Billboard.com currently has a poll running for readers to vote on who they want to play at the next Super Bowl. They’ve selected fifteen potential artists, most of whom would be semi-reasonable selections. I’ve decided to rank them in terms of which ones I think would be the most sensible choices, with the second factor being which ones would put on the best show. (In other words, if I was in charge of choosing the artist from the perspective of the Super Bowl, who would I choose?)
The list is far from complete (no Lady Gaga?) but it’s not a bad starting point for thinking about next year’s show. Here is my ranking of these fifteen artists as potential halftime shows:
15. Justin Bieber
Right. The most hated celebrity in America… a Canadian… someone with documented reliability and maturity issues… is going to anchor a show on the largest stage in the world with 100 million Americans watching. And, yep, anyone over the age of 25 is going to have anything positive to say about it. Sure, Billboard, whatever you say.
14. One Direction
One Direction would be a MUCH better pick than Justin Bieber, but they would still be a really bad pick for similar reasons: Virtually every adult would dread the show. They don’t have nearly enough great songs to make a show like this happen. They’re not American. It’s feasible for them to appear in a SB halftime show as a guest, but not to headline it.
13. Carrie Underwood
She’s a legitimate star, she’s absolutely gorgeous, she’s beloved, and a country-flavored show would be a nice change of pace from the past few years. If Super Bowl 50 was going to appear on Fox (home of American Idol) instead of CBS, Carrie would be a couple spots higher on this list. But she just doesn’t have the songs or triple-A superstar cachet to pull this off.
12. Pharrell Williams
The dude has basically two songs of note. (…three if you count “Blurred Lines,” but given the massive backlash against that song, I don’t see how it’d get included in a setlist.) The biggest upside to a Pharrell show is that he has a horde of superstar buddies who would happily appear alongside him… But why not just let one of those superstars headline the show instead?
It just isn’t happening without Freddie Mercury. Adam Lambert is an admirable replacement, and the band would totally kill it, but no. (And this is coming from someone who saw them live post-Freddie and loved it.)
10. Justin Timberlake
Oh man would this be a great show. Timberlake has the star power; he has the songs; he would bring some awesome buddies; and he would sure as hell give us a lights-out performance. But if I need to explain why this isn’t happening, then America’s ongoing quest to solely blame Janet for Nipplegate has succeeded. A Timberlake show would also make him the first three-time halftime show performer since… uh… Al Hirt.
9. Jay Z
Don’t get me wrong, Jay Z is basically American royalty, and I’m sure his show would be great. But we’re only two years removed from his wife performing. If the show was going to be in New York, I’d be a lot more interested. But I really don’t see Hova appearing… unless… hold that thought until #2.
8. Britney Spears
It’s not unprecedented for performers to return to the halftime show, but it’s also very uncommon the past twenty years. (Timberlake is the only performer I can come up with, actually.) It’s been long enough since Spears co-headlined the legendary 2001 show — that didn’t actually feature any of her songs — that I think it would be appropriate for her to return. I’m not at all confident in her ability to give us a good show, though, and I’m skeptical that the Super Bowl would host two Max Martin-made pop starlets in a row.
7. Foo Fighters
They’re just a hair too obscure, but you can make a legitimate case that they’re one of the two or three most accomplished American rock bands of the past two decades. They’d put on a great show even if much of America can’t hum a single one of their melodies. In the spirit of Katy Perry, let’s call them a dark horse candidate for next year’s show.
6. Garth Brooks
This would make a lot of sense. The young, hip demographic would not be enthused with his selection, but he’s sold 150 million records and is a household name. He has a broad catalog of songs to work with. Dude can perform, too. After a bunch of pop Super Bowl shows in a row, I expect something out of the genre in the next year or two.
Her string of hits shines bright like a diamond. She’s beautiful and a lot of fun. She has a flair for spectacle. There are some minor whiffs of controversy around her, but not enough that she would be blacklisted. A 2016 Rihanna halftime show would be entirely plausible, and I would not object.
4. Jennifer Lopez
Uh oh. This makes almost too much sense. Lopez is an icon in the midst of a career renaissance. She’d be a hit with the exploding Hispanic demographic that the NFL would like to further tap into. She (somehow) has never appeared in a Super Bowl show, and I’m sure she’d perform well with some other stars.
3. Taylor Swift
The no-duh entry on this list. T-Swizz is the biggest pop star on the planet right now. She crosses over to a bunch of demographics, has an impressive arsenal of songs that would play great in a huge arena, and is largely unobjectionable. It’s hard to think of a lower risk pick (except #1 on this list).
2. Kanye West
Can you imagine it? My immediate reaction was “no way, too risky.” But really think it through. Ye is widely known for his performing intensity, his creative vision, his stable of superstar friends, his unpredictability… There’s no performer on the planet who would build more buzz for a Super Bowl show. The list of possible guest stars is thrilling in its own right. It’s too bad he still has so many haters and such a mercurial personality. I want to believe this could happen. It’s the right choice.
1. Bon Jovi
The crowd is cheering… the stage is smoky… the stadium is dark… then, all of the sudden, the lights turn on, the speakers bust out “SHOT THROUGH THE HEART… AND YOU’RE TO BLAME!” Jon Bon Jovi and his backing band appear. They round out the setlist with “It’s My Life,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” maybe “Runaway,” and the most obvious closer of all time, “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Some up-and-coming star guest appears in the middle for a song or two, then joins Bon Jovi for “Prayer.” Tell me you can’t already see this exact show, and tell me it’s not great. It’s the perfect, no-brainer choice among these fifteen.