The NFL announced on Sept. 8 that football fans will be getting an earful of Bruno Mars at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 2, 2014. He is, as the league points out, a Grammy winner (and 14-time nominee) with an impressive 22 Billboard Hot 100 hits.
But, this being the Super Bowl, it should come as no surprise that the choice is already being scrutinized and criticized: Bruno Mars is a bad choice for a game in New Jersey, a state with plenty of native artists who would have been more appropriate choices. Bruno Mars is young and lacks the deep catalogue that past halftime acts have drawn from. Bruno Mars is a recent enough phenomenon that he might be an unknown to football viewers who aren’t currently pop-music listeners. He is, one football fan told the New York Daily News, too “sensitive” for a sporting event.
That said, Super Bowl whiners would do well to remember that there have been far, far weirder choices for the biggest halftime event of the year. What if, instead of the “Locked Out of Heaven” crooner, they’d been stuck with one of these acts?
An Elvis Impersonator
The halftime show on Jan. 22, 1989, at Super Bowl XXIII, was both ahead of the curve and way behind. On one hand, it was billed as the first network broadcast in 3-D (if you had the right glasses at home)…and, on the other hand, it starred Elvis Presto, an Elvis impersonator-slash-magician. Instead of actually singing Elvis songs, he did magic tricks.
What says football like…figure skating? The halftime show at 1992’s Super Bowl XXVI had a Winter Olympics theme, ignoring what is probably a minimal overlap between the folks who watch football for their winter sports fix and those who watch pairs skating. Gloria Estefan performed too, but Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill got to go first. (That was, perhaps not coincidentally, the year that Fox invented halftime-show counterprogramming by airing In Living Color during the show.)
Carol Channing is best known for her Broadway roles like Hello Dolly!, but she also graced Super Bowl IV and Super Bowl VI. If anything says football more than figure skating does, it’s show tunes.
Channing got to appear twice, but the wholesome edu-tainment group Up with People, which was founded in the late ’60s and still exists, brought their positive messages to Super Bowls in 1976, 1980, 1982 and 1986. (As the group’s executive producer told ESPN, the Up with People crew is used to seeing themselves mocked every time the Super Bowl rolls around, but they don’t let it get to them since being cool isn’t really part of their goal.)
Miss Texas. Playing a fiddle.
Not a weird choice: the University of Texas Longhorn Band for Super Bowl VIII, which took place at Rice Stadium in Houston on Jan. 13, 1974. It’s got Texas, it’s got a marching band, it makes sense even if it’s not quite Beyoncé. (If anything, the Longhorn Band was a bland choice, since marching bands dominated early Super Bowl halftime shows.)
A weird choice: alongside the band, Super Bowl fans got to see Miss Texas 1973, Judy Mallett, play the fiddle.
For Super Bowl XXI, in 1987, the halftime show celebrated a century of Hollywood, mostly by presenting famous songs from movies and television, plus costumed Disney characters. It’s not a bad show, but when Bruno Mars’ critics wish for a performer with a deeper catalogue they’re probably not thinking of someone like special guest star Mickey Rooney.
It’s no secret that the Super Bowl halftime show is a huge promotional opportunity for whoever gets to perform and whoever gets to sponsor it—Bruno Mars will appear at the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII halftime show, thank you very much—but it’s not usually quite as blatant as it was in 1995, at Super Bowl XXIX. There wasn’t even a new Indiana Jones movie that year, but Disneyland had a new Indy ride so the entire halftime show was devoted “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye”.