A Brief Survey of the Worst Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever

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Image Credit: Gin Ellis/Getty Images

I’ll be honest, I can’t really picture millions of macho American football fans putting aside their Miller Lites and nacho supreme platters to pay hushed attention to Madonna belting out “Like a Virgin” on Sunday. I could be wrong, but recent halftime show performances by air guitar-friendly classic rock bands like the Who, U2, and Aerosmith seem a little safer. Even a red-state songstress like Faith Hill seems like a smarter choice since she’s already wooed dudes with her rendition of the Monday Night Football theme. I suppose Madge will bring a whole new audience to an NFL broadcast, but I’m guessing some diehards won’t be happy about it. That said, I hope she knocks it out of the park (and I also hope she plays “Lucky Star”). But if Ms. Ciccone does stink it up, she can take comfort in the fact that she’s just the latest casualty in a long and proud tradition of crappy Super Bowl halftime extravaganzas. Which brings us to our list of the 5 Worst Super Bowl Halftime Shows ever. (If you’re feeling less mean-spirited, by all means check our gallery of the best here

*Super Bowl X (1976) The theme was “A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial: 200 Years and Just a Baby”. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys in a great game. But the second half was tough to focus on thanks to squeaky-clean, milk-drinking musical numbers provided by Up With People, a Benetton-ad collection of students from all over the world gathered together to make the cast of Fame look like hardened criminals. If you’re too young to remember Up With People, let’s put it this way — they are the music that gets played in hell’s waiting room.

*Super Bowl XXIII (1989) Behold the future! The main attraction this year was a tight, see-saw game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. But at halftime, sports fans got a peek at a 3-D halftime show called “Be Bop Bamboozled in 3-D”, featuring the Dance Fever-esque antics of Elvis impersonator/magician, Elvis Presto, whose card tricks turned out to be a bust. See for yourself…

*Super Bowl XXV (1991) Operation Desert Storm was in full effect and America needed some comfort between the halves of a heartbreaking game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants. That comfort was provided by Beantown boy band New Kids on the Block.  The theme: Disney’s “It’s a Small World” and a shout-out to the troops. I don’t know about you, but Disney + war + schmoove New Jack crooners in parachute pants = awkward.

*Super Bowl XXVI (1992) The game was a so-so battle between the Washington Redskins and the cursed Buffalo Bills. The theme: a Winter Wonderland salute to the 1992 Winter Olympics featuring skaters Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill, and — salsa mundo! — Gloria Estefan, who strikes me as more of a hot-weather act than wintery, but why split hairs?

*Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) A.k.a, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and the nip-slip heard round the world. The “scandalous” wardrobe malfunction got all of the attention, which is a shame, because it was a great game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers. But Janet…sorry, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty…will go down in history. To be honest, Jackson and JT’s performances of “Rhythm Nation” and “Rock Your Body” were pretty great, so this one was actually more infamous than bad.

What are your favorite or least favorite Super Bowl halftime shows?

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