On Super Bowl Sunday, your halftime enjoyment will rest entirely on the shoulders of noted Man of the Woods Justin Timberlake. This, to say the least, is not exactly ideal. Timberlake’s new music so far has been mediocre, and worse, the artistic direction has been unspeakably confounding. WHERE ARE ALL THE WOODS WE WERE PROMISED?! Plus, the last time Justin Timberlake was involved in a halftime show, well, you know what happened.
So of course, many here at The Ringer have been arguing that we could come up with a better Super Bowl halftime show — nay, the best Super Bowl halftime show. To that end, we created a little game to put our money where our mouths are. Here’s how it works: You get $50 to spend on performers, guest stars, special effects, viral moments, and more, all in an effort to produce the greatest halftime show in Super Bowl history. It’s quite simple, and the possibilities are endless.
Below are the budgetary rules, followed by the Ringer staff’s best attempts at inventing an iconic spectacle.
Performers (Must Pick at Least One)
Extremely Famous Pop Star ($12)
A Transcendent Talent ($10)
Reunion of a Beloved but Old Band ($8)
A Nonsensical Pairing of Two or More Popular, but Not Extremely Famous, Acts ($6)
A Country Singer ($5)
Group That Has Been Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [ex. The Who] ($5)
98 Degrees (Free)
Guest Appearance (Must Pick at Least One)
Popular Musician From a Totally Different Genre ($10)
Popular Musician From a Totally Different Era ($8)
Nonmusical Cameo ($5)
YouTube/Internet Star ($3)
Cameo From a Satellite Location ($2)
College Marching Band ($1)
Special Effects (Must Pick at Least One)
Holograms of Famous Dead People ($10)
Miscellaneous Holograms ($8)
Performer “Flies” Down to or Above the Stage ($8)
Weather Effects ($5)
Viral Moment (Must Pick at Least One)
Performance Causes Power Loss ($15)
An FCC Nightmare ($12)
Something Dangerous Related to Special Effects ($10)
Performer Falls Down or Otherwise Briefly Loses Control ($10)
A Backup Dancer’s 15 Minutes of Fame ($8)
Blatant Lip-synching ($5)
A Funny Crowd Shot ($2)
Something Heartwarming ($1)
The Future ($7)
Climate Change ($5)
Mardi Gras ($5)
Whatever the Theme of This Year’s Met Gala Is ($5)
Based on a Random Movie or Movie Series ($4)
A Tribute to Another Decade ($3)
A Tribute to Another Industry ($3)
A Tribute to One of the Four Seasons ($3)
Nations of the World ($2)
The U.S. of Freakin’ A ($1)
Audience Participation (Optional)
The Audience Runs on the Field ($5)
The Audience Forms a “Cool” Shape ($4)
The Audience Holds Up Signs With “Important Messages” ($2)
Performer Crowd-surfs ($2)
Over-the-Top Sponsorship Placement (plus-$5)
Zoo Animals ($5)
Farm Animals ($2)
The Greatest Halftime Show
Miles Surrey: Ladies and gents, this is the halftime show you’ve waited for. The Greatest Showman is such a box office phenomenon — no, but really, it is, and I’m actually convinced a cult is growing — that the cast deserves to perform during the most watched television event of the year. That’s right: the sanitized version of P.T. Barnum, a.k.a. Hugh Jackman, jumping from the roof Lady Gaga–style, Zendaya’s trapeze stunt double, Zac Efron shirtless, and lions jumping through hoops of fire, because this is a circus. Don’t worry, it’s totally safe.
Technically, this all amounts to preposterous Greatest Showman advertising to grow the Cult of Barnum, but it’s the most wholesome cult imaginable. Once Jackman crowd-surfs at the crescendo of “Come Alive,” you’ll finally know: This really is the greatest show.
