For tens of millions of people, Super Bowl Sunday has little to do with the teams who are actually playing. It's all about the ads and the halftime show, friends. Considering the fact that Super Bowls account for the 21 highest-rated programs in television history, and the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show starring Madonna actually outdrew the game itself, there are hundreds of millions of reasons for the NFL and its entertainers to pay attention to the will of the people. As the Super Bowl approaches, here are ten things you need to know about this year's Halftime Show. Read this while those guys in pads are running around knocking into each other on the field.
1. Your lead performer: Bruno Mars. If you don't know who Mars is, you might need to get out a bit more. The 28-year-old crooner has been owning the airwaves and downloads for most of the last few years with smooth, listener-friendly tracks that get the ladies swooning. Why Mars? Well, the NFL had run through all the viable Middle-Aged White Classic Rockers (Springsteen, McCartney, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, etc.) and is now seeking "crossover" acts (Beyonce, The Black-Eyed Peas) that can keep an audience far beyond football hardcores attached to the TV at least through halftime. Mars sits in the center of the Venn Diagram of "popular," "easy on the eyes," and "safe for mass exposure."
2. Your backing band: Red Hot Chili Peppers. This is a bit of a surprise, given that the Chili Peppers have a reputation as one of the most hellraising, lock-up-your-daughters, party-till-dawn-or-arrested bands in rock history. But they cemented that reputation a long time ago; the band formed two years before Mars was born, and released their landmark album BloodSugarSexMagik when Mars was six years old. They're not exactly old men now, but they know how to play the game and keep their clothes on. (More on that later.)
3. Bruno Mars isn't being paid a dime. The NFL doesn't pay halftime show performers, although it does pick up the tab for expenses (stage, travel, accommodations, etc.) Why not? Exposure, baby. Bruno will be onstage for about 12 minutes. Considering that advertisers are paying $4 million for a 30-second spot, well ... you can do the math, right? The NFL figures that $96 million in publicity isn't a bad substitute for payment.
4. How long will the halftime show last? Normal NFL halftimes are 12 minutes. But the Super Bowl is roughly a half hour to allow for time to construct and deconstruct the stage, and also to allow the Fox Sports gang to bloviate on What This All Means For Peyton Manning's Legacy. We'd rather watch the construction.
5. The first celebrity performer to lead a halftime show was ... Early on, Super Bowl halftime shows were pretty much like high school halftime shows ... literally, in the case of Super Bowl I, which used the Anaheim High School marching band. The first "celebrity," and we're using that word generously, to lead a halftime show was Carol Channing in Super Bowl IV.
6. This is the ten-year anniversary of the Wardrobe Malfunction. Ten years ago, humanity was scarred to its very core by the sight of Janet Jackson's nipple for exactly 9/16ths of a second. Moral crusaders used the "wardrobe malfunction," as exposer Justin Timberlake termed it, as a justification to wage war on anything remotely controversial (i.e. interesting) in radio, television, music, movies, video games, and all other forms of popular media. (Read a great rundown of the entire affair here.) In related news, the Janet Jackson incident is partly responsible for the creation of YouTube.
7. The NFL's largest fine ever was leveled against a halftime show performer. During the Madonna halftime show two years ago, fellow singer M.I.A. flicked her middle finger at the camera. (So rebellious!) The FCC didn't bother with the incident, but the NFL, citing breach of contract, tried to fine M.I.A. $1.5 million for violating "the tremendous public respect and reputation for wholesomeness enjoyed by the NFL." Yes, really. Of note: according to ESPN, only 222 of the 114 million people who were watching the broadcast filed a complaint with the FCC. Also of note: the NFL's largest fine against a player was $100,000 against Detroit's Ndamukong Suh for an illegal block earlier this season.
8. Yes, you can bet on the halftime show. You can lay bets on whether any member of the Chili Peppers will take off his shirt ("No" is the favored bet there, according to Bovada) and whether the halftime show will be the largest ever ("No" also leads that line). First song? "Locked Out of Heaven" is the heavy favorite at 1-2.
9. Socks. You really should already know how socks relate to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you don't, be careful whose computer you search from. Considering the wintry temperatures, it's unlikely that the Peppers will be employing the socks-only outfit from their early days.
10. The 2015 Halftime Show entertainer will be ... The NFL waits until the summer, at least, to announce the next halftime show performer, but you can bet they're already starting to assess potential acts with sufficient audience-friendly mass appeal. You've got to figure Pearl Jam, Rihanna, Jay-Z, and P!nk are in the mix, and the NFL could make a nod to country with Kenny Chesney, who is to country music what Applebee's is to fine dining. Miley Cyrus or Eminem? Not so much. But how in the world Bon Jovi hasn't headlined a Super Bowl, especially a Jersey Super Bowl, is beyond us. Debate your choices at your own Super Bowl party.
Want to watch the Big Game ads? Check them out here: