Sunday, February 05, 2012

Was Madonna the Most Washed-Up Super Bowl Halftimer Ever? Not even close.

How washed up is Madonna? Pretty washed up. Her last true hit was 2005's Hung Up, and even then she was well down the "Hey, didn't you used to be Madonna?!"-slope of her arc.  But though its easy and fun to make fun of Madonna, as a Super Bowl act, she was almost cutting edge.  Compared to essentially all her fellow Super Bowl highlighters, she might as well have been Adelle (#1 hit in the country this week), David Guetta (#1 hyper-DJ on earth) or Hansel (as always, so hot right now). 

I hadn't realized how bad - ie, Old - the track record was for the Super Bowl halftime until I got to wondering if Madonna was the most geriatric act they'd ever had, at least in the Modern Halftime Era (the "Modern Era", btw, started in 1991, the year after the last time the featured act was a college marching band).

But how do you measure washed-up?  We think we know it when we see it (Flavor Flav - yes; Beastie Boys - No), but do we ?  (Dave Matthews - hmmmm...)

Could a contrived statistic help?  Does it ever not?

Here's a look at the last 13 Super Bowl acts, with two vital numbers: At the time of their Super Bowl show, how many years it had been since
  • Their first hit
  • Their last hit
(Let's call a "hit" anything that hits the Billboard top 10, or an otherwise iconic song).

By that measure, Madonna - with at least one hit in the 10 years prior to going on stage last night - is wildly, scorchingly hip compared to her fellow Super Bowl Halftimers.

Important caveat: none of these acts were supposed to be Old.   Except for one, these weren't "tribute" shows or reunions.  That was the case in 1997 when James Brown took the stage (with ZZ Top and CNN-babe Catherine Crier - 2nd best halftime ever). But James was always more Historical Figure than Going Concern, even when he was a going concern.  That night was a history lesson.

Madonna, I'm sure, does not fancy herself as "history."  And, compared to her fellow headliners, she isn't.

Of course, Madonna isn't actually relevant or anything.  It's just that starting in 2000, Super Bowl halftime acts have been absolutely unbelievably, well... Old. 

First, the two exceptions: in 2001, Britney and N'Sync - hip, young, relevant - shared the stage with even-then-hilariously ancient Aerosmith, but still, that's a good show. And in 2011 the Black Eyed Peas shared the stage with, tragically, no one, but as bad as that was, they were inarguably 'current.'

Other than that, its been non-stop exhumations of acts like Sting. When Sting played the SB in 2003, 9 years after last rippling the waters with the lightly-remembered When We Dance and a full quarter-century clear of Roxanne, he was - like all of them - still putting out albums .

And they're ALL like that, as you can see after the jump.

Click to continue

Here's the raw data:

The Super Bowl Wash-Up Chart

Year Act Yrs since debut Yrs since Top 10 Hit First Hit Song Last Hit Song
2012 Madonna 30 7 1982 Everybody 2005 Hung Up
2011 Black Eyed Peas

2010 The Who 45 28 1965 I can't explain 1982 You better you bet
2009 Bruce Springsteen 34 17 1975 Born to Run 1992 Better Days (1994 for Streets of Phila)
2008 Tom Petty 31 17 1977 Refuge 1991 Into the Great Wide Open
2007 Prince 28 13 1979 Wanna be your lover 1994 Most Beautiful girl in the world
2006 Rolling Stone 43 17 1963 Come On 1991 Mixed Emotion
2005 Paul McCartney 42 20 1963 She Loves You 1985 Spies like us
2004 Janet 18 3 1986 What/ For Me Lately 2001 Someone to call my own
2003 Sting (Shania Twain) 25 9 1978 Roxanne 1994 When We Dance
2002 U2

2001 N'Sync, Britney, Aerosmith, Nelly

2000 Phil Collins 22 10 1978 Follow You, Follow Me 1990 Do You Remember

We can pardon the Who, who had the good graces to actually break up 28 years before cashing their 2010 Super Bowl check. No shame there.

But among the barely-active acts, who was the Most Washed Up Super Bowl Act Ever?

Turns out, the most infamous (Janet Jackson) and the most infamously self-promoting (Madonna) were probably the least-Washed Up.  Just three years of career silence separated the pop charts from the desperate cry for help we all didn’t actually notice live at the Super Bowl for Ms. Jackson (I’m allowed to call her that because I’m nasty).

And Madonna, with 12 more years of actual career behind her than Janet, was all but in her prime last night, just 7 years after Hung Up (great song, by the way, almost definitely my favorite of hers.  It’s that or Ray of Light or, if a torch song is needed, Take A Bow).
At mid-table is: Phil Collins, who launched the Washed Up Era in 2000, 10 years after his last hit ("Do You Remember" "now that it's ohhh-ver" Irony!); Sting, who delighted everyone with the theme "Seriously- Stop Looking at Shania, Old Man.  It's Just Gross"; and Prince, who 13 years after departing the Hot 100 Charts with "Most Beautiful Girl in the World", blew past Sting on the Creepy Old Guy Chart by making us all picture people as old as Prince doing it.