Performer: Hugh Jackman ($10)
Guest Appearance(s): Zendaya’s stunt double ($3) and Zac Efron ($5)
Special Effects: Performer “flies” down to the stage ($8), pyrotechnics ($3)
Viral Moment: All of it, which is heartwarming ($1)
Audience Participation: Jackman crowd-surfs ($2)
Miscellany: Sponsored by The Greatest Showman (plus-$5) and zoo animals ($5)
Party Like It’s 2001
Kate Knibbs: I have a pretty good imagination, but even I know not to mess with perfection when it already exists. Why chase the perfect Super Bowl halftime show when the perfect Super Bowl halftime show already happened, in The Year of Our Petty Lord 2001? I will reunite the all-star roster from that year, including the sock Britney Spears wore on her arm. (Especially the sock Britney Spears wore on her arm.) The only change I will make is to replace Nelly with Nelly Furtado — because of recent news, we are in need of a Nelly upgrade.
Performers: Britney Spears and Aerosmith ($6)
Guest Appearances: Mary J. Blige ($10), ’NSync ($10), and Nelly Furtado ($10)
Special Effects: Glittery fire out of JT’s hands ($3)
Viral Moment: Britney Spears’s sock-arm ($1)
24K Ghosts (and Magic)
Andrew Gruttadaro: For the Motorola Razr-ific Halftime Show — a mind-blowing tribute to the past, the future, and magic — Bruno Mars is joined onstage by holograms of the dead musicians whose music he’s imitated. A Prince hologram rips a sick solo during “Uptown Funk”; Michael Jackson and Bruno have a dance-off in the middle of “Treasure”; Hologram Tupac freestyles a verse during an extended intro to “24K Magic”; hologram George Clinton is there, too — which seems weird to everyone, because George Clinton is very much still alive. The medley closes out with an appearance from Cardi B, as she and Bruno re-create their Grammys performance of “Finesse,” right down to the moonwalk part:
Imagine how good that’ll look with Hologram Michael Jackson participating.
Everything about the performance is going perfectly — until the viral moment, when the holograms begin to turn on Bruno Mars and accuse him of appropriation. As the ghosts of music’s past chase Bruno off the stage, Al Michaels assures viewers that holograms, to his knowledge, cannot cause bodily harm to humans. All in all, it’s an extremely successful, entertaining halftime show.
Performer: Bruno Mars ($12)
Guest Appearance: Cardi B ($10)
Special Effects: Holograms of famous dead people ($10)
Viral Moment: Rogue, potentially murderous holograms ($10)
Theme(s): The future ($7) and (24K) magic ($2)
Miscellany: Sponsored by Motorola (plus-$5)
This Is Earth
Alyssa Bereznak: It’s hard to get people to care enough about climate change — making it the theme of the Super Bowl halftime show would be a great opportunity to raise awareness in the most dramatic way possible. I envision it as a tale of Earth’s destruction and (partial) recovery in three acts. Act I: A giant Earth lowers from the sky onto the stage. The moment it lands, everyone’s third-favorite aughts boy band, 98 Degrees, dressed in leather vests, bursts from a trapdoor and sings “Heat It Up.” There are sexy backup singers who mouth the “I’m down” parts, and as Nick Lachey starts to grind his hips a little, pyrotechnics start shooting from the stage. But here’s the twist: Earth begins to catch on fire (in a safe, theater-friendly way). The members of 98 Degrees feign panic, and for a brief moment, people think that something has gone terribly wrong. But just as the world really starts to burn, we enter Act II. The first few notes of “We Be Burnin’” begin to play, and Sean Paul appears from the center of the Earth in a flame-retardant suit. The whole gang joins in with some choreographed moves as Earth blazes behind them, but each time the chorus returns, they sing it with a little more desperation. Just as panic sets in again, the sound of thunder booms from the sky, lightning strikes, and rain begins to fall. To kick off Act III, 98 Degrees begins to sing “Because of You” (“You’re my sunshine after the rain”) as the fire is extinguished. Slowly, there’s a visual rebirth of our planet. Its green patches return. Goats and cows and sheep are herded out to surround the performance. The internet spots one goat with notable facial hair and it becomes a viral sensation. Finally, Sean Paul joins in to close out the show with “I Do (Cherish You).” Audience members behind the stage hold up giant signs that say “CHERISH MOTHER EARTH,” and a young boy is caught on camera with a single tear streaming down his face. After all that, you’re still left with $6, which can hopefully go toward recycling all those elaborate stage props. I’m not saying people will like the performance, or even understand it, but they’ll definitely remember it.
