast.

What followed was condemnation not seen since the Salem Witch Trials. Janet's music was blacklisted and her career went into decline, MTV was banned from ever producing another halftime show, tape delays became mandatory for televised live performances, and CBS was hit with a half-million-dollar indecency fine from the FCC (that was overturned seven years after the incident). And Justin, well, he was mostly unaffected. Even he regrets not coming to Janet's defense back then. And Janet, all is forgiven. She returned with a new album in 2015.

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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.