Super Bowl Halftime Show has lost its spark

You might not remember exactly where you were on Feb. 1, 2004, but your jaw and the jaws of 89.8 million other people surely dropped at the conclusion of one of the most anticipated televised performances of the year. If the date doesn’t ring a bell, maybe the term “wardrobe malfunction” will spark your memory.

Immediately after the notorious 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake incident, the media was swarmed with statements from CBS, the FCC, and the performers themselves.

Organizers of the next Super Bowl halftime show pulled a 180 for the 2005 performance, inviting Paul McCartney to the stage. This decision eliminated any possible sensual songs, sexy choreography, or suggestive costumes, and thus the risk of having another disaster like the previous year was avoided. After all, no one really expected McCartney to give a free peep show.

In the years since the Jackson incident, the halftime show has hosted musicians with a bit more life experience. In 2005, McCartney performed at 63; in 2006 Mick Jagger was 63; in 2007 Prince was 49; in 2008 Tom Petty was 58; in 2009 Bruce Springsteen was 60; and finally, in 2010, Roger Daltrey (of The Who) was 65 when he took the stage.

Generation Y will probably agree that the shows aren’t exactly what they’re dying to see. But if one looked at the younger population, the halftime show acts might include Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift. However, Gaga tends to deter more people than she attracts, due to her whimsical, avant-garde, over-the-top costumes, and Swift’s fans probably don’t overlap too well with the folks who watch and attend the big game. Thus, it becomes a matter of catering to the audience.

Another drastic consequence of the wardrobe malfunction was the introduction of a delay in broadcasting. No longer truly “live,” delays allow TV stations extra time to cut away from something offensive to the viewers, should it suddenly pop up. After the Jackson episode, The Grammys and the Oscars, both in February, were cautious (implementing 10-minute delays), as both shows featured several performances that, being live, could end just as disastrously as the Super Bowl halftime show. As time passed, though, delays were shortened, and now average at around 10 seconds.

So in wondering why halftime shows don’t have the appeal that they used to, just look back to 2004. Sure, if Timberlake and Jackson actually did do it on purpose, maybe they thought that being controversial would garner more viewers or media attention. If this is true, they surely didn’t consider the consequences implemented for future halftime shows.

The generation gap of performers parallels the generation gap in viewers. And if the Super Bowl halftime show follows a pattern for their selection of performers, we can probably predict the 2011 performer by looking back at the top of the charts several decades ago.