Performer: 98 Degrees (free)
Guest Appearance: Sean Paul ($10)
Special Effects: A giant Earth lowers onto the stage ($8), pyrotechnics ($3), and fake rain ($5)
Viral Moments: A background goat becomes famous for 15 minutes ($8), and a crowd shot of a crying child ($1)
Theme: Climate change ($5)
Audience Participation: The audience holds up signs with “important messages” ($2)
Miscellany: Farm animals ($2)
Lindsay Zoladz: Fleetwood Mac have never played the Super Bowl halftime show, which is an outrage. Everybody loves Fleetwood Mac! Do you know anyone who doesn’t like Fleetwood Mac? If so, pick up the phone right now, call that person, and tell them they are no longer a part of your life, because they cannot be trusted.
Fleetwood Mac are a great bargain in this scenario, because they’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which means I spend only $5 on my headliner. Naturally, that leaves me $20 for a surprise guest appearance from … BEYONCÉ. Can you imagine Stevie Nicks and Beyoncé doing a duet of “Dreams,” and when they sing, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining,” actual thunder and rain happen, because I just used $5 to buy weather effects? I just got chills. Stevie will send meaningful death stares in the direction of Lindsey Buckingham all night, and at one point he’ll mutter, “Fuck you, Stevie,” into a mic he doesn’t realize is on — what a romantic FCC nightmare! (Guys, Stevie and Lindsey are totally still in love.) I’ve got some change to spare, so let’s make the theme MAGIC, since Stevie Nicks is the only living person who makes magic seem cool. The audience will run onto the field during the finale, “Go Your Own Way,” and with an exaggerated wave of her shawl Stevie will make them all disappear. People will think that Pepsi planned this and are keeping them hydrated in the basement of the stadium or something but nobody will actually know where they went, until like three days go by and Stevie Nicks just laughs and with a sigh makes the audience reappear. Best Super Bowl Halftime ever.
Performer: Fleetwood Mac ($5)
Guest Appearance: Beyoncé ($20)
Special Effects: Fake thunder ($5)
Viral Moment: Lindsey Buckingham says “fuck” ($12)
Theme: Magic ($2)
Audience Participation: The audience runs onto the field, and also disappears ($2)
Miscellany: Sponsored by Pepsi (plus-$5)
Push the Halftime Show to the Edge
Jordan Coley: As much as I’m dying to see how Justin Timberlake plans to ManoftheWoodsify the 50-yard line in Minnesota, I think there are far more interesting options out there for this year’s Super Bowl halftime performance. I, for one, am partial to the classic “Nonsensical Pairing of Two or More Popular, but Not Extremely Famous, Acts.” For example, what if we had Lil Uzi Vert and Metallica? It sounds far-fetched, I know, but frankly I think the collective pop-culture consciousness has been headed in this direction for some time now. Metallica, believe it or not, are still selling out venues across the globe. Their fiery, head-banging brand of metal would be a welcome jolt after years of soft performances from Bruno Mars, Coldplay, and Katy Perry. For his part, Uzi has expressed an interest in working with rock stars and showed up to the Grammys this past Sunday looking like a guy you’d find vaping outside a Goth rave. It’s a match made in the underworld.
Also, Flea will be there. I don’t care if he even plays anything; he just will.
As far as production goes, Metallica will, of course, open the performance with an earth-shaking rendition of “Enter Sandman.” As they thrash their way through the second chorus, Uzi will descend from the sky in a harness dressed as a winged baphomet. From there, they will transition smoothly into a metal version of “XO Tour Llif3” as flames shoot into the sky. Uzi will bounce and shimmy across the stage, and as he screams, “Push me to the edge,” the weight of the wings on his baphomet costume will tip his balance and send him plummeting into the crowd. After a brief moment of distorting and muffled sound, he’ll be pushed back onstage by security. At this point, the crowd surrounding the stage will have already gotten into formation, and as Metallica, Uzi, and Flea close things out, they’ll raise the flashlights on their phones to reveal they’ve formed a pentagram.
