Why Don’t Rock Bands Play the Super Bowl Halftime Show Anymore?
Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes was still a freshman in high school when the Who concluded their set with "Won't Get Fooled Again" in 2010 at Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. He's now attempting to claim his third Super Bowl crown, and there hasn't been a top-billed rock act since.
Ironically, rock basically ruled halftime celebrations as the 21st century dawned. Aerosmith kicked things off in 2001 in Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV. U2 took the stage a year later in New Orleans for Super Bowl XXXVI. Sting was a special guest at 2003's XXXVII halftime in San Diego.
Paul McCartney then kicked off six straight rock-focused halftime performances in 2005 at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. The Rolling Stones took over in 2006 at XL in Detroit, followed by Prince (2007's XLI in Miami), Tom Petty (2008's XLII in Miami), Bruce Springsteen (2009's XLIII in Tampa) and the Who.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers served as non-headlining guests at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 at East Rutherford, New Jersey, but then found themselves embroiled in controversy over whether they actually played their instruments. By then, Mahomes was finally set to leave high school for the NFL Draft. Super Bowl organizers have since turned to R&B, pop and hip-hop performers.
Could rock make a triumphant return? No rock star has ever repeated as a Super Bowl halftime performer, but plenty of worthy candidates remain. Among those who've never played are Guns N' Roses, Billy Joel, Foo Fighters, Elton John, Eagles, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi and Metallica.
Still, there are precious few stragglers who are big enough to command worldwide attention – and that's very much an issue for the NFL. These acts also have to spark internationally. As much as Americans love football, the Super Bowl is very big business elsewhere too. Nielsen reports hundreds of millions of viewers for these games, with more than 50 million coming from outside the U.S.
Watch Tom Petty's Halftime Performance
Why Metallica Won't Play the Super Bowl
One music industry executive confided to Billboard that "the NFL hasn't booked a country act recently because they don't think country plays internationally." This could also be holding back some rock acts who've never taken the Super Bowl stage.
Then there are groups like Metallica who simply aren't sure it's a good fit. "I can't dance, I can't jump around. I'm not an acrobat, I'm not a variety show, you know?" James Hetfield admitted on Nikki Sixx's radio program. "We are artists. We're a band. We love playing songs. We're not gonna fly through the air on a sparkly star with a unicorn."
Dee Snider seemed to come to the same conclusion in comments after the NFL announced Jennifer Lopez and Shakira as halftime performers in 2019. "Once again the great heavy music that rocks the stadiums week after week, game after game is completely ignored," Snider posted on social media. "I guess we don't shake our ass enough!"
The Evolution of the Halftime Show
Who Picks Super Bowl Halftime Performers?
So who decides? The NFL calls together a panel of experts, led by the league's director of entertainment, to discuss options. The show's producer and director, and members of the NFL's production team are also present. They develop a shortlist which is then submitted to organizers from the Super Bowl's host city. Local representatives make the final call.
That makes the 2016 bill for Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco particularly egregious. Despite being home to so many great rock acts, organizers instead chose Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars. Carlos Santana was among those who voiced his outrage.
"I do feel compelled to point out to you that the halftime show should have included some of the local iconic bands that the world would have loved to see perform," Santana said back then. "Bands like Metallica, Steve Miller, Journey and yours truly. We would have rocked the halftime show and done the San Francisco Bay Area proud. This is just an invitation for you to consider iconic bands as part of your halftime entertainment. Real live music, real live vocals, and give the audience real live chills."
Watch Prince's Halftime Performance
Jay-Z's Outsized Influence on Halftime Shows
That hasn't happened, and it might be thanks to Jay-Z. The rapper's Roc Nation entertainment company was brought on board in an advisory role with the league in 2019. Since then, halftime performers have included Lopez, the Weeknd, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Usher.
"I think that for a long time, and not just the NFL, but America in general looked at rap as this fad thing," Jay-Z told Business Insider. "It's the No. 1 genre in the world and has been that way. ... So I would love for these platforms [to become] more inclusive of our music."
In the meantime, some of rock's remaining acts may have simply aged out of the event – either physically or because their music isn't as resonant with newer generations.
"It's become less about music unfortunately and more about just the spectacle," Metallica's Hetfield said. "When we played for the 50th anniversary of the [Super Bowl] ... right here in our hometown, and they didn't have us do it – that would have been the time. Maybe that time has passed?"
Rock stars might also simply be refusing to pony up. The NFL is famously stingy with pay for Super Bowl performers, and the production budgets are so small that some recent acts have spent millions of their own dollars to create a suitable performance space.
How Come These 10 Rock Artists Have Never Played the Super Bowl?
Gallery Credit: Corey Irwin
Why the Who's Drummer Invited Fans to Moon Him