The Syracuse University Department of Drama begins the 2023/24 season with “Guys and Dolls,” directed by Banji Aborisade, reviving the classic musical–with a twist. Performances will be held Oct. 6-15 in the Storch Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex,…
Forget the Big Game … Let’s Talk Halftime Show!
There are those who watch the Super Bowl for the football game. There are those who watch the Super Bowl for the ads. And then, there are those that watch the Super Bowl for the halftime show.
Michelle Santosuosso, a professor of practice in the Newhouse School’s Bandier Program for Recording and Entertainment Industries, falls firmly in the third category. As a seasoned music industry veteran and faculty member who teaches courses in music business fundamentals, including publishing, artist management and live touring entertainment, we sought Santosuosso’s input on the most coveted live performance of the year and what she’s looking forward to about this year’s lineup of hip-hop legends.
01What is the cultural significance of the halftime show and how has it evolved over time?
“For 25 years, since the first Super Bowl in 1967 up until the 1990s, the halftime show featured marching bands, drill teams and jazzy tribute groups like Up With People. The transition to pop stars began in 1991 with New Kids on the Block, but it wasn’t until two years later in 1993 when the biggest star in the world—Michael Jackson—took the stage for an electrifying performance. The ’93 show broke all ratings records and single-handedly turned the halftime show into the must-see pop culture extravaganza it is today.”
02How are the halftime show acts determined each year and how do they prepare?
“They are booked a year or more in advance, and the preparation for these shows is intense. It requires thousands of people to execute, from staff to production to show cast and the star. There are always a few supporting performers to coordinate with onstage to pull this off, as well. Rehearsals last for months.”
03The show is usually as much about showmanship as it is musical talent—what are some of the most memorable performances you've seen over the years?
“It’s absolutely about showmanship! Prince playing in the pouring rain while singing ‘Purple Rain’ in 2007, Beyoncé in 2016—she completely stole the whole show from the headliners, Coldplay, and created something truly significant with her homage to Black empowerment. Plus, last year’s highly unique performance from The Weeknd, who had to make full use of a stadium that was three quarters empty.”
04What can we anticipate out of this year's show featuring hip-hop legends Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar? How is the 2022 halftime show groundbreaking in terms of genre?
“Since I’m from Los Angeles and have a history with many of these artists from working in L.A. radio, I cannot wait for this show. I know it will be one of a kind—and the cultural significance is huge. It will be the first time the NFL’s musical headliners will be from hip-hop culture, one of the highest and most successful forms of Black art, and through each artist’s unique place in the culture, the show will celebrate and highlight the full spectrum of hip-hop’s impact across genre, racial, social and global spheres. Each of these artists is a dynamic and exciting live performer—I bet it’s going to break the internet!”
05Bonus! Halftime Show Trivia
On Feb. 9, Santosuosso and the Newhouse School presented the “Rock the Show!” webinar, covering the history and legacy of the halftime show and brimming with Santosuosso’s music-industry-insider knowledge. Some of the insights shared include:
- The crew working on the halftime show has only six minutes to build the stage on center field and get all of the performers’ equipment connected—something that would typically take a crew an entire day (18-19 hours) to do.
- The show is always 14 minutes long, just under one quarter of an hour, based on the maximum length of time network television runs between commercial breaks.
- In 2021, due to the pandemic, the crew of staff, performers and production professionals for The Weeknd’s show was cut from the typical 3,000 individuals to around 1,000 (with dozens of back-up professionals on standby in case there was an infection).
- While the main vocals are always live, many of the performers’ background vocals and backing instrumentals are pre-recorded to help ensure a flawless live performance. Exceptions have included the Rolling Stones refusing to use backing tracks in 2006, Prince playing live guitar (in the rain!) in 2007, and Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band using live guitar and saxophone for their 2009 performance.
- To deliver the perfect halftime show in February, preparation for the production starts in June and the performers undergo physically rigorous training and rehearsals leading up to the event. The NFL does not pay halftime show performers an appearance fee—but with access to an audience of 100 milllion+ watching at home, the exposure and platform itself are worth far more than a performance fee.