Performers: Metallica and Lil Uzi Vert ($6)
Guest Appearance: Flea ($10)
Special Effects: Lil Uzi Vert descends from the sky ($8), and pyrotechnics ($3)
Viral Moment: Lil Uzi Vert falls into the crowd ($10)
Audience Participation: Crowd engages in Satanic ritual ($4)
Squashing Beef With 98 Degrees (Kind Of)
Daniel Chin: The headlining performer of the greatest halftime show would be … 98 Degrees. Just wait, hear me out.
To kick off the performance, 98 Degrees is going to lead with one of their all-time bangers, “I Do.” About halfway through “The Hardest Thing,” the performance will be so bad and universally distressing for the crowd that the whole stadium will mysteriously lose power. (And just like Super Bowl XLVII, Ray Lewis will say this was no accident.) After minutes of panic and uncertainty, the stadium’s overhead lights return — but 98 Degrees will have gone missing.
After a flash of lightning strikes the stage, smoke rises out from underneath the surface, and as the haze clears, the hologram of Tupac shall emerge. After playing a few hits, Tupac will be joined onstage by one of his greatest disciples, Kendrick Lamar. The two West Coast greats unsurprisingly put on a magical performance, but here’s where it really gets good: As Kendrick walks off stage, a burst of fire explodes from the ground and the hologram of the Notorious B.I.G. appears.
Biggie stares down Pac and begins rapping “Who Shot Ya” before the track cuts to Tupac’s “Hit ’Em Up.” The two fiercely go head-to-head, trading verses from their most cutting dis tracks. The battle will be cut short, the two will hologram-embrace, and they’ll turn to the crowd for a very tasteful mashup of “Juicy” and “Changes.” Hip-hop’s greatest beef will be squashed before our eyes, peace and harmony will be restored to the world, and everyone will forget we were all here for a football game. 98 Degrees, meanwhile, will never be heard from again.
Performer: 98 Degrees (Free)
Guest Appearance: Kendrick Lamar ($10)
Special Effects: Fake lightning ($5), holograms of famous dead people ($10), and pyrotechnics ($3)
Viral Moment: Performance causes power loss ($15)
Drumline + Planet Earth + Monopoly Busting
Danny Heifetz: A live concert is the last thing I want to watch on television. Let’s make this a show. I’m gonna need some zoo animals, two marching bands (preferably with a history of bad blood), a lot of fireworks, and 98 Degrees to do that “bad-uh-chhhh” sound drummers do when someone tells a joke. When that’s all set, I need three holograms — one of the late infomercial megastar Billy Mays, one of Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter, and one of the 23rd president of the United States, Benjamin Harrison.
The marching bands will compete to earn Billy Mays’s favor (obviously) in a full-contact competition in which the winning squad will get a lifetime supply of OxiClean. Hippos, capybaras, and crocodiles will be scattered around the playing field, and Steve will be there to wrangle them off before the second half begins. Complicating his goal to keep everyone safe is that the hippos will eat the crocodiles, the crocodiles will eat the capybaras, and the capybaras will eat the grass, which could render the field unplayable for the second half (you need to have stakes or you lose the audience). While all of that is going on, Benjamin Harrison will be giving a speech — explaining why he signed the Sherman Antitrust Act into law in 1890 — sponsored by Yahoo, Myspace, and Radioshack (shameless advertising, $5; monopoly busting, priceless). Best of all, you still have $25 left over for Benjamin Harrison to crowd-surf 12 times. That’s what I call appointment television.
Performer: 98 Degrees (free)
Guest Appearance: Two marching bands ($2)
Special Effects: Holograms of famous dead people ($10), fireworks ($3)
Viral Moment: An animal massacre ($10)
Audience Participation: Benjamin Harrison crowd-surfs 12 times ($24)
Miscellany: Sponsored by Yahoo, Myspace, and Radioshack (plus-$5), zoo animals ($5)
What’s Better Than One Billionaire? Two.
