The Super Bowl halftime show is now one of the biggest spectacles in sports. Just about every major recording artist has performed in it, from Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga and Rihanna this year when she takes the stage during a Philadelphia Eagles-Kansas City Chiefs matchup for Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
It's stirred controversy, like the time Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast and set off nipplegate, and it's become a goldmine for social media memes *cough* Katy Perry's left shark. But the show wasn't always one of the most anticipated annual musical acts. Marching bands used to dominate the show decades ago, and there was never a clear headliner. It was just 30 years ago that Michael Jackson moonwalked his way into the halftime Hall of Fame, but that wasn't the first big act the NFL booked.
Two years before MJ, a popular boy band by the name of New Kids on the Block made history and helped turn the halftime show into what it is today. You probably don't remember the show for many reasons, which is why you might not know the answer if someone asks "who was the headliner of the first Super Bowl halftime show?"
Who Was the Headliner of the First Super Bowl Halftime Show?
Well, technically the very first Super Bowl's halftime show featured Al Hirt, a popular trumpeter in the 1950s and 1960s whose "Honey in the Horn" and "Java" sold over one million copies. It also featured the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band, the Grambling State University Marching Band and an Anaheim high school drill team.
But back then, marching bands were the focal point of the show, and it wasn't what it is today. Hirt may have been featured in the first show back in 1967, but he's not considered the first major recording act to headline the halftime show.
That honor belongs to...
Super Bowl XXV: New Kids On The Block, Whitney Houston & Desert Storm
There isn't a better Star-Spangled Banner rendition in sports history than the one Whitney Houston belted before Super Bowl XXV. The legendary singer was already the first artist in history to have seven consecutive singles hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 pop chart, and then she graced millions with her incredible pipes.
That's probably what most fans remember from this Super Bowl, at least in terms of music. Her red, white and blue track suit. The flyover afterward. It was all momentous because it came during the Gulf War. Just 10 days prior to Whitney's rendition, the U.S. launched Operation Desert Storm, which began with an aerial bombing of Iraq and ended with the Liberation of Kuwait on Feb. 28, 1991.
The war was on the minds of many at the time, so much so that when the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants headed to the locker rooms at halftime, ABC chose to air a special news report with Peter Jennings on the Gulf War. The halftime show was an afterthought.
Only the 74,000 fans inside Tampa's Raymond James Stadium saw the performance live. New Kids on the Block, who had nine top 10 hit songs by this point, went out and sang "Step By Step" while surrounded by thousands of kids. That concluded with NKOTB and the kids singing a Disney-themed "It's a Small World," making for a really odd show.
The halftime show was eventually shown to people at home, but on a tape delay after the game. By then, many fans were already tuned out after watching Bills kicker Scott Norwood miss wide right with seconds to go.
"Nobody saw it which for me was a big relief," said Donnie Wahlberg, one of the five members of NKOTB and actor Mark Wahlberg's brother. "I just didn't really feel comfortable singing 'It's a Small World' in front of 100 million people."
Still, New Kids on the Block is considered the first major recording act to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. It paved the way for MJ in 1993, Diana Ross's "Take Me Higher" helicopter exit in 1996 and eventually acts like Prince, Madonna, Beyonce and more.
It may not have been the best, but it was the first, and you probably never saw it.
"I don't know how much pride I take in the actual performance," Wahlberg told Playboy. "But I take pride in the fact that we were the first ones to do it."
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