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The 7 Most Irritating Superbowl Halftime Performers of All Time

And you thought this was supposed to be entertaining.

Photo Credit: choupigloupi via Flickr.


Well, perhaps not all time—there is the case of 1967’s pre-YouTube performance by various university marching bands, and the halftime performance a decade later that included something called an “audience card stunt.” But in the years since media has been preserved and democratized for posterity, there have been countless entertainers on the Superbowl halftime show who have irritated America into oblivion, whether for their performative snafus or for their despicable personal politics.

This weekend, Madonna will take over the halftime show of Superbowl XLVI. While we’re quite looking forward to her performance (mostly for her guest stars, Nicki Minaj, MIA and LMFAO), we’re also acutely aware of her status as the most prolific and colonial cultural appropriator of pop music’s last three decades. On Sunday, her set list includes “Like a Prayer,” a terrific song with a gospel choir, but one whose video shamelessly borrowed religious iconography from Mexican Catholicism in a way that was less homage, and more opportunity for her to revamp her commercial image.

But she’ll also perform the song “Vogue,” which does even more explicit damage to the community she lifted it from. Voguing is primarily the provenance of a black and Latino gay and transgendered community, and Madonna completely whitewashed it with her lyric, “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white/ If you’re a boy or a girl.” It was a historical revision that, 20 years later, prompted former vogue scene DJ Sprinkles to write, “Madonna was taking in tons of money, while the Queen who actually taught her how to vogue sat before me in the club, strung out, depressed and broke.” Capitalism is a shitshow, and Madonna don’t care.

Not every performer on this list is as offensive as Madge...but every performer was, in their year, a good reason to go pick up more pizza during the break. Some of them are still dealing with the fallout.

1. Fergie and Slash, Superbowl XLV, 2011

Since the Superbowl began consistently booking celebrity musicians for the halftime show in 1988, every year has been about increasing the spectacle. This usually entails superstar collabos, even if they’re unlikely (Gwen Stefani and Sting? Hmm), and of course the requisite amount of fireworks and brouhaha. And when you want brouhaha? You call in the Black Eyed Peas. Last year’s performance was doubly ridiculous because it was a cross promotion with the movie Tron: Legacy, and Peas leader was wearing some sort of futuristic superhero suit with a plastic hairpiece. But the Black Eyed Peas would be infinitely less annoying if not for Fergie, the bombastic white girl they added halfway through their existence which turned out to be a career-exploding decision, much to the annoyance of anyone cognizant of race in this country.

And at Superbowl XLV, she was in full irritating mode, assisted by Guns n Roses guitarist Slash, performing a difficult song to sing well: “Sweet Child of Mine.” She wasn’t totally offensive—that is, unless you care about aesthetics. Or music. Unable to span the range the song takes, her high notes were a half pitch off the whole time, and she adopted this weird guttural throat affectation that made it sound like she had chugged a gallon of milk before the show. Plus, she was warbling more dramatically than a drunk Liza Minnelli in a midnight showing of Cabaret. The real capper, though, was that she was doing Axl Rose’s signature sway-dance as she sang. Surely she meant it as homage, but it just reminded us that she was not him.

2. Disney Takeover, Superbowl XXXV, 1987