ControversyMusic History

When was the last time the Super Bowl halftime show featured a rock band?

When Usher begins his halftime performance at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas Sunday night, it will mark eight years since a vaguely rock-ish band got to play. Not since Coldplay in 2016 was there even a hint of rock–and even then, they were joined by Bruno Mars, Beyonce, and March Ronson. The last pure rock halftime performance was by The Who in 2010.

There was a period when rock ruled.

  • 1997: ZZ Top (part of The Blues Brothers Bash)
  • 2000: Phil Collins (although he was joined by Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton)
  • 2001: Aerosmith (although they had to share the spotlight with NSYNC)
  • 2002: U2
  • 2003: No Doubt (and Shania Twain)
  • 2005: Paul McCartney
  • 2006: Rolling Stones
  • 2007: Prince (who really rocked; this might be the best performance of all time)
  • 2008: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
  • 2009: Brice Springsteen and The E Street Band
  • 2010: The Who
  • 2014: The Red Hot Chili Peppers (a non-headliner appearance with Bruno Mars)
  • 2015: Lenny Kravitz (part of a non-headliner appearance behind Katy Perry)

But for the last decade-and-a-half, it’s all about been pop (Black Eyed Peas, Madonna, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, the awful Maroon 5, Shakira/Jennifer Lopez, The Weeknd, Rihanna, and now Usher).

So why no more rock headliners? It’s kinda weird that throughout the season, stadiums thunder with rock music. But the Super Bowl? Nope. Two things to consider.

  1. The NFL knows that a substantial number of viewers (maybe as much as 50 million) are outside the United States. They want as much mainstream appeal as possible and music that travels internationally.
  2. Jay Z’s Roc Nation has a partnership with the NFL to provide the halftime entertainment. That company has its own relationships and stable of acts.

A couple of thoughts from me:

  • For 2024, why not The Killers or Imagine Dragons? Both are hometown Las Vegas super acts.
  • The Foo Fighters have played Super Bowl festival gigs. Isn’t it time they graduated to the halftime show?
  • No consideration for Billy Joel? Or does he appeal to a demographic that’s too old?
  • Guns N’ Roses? Why not? Same with Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi, and The Eagles.
  • I can’t believe Elton John was never asked.
  • Metallica? It could work, but the band doesn’t think they’d be good fit.
  • The mayor of Las Vegas went on record saying that he’d have picked AC/DC. That would have been awesome.
  • And then there’s Green Day. They already warmed up with their Grey Cup appearance.
  • Meanwhile, it’s not just rock. Notice how many country acts have been booked over the last 20 years. I guess the NFL doesn’t believe that country works for international viewers.

This video might be instructive. Once you’re done, take a look at this year’s Super Bowl commercials.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37808 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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