Super Bowl halftime shows don’t flop like they used to

Whether you’re digging or dreading the prospect of seeing Jennifer Lopez and Shakira on Sunday, remember the midgame spectacles have a history of bombing bigtime.

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Janet Jackson covers herself after the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the hands of Justin Timberlake during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in 2004.

Janet Jackson covers herself after the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the hands of Justin Timberlake during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in 2004.

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They command the field at halftime of the Super Bowl, bursting with excitement, thrilled at the chance to shine in front of a stadium crowd and a home viewing audience of 100 million.

They are …

THE WILDLY OVERACTING FANS SURROUNDING THE HALFTIME STAGE.

They bounce up and down as if they’ve just won the lottery. Sometimes, they wave glow-in-the-dark props. They cheer wildly, leaving no doubt this is the greatest entertainment experience ever.

Then, they either go to work helping to dismantle the stage and carry off equipment, or they exit the premises immediately.

They do not pass Go. They do not collect $200 or even a single buck. Nor are they allowed to watch the game. They do it all for free.

In the grand tradition of Tom Sawyer getting kids to help him whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence, the Super Bowl production team takes applications for unpaid “Field Team Members” who will be “assisting with moving and assembling the … halftime show stage” and be part of that on-field fan club.

Fan volunteers cheer on Bruce Springsteen during his 2009 Super Bowl performance.

Fan volunteers cheer on Bruce Springsteen during his 2009 Super Bowl performance.

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Their schedule includes an orientation and at least one rehearsal ahead of game day.

As the application explains, “the field team position will require you to push, pull, bend and lift up to 50 pounds of weight. … You are aware that being part of the field team does not allow you to watch the Super Bowl.”

What a deal!

Ah, but why not. If you’re young and energetic and have the time, you can see a mini-performance by Lady Gaga or Katy Perry without having to fork over hundreds for a ticket.

(The performers don’t get paid, either. They do it for the promotion and publicity.)

This year, the super-charged fans will be rhapsodically grooving on Sunday to the performances of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, who no doubt will look amazing and dance with great energy while fronting Las Vegas-worthy, visually spectacular numbers.

You actually can place wagers on the Super Bowl LIV halftime show: You can bet on which Jennifer Lopez songs will be sung first. The odds for “On the Floor” are 4-to-1. “Love Don’t Cost a Thing?” That’s 12-to-1. And if you bet $100 on “I’m Gonna Be Alright” as J. Lo’s first number and it comes through, you’d get $1,800.

Here’s a sure thing: Before J. Lo and Shakira are halfway through, half the Twitterverse will be singing their praises and calling this the best Super Bowl halftime show ever, while the other half will be calling it a career-killing bomb from which they’ll never recover.

Prince performs in a downpour at Super Bowl XLI.

The truth will be in between. With rare highs (Prince performing “Purple Rain” in the rain at Super Bowl XLI in Miami Gardens) and lows (hello, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake), modern-era Super Bowl halftime shows usually are quickly lost to pop culture history and rarely change our opinions of the acts.

Most lists of the best and worst Super Bowl halftime shows ignore the first 20 or so years, when college marching bands, old-timey showbiz types and the pep-pop act Up With People were go-to acts.

One year, George Burns and Mickey Rooney were part of the festivities. Another time, big-band singer Helen O’Connell took centerstage.

In 1989, NBC and Coca-Cola asked viewers to pick up a pair of 3-D glasses in advance of an “interactive” spectacle involving an Elvis impersonator/magician, “Elvis Presto,” in a gold lame outfit who did a horrendous job of lip-syncing a medley of 1950s hits before performing “The Biggest Ever Card Trick” in a show titled “Bebop Bam Boozled.”

It was even worse than it sounds.

(Sensing the impending Titanic, a young Bob Costas didn’t bother to hide his trepidation in his recorded introduction. “It’s almost too exciting to bear, isn’t it?” he said.)

Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle teamed for an Indiana Jones-themed halftime show in 1995.

Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle teamed for an Indiana Jones-themed halftime show in 1995.

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As recently as 1995, the halftime show still leaned on kitschy spectacle. To promote its Indiana Jones theme-park ride, Disney orchestrated an adventure extravaganza with Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett lip-syncing as a Harrison Ford knockoff costumed as Indy tried to steal a cheap-looking Lombardi trophy replica from a temple.

Compared to those often underwhelming, sometimes anachronistic, occasionally horrifying early halftime shows, even the least of the modern-day shows (the Timberlake/Jackson debacle, The Who phoning it in) seem like Rock & Roll Hall of Fame moments.

Beyonce sings during the 2013 Super Bowl halftime show in New Orleans.

Beyonce sings during the 2013 Super Bowl halftime show in New Orleans.

Getty Images

Once in a while, the halftime show is truly electric, as when Prince performed “Purple Rain” and “All Along the Watchtower” in 2007. Or when Bruce Springsteen made it clear this wasn’t a show; this is a CONCERT in 2009. Or when Beyonce commanded every moment in 2013.

Or, in 2002, four months after 9/11, when U2 — a great Irish band that loves this great country — performed “Where the Streets Have No Name” before a backdrop scrolling the names of the victims.

For the fans crowding the stage that year, the experience had to have been absolutely priceless.

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