Thursday 21 June 2018

From Nipplegate to Sharkgate - the Super Bowl's top half-time bloopers

As Justin Timberlake prepares to headline America's greatest sporting event 14 years on from Nipplegate, Ed Power looks back on the most controversial performances

Nip-rip: Justin Timberlake just before he exposed Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl half-time show in 2004. Photo: Getty Images
Nip-rip: Justin Timberlake just before he exposed Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl half-time show in 2004. Photo: Getty Images
Ed Power

Ed Power

Justin Timberlake will return to the scene of one of the biggest controversies in the television and sporting annals on Sunday. The singer's half-time Super Bowl performance comes 14 years after 'Nipplegate' - his duet with Janet Jackson that culminated in history's first designated wardrobe malfunction as Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson's costume and revealed, for literally a split second, her right breast.

The incident caused a deafening furore, arguably fatally damaged Jackson's career and saw CBS slapped with a record $550,000 fine. It also led to the creation of YouTube, with company co-founder Jawid Karim concluding humanity required a video-sharing service when he was unable to find online footage of the nipple-related controversy. In a tiny but profound way, the world was never the same again.

A repeat is unlikely in Minneapolis on Sunday as Timberlake will perform alone. "To be honest, it wasn't too much of a conversation," he told Zane Lowe. "It's just one of those things where you go: 'Yeah what do you want me to say? We're not going to do that again.'"

As the world looks forward to Sunday's show, we take a look at the biggest Super Bowl half-time controversies...

1. An Elvis impersonator performs a card trick (1989)

Nothing says American football like an unconvincing Elvis impersonator demonstrating his sleight of hand skills surrounded by dancers dressed as playing cards (obviously). "Was the king of hearts the card you chose? Only Mr Presto knows," crooned king for a day 'Elvis Presto' while the world watched on in horror. 3D glasses had been distributed to hundreds of thousands of American viewers - but the technology reportedly failed to work, presumably making an already disturbing performance even more distressing.

2. New Kids On The Block go soppy (1991)

Audiences were spared the worst of this early 90s cringe-fest as American networks cut away to breaking news about the Gulf War. They missed seeing NKOTB paired with a children's choir terrifyingly daubed with glitter and forced to dance like Munchkins. The cringe was strong in this one.

3. Tony Bennett sings along to Indiana Jones (1995)

In a brass-necked plug, Disney tried to hype its new Indiana Jones theme-park by re-staging Raiders Of The Lost Ark, while crooner Tony Bennett did his bit from atop a flight of stairs. Peak Super Bowl bonkers-dom had been achieved.

4. Nipplegate stops the world (2004)

It seemed like a fantastic idea. Timberlake had done well mugging along with Aerosmith at the 2001 Super Bowl (as part of NSYNC). Jackson was the first lady of chart-busting R&B. Put them together and ratings magic would surely ensue. Without question, CBS got the eye-balls it had wished for. But it could have done without a backlash that included lawsuits, a broadcasting watchdog clampdown and the downward spiral of Jackson's career.

5. Prince behaves like a knob (2007)

Never one to resist a single entendre, Prince ensured his Super Bowl turn was memorable by performing with a very pointy guitar casting a suggestive shadow upon a billowing curtain. He'd earned his right to be outrageous as the 'symbol' shape stage upon which he sang and played had been buffeted by a downpour.

6. Fergie leaves GNR DOA (2011)

A Guns N' Roses reunion was still years away when guitarist Slash took to the Super Bowl stage for a collaboration with Black Eyed Peas' singer Fergie. She proceeded to shriek, screech and over-emote her way through 'Sweet Child O' Mine' whilst wiggling suggestively. Those watching wondered if what they'd witnessed was real or a hallucination induced by too many tacos.

Prince performs at half time during Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida, February 2007.
Prince performs at half time during Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida, February 2007.

7. MIA gets the finger out (2012)

A one-woman controversy generator, London-Tamil singer MIA made the most of her cameo during what was supposed to be Madonna's big Super Bowl moment. Glaring at the camera, she flipped the bird with a jutting finger. The NFL sued her for $16 million, with the warring parties reaching a confidential settlement.

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers fail to sizzle (2014)

In the moment, the 90s funkateers appeared to be playing their hearts out. But vigilant viewers noted that the musicians' instruments were not actually plugged in. Bassist Flea explained that the NFL didn't want to risk the performance being ruined by a literal bum note and so insisted on pre-recorded music.

9. Katy Perry is upstaged by a wayward shark (2015)

Super Bowl viewers were introduced to the joy of improvised dance as one of the hoofing sharks accompanying Perry's beach-themed performance went rogue and started making up moves on the fly.

10. Beyonce's dancers get in 'Formation' (2016)

Queen Bey was, in theory at least, at the Super Bowl as a guest of Bruno Mars. But she soon bent the event to her will with a powerful Black Panthers-inspired martial routine.

The divisive response said as much about America's ever-widening racial chasm as about Beyonce's actual performance.

Irish Independent

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