Now the Heavy Weights.

Based entirely on the numbers, The Most Washed Up Super Bowl Act is really a two-horse race: the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney, with nobody else in the running. McCartney's last "hit" prior to his 2005 show was the silly movie-song, "Spies Like Us" (still catchy, tho). An honest man would say you need to go back a year earlier to "No More Lonely Nights" (though if that string was 'the end' of his career, he ended with a bang: In the space of 3 years he cranked out Spies, Nights, "Say Say Say", "Pipes of Peace", "The Girl is Mine" and "Ebony and Ivory" - all Top 10 hits - plus the wildly underrated "Take It Away". Of course, he's Paul Friggin McCartney).

But McCartney was probably the closest act on the list, outside of the Who, to being retired when he played the Super Bowl. Sure, he technically still puts out albums no one buys, but he's literally the richest musician of all time, and as mentioned above, he had a 3-year career in the 80s - 15 years after the Beatles - better than 99% of all #1 artists ever. He's earned some coasting. McCartney hasn't been anything but the goofy, Good To Be Sir Paul-clown who occasionally does Letterman since at least 1990. Again: he's Paul friggin' McCartney, and if he wants to play the Super Bowl, he plays the Super Bowl.

Not so for the endlessly touring, hopeless, ghostly self-parody that is the Rolling Stones. The Stones "only" had 17 years since their previous hit when they took the Super Bowl stage in 2006, and to keep that number below two decades you have to count something called "Mixed Emotion", which I don't even remember. Also, the Stones actually had an album out when they played, which is just so sad. They even played "Start Me Up", their Microsoft sell-out song from 1981, which even before that was the song that stood in their catalog as the break point between the Ed Sullivan-trashing-sex-boys and the sorry walmart-greeter-minstrils they've been since its release. Then, as if picking a fight, they played something from the 'new' album before finally giving the crowd a begrudging Satisfaction.

That's awful.

Still, they're the Rolling Stones. Just as Paul is goofy and awesome, being awful and crass is kind of their thing.

And if Paul and Mick get Living Legend dispensations, then maybe Springsteen does too, though that's charitable since his performance in 2009 was 34 years after Born to Run and 17 since Streets of Philadelphia (or, in a more honest measure, 19 since Better Days). Still, the Boss did four songs, and only one was from whatever current album he was pushing, while the other three were Born to Run, Glory Days and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. That's givin' the people what they want. Nothing washed up about that.

No, cuz then it would be Tom Petty. When Tom came on in 2008, the year before Bruce (and a year after Prince used his act to make us think about old people having sex), he did "American Girl", "I won't back down", "Free Fallin'" and "Running Down a Dream." There was no new stuff because, as we all know, all Tom Petty songs are The Tom Petty Song. Old stuff IS the new stuff. It's all he's got, all he had - 2 identical albums in the early 90s and some weird Cars-meets-Skinner one-offs from the 80s. It had been 31 years since Refuge and a full 17 since Into the Great Wide Open, and every single minute of it was in Tom's voice and lyrics.

And that, sports fans, is Washed Up.

So why stop the Washed Up Era at Phil Collins in 2000? Well, for one, almost every halftime show prior to Phil was actually a show, with multiple stars.  But starting with Phil, Super Bowl acts have been growing ever more famous than relevant.  Before 2000, you ight get the pre-historic Temptations or Smokey Robinson or even James Brown, but those acts were museum pieces coming in, no different than a Tribute to Duke Ellington or Chopin. Somebody who might be Smokey Robinson is going to lip-synch Tears of a Clown and everybody is going home happy. They aren't there to 'rock' you.

But 'rock' is what the vericose stylings of Madonna last night were alledgely supposed to do, 30 - 30!!! - years since something called Everybody, which wikipedia swears came out before Lucky Star or Holiday (seriously: how did Madonna get a second album? Those were wretched songs even then).

And finally, as an indicator of how wildly bad the Super Bowl halftime has ALWAYS been (at least since 1990, when the Nichols State Band marched off the field and took any semblance of fun with them forever): Gloria Estafan has done THREE Super Bowl shows.

At the current rate, she'll get her next one in 2032.

Here's the previous 10, with some very awkward formatting:

2000 Phil Collins
1999 Estafan, Stevie Wonder
1998 Boys II Men, Smokey Rob, Temptations
1997 ZZ Top, Blues Bros, James Brown, Catherine Crier
1996 Diana Ross
1995 Gloria Estafan and a bunch of others
1994 (my favorite) Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Judds
1993 Michael Jackson
1992 Gloria
1991 New Kids on the Block
1990 Nichols State band….

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