Shea Serrano: It feels a lot like you all are making this way harder than it needs to be. Based on the requirements and options, here’s what you do — actually, first let me ask you a question: Who is the greatest Super Bowl performer of all time? The answer is easy because you don’t even need two names because she goes by only one: Beyoncé. No question, no doubt about it, no arguing — she is the greatest Super Bowl performer ever. She’s famous enough that she doesn’t get dwarfed by the philosophical or literal bigness of the stadium. She’s smart enough to know that a good live show needs several different levels. And she’s stylish enough that everything she does is always at least 200 percent cool. She’s the only person on earth who checks off each of those categories.
So what you do is you take $20 of your $50 and you secure Beyoncé as your main performer. Then, for your guest performer, you take another $20 and secure Beyoncé as the surprise guest performer, because the only thing better than a Beyoncé performance is a Beyoncé performance featuring Beyoncé. (Can you even imagine how fucking nuts everyone would go if, as Beyoncé posed onstage, a door in the floor opened up AND ANOTHER BEYONCÉ CAME UP OUT OF THE GROUND?!) That leaves you $10 left and two categories still to fill (Special Effects and Viral Moment), so take $3 and get you some pyrotechnics (Beyoncé is a top-tier flames performer), and then take $1 and get you something heartwarming (I’d vote to have both Beyoncés end the performance by having them kneel as a giant American flag sways in the wind behind them). You just bought yourself the most memorable, most transcendent Super Bowl performance ever, and you still have $6 left over to get you some lunch.
Performer: Beyoncé ($20)
Guest Appearance: Beyoncé ($20)
Special Effects: Pyrotechnics ($3)
Viral Moment: Both Beyoncés kneel in front of an American flag ($1)
The Real State of the Union
Michael Baumann: Let me take you back 20 years to the Academy Awards, and the live performances of two of the nominees for Best Original Song. You all remember Celine Dion belting out “My Heart Will Go On” in front of an orchestra and a fog machine, pounding her chest while wearing the Heart of the Ocean.
What you might not remember is Elliott Smith going on immediately beforehand, timidly plinking out “Miss Misery” on an acoustic guitar, looking terrified and like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world.
The Super Bowl halftime show, like the game itself, is supposed to be a triumphalist celebration of Americana. But tell me, at this moment: Do we feel particularly triumphalist? Are we a nation of Celine Dions or are we — no disrespect to Celine, who is a goddess — a nation of Elliott Smiths, mumbling into our microphones to the point where they had to crank the gain up so we could even be heard?
I submit to you that we’re the latter, and since Elliott Smith himself is no longer with us, the next best thing to do is bring out the National and weep collectively for 16 minutes. The set list: “Fake Empire” into “Slipped,” at which point, because the list of options demands a surprise guest performer, First Aid Kit appears and the Soderberg sisters weave a heartbreaking set of harmonies onto a National classic. And if we’re interrogating the state of our republic, what better song to use than First Aid Kit’s beautiful cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” at which we return to the National to close with “Mr. November.” (At this point, it will be relentlessly pouring rain, adding symbolism while also ruining the playing field.)
“Mr. November” is doing a lot of work here, since it’s National frontman Matt Berninger’s opportunity to do what he does at every live show: get falling-down drunk on white wine, crowd-surf, and attempt to climb the stage. It also — because the chorus uses the word “fuck” about 15 times — serves as an opportunity to give the FCC a headache.
Listen, I know y’all want Beyoncé. But we’re not really at a point where we deserve Beyoncé, so we get to wallow instead. God bless America.
Performer: The National ($10)
Guest Appearance: First Aid Kit ($8)
Special Effects: A rain storm ($5)
Viral Moment: Matt Berninger says “fuck” a lot ($12)
Theme: Democracy ($5)
Audience Participation: Matt Berninger crowd-surfs ($2)
Now it’s your turn: Send us your idea for the Best Super Bowl Halftime Show Ever on Twitter.