Secrets Of The Super Bowl Halftime Show (Told By Performers)
The Super Bowl is a pretty remarkable phenomenon, in large part because it's found a way to get hot-blooded Americans to care deeply about things they normally hate, such as commercials and remembering that New England exists. What's particularly fascinating is the halftime show. At any other football game at every other level of competition, halftime is when everyone makes a beeline for the toilets. But at the Super Bowl, the halftime show is one of the most extravagant concerts of the year.
We spoke to Micah Kosco and Chris Sopko, who were part of the Katy Perry and Bruno Mars (Part I) halftime shows, respectively, about what it's like to be a part of the greatest show on turf. Don't cringe at that pun. You know you love it.
Children Are Great Stadium Fillers
Over the past several years, the halftime show has featured a whole lot of not-famous people. Namely, a bunch of anonymous children. Micah and Chris were both in their school's respective music programs, and performing at halftime was second nature to them. Although they weren't exactly "performing. Chris remembered hearing the big news from his band director, and everyone's first question was, "Are we going to have to learn a bunch of new music?" Their band director simply replied with a cheery "Nope!" And really, the best kind of music is the kind you don't have to learn or play or really even listen to.
Chris was going to be one of the kids who held giant LED panels during Bruno Mars' first halftime show at Super Bowl XLVIII, and Micah held up one of many giant glowing orbs at Super Bowl XLIX. And that's really what child performances are in the NFL: "Here, hold this thing." Micah was even able to find himself in the video later on. See the random green orb on the upper-left side of this shot? The yellow orb eclipsing the green one is Micah. Everybody say hi!
Micah was only able to find himself due to that technical glitch. The only reason that orb was green was because of some faulty communication in the lighting. If you check out this video, around the 1:11 mark, you can see the guy with the green orb whacking it against the ground in hopes that it'd turn yellow like it was supposed to. Basically, the same technique your grandfather uses to fix his laptop.
That's a memory Micah will have forever, and "in memories" is basically how he and Chris were paid -- that and a free hat. The dozens of people running around with orbs and LED panels aren't making any money for this. Chris pointed out that marching bands are basically never paid anyways, and that, "at least for me, this was the big 'Congratulations on your senior year of high school!' kind of a reward. It might not hold as much significance when you tell it to someone else, but it'll always hold that kind of significance to people who [performed]."
This was pretty surprising to hear. You'd think kids would be more of a liability than anything, especially considering ...
Secrecy Was Imperative
The Super Bowl Halftime Show performers are a more closely guarded secret than where Piers Morgan keeps his soul. The headliner is often made public way ahead of time, but it shouldn't shock anyone that any involved parties had to sign Nondisclosure Agreements about things they saw and heard at rehearsals. What surprised us was that, according to Micah, "there were stacks of NDAs at every rehearsal, so if someone even walked by [where we were practicing], they got rushed and forced to sign an NDA."
Chris added that security was particularly tight at his rehearsals. Micah's practices were at "a high school in the middle of nowhere" [in Arizona, which is French for "just left of nowhere"], but Chris was going to take the field in northern New Jersey, where the press would be a lot harder to dodge. Security at Chris' rehearsals had them turn in their cellphones before they entered the facility. If you're familiar with how performance rehearsals work at the high school or college level, having your phone taken away prior to the start of practice is a band geek's definition of hell.
The secrecy impacted rehearsals themselves. The big surprise guest at Katy Perry's halftime show was Missy Elliott, and that's a big goddamn deal to keep secret. She didn't show up in Arizona to a rehearsal until the day before the Super Bowl (and sadly, not dressed in that inflatable bag outfit), not because she's too good for them, but because it was that big of a secret.
The worst of it probably happened to Chris, though. He had a job at a local pizza shop with some buddies who were also going to be in the halftime show, and they couldn't tell their boss why they weren't going to be working on Super Bowl Sunday, of all the days. He got a call from his boss a day or so before the Super Bowl, thinking this was it, this was where he was gonna get fired. Luckily, a producer had listed the names of the high schools that would be performing, and his boss was just calling to let him off the hook. Because sometimes, although rare, the world can be a just and awesome place.
Rehearsals Were Weird
We briefly mentioned already that the rehearsals had to stay secret, but that's kind of hard to do when your performance involves Katy Perry riding a 16-foot metal lion down the 50-yard line.
The producers' solutions to this was a) practice in Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and b) pretend the 16-foot lion didn't exist. Just look at that image again. Remember that each of those orbs is a person who had to be sure they didn't get crushed by a giant metal cat, and they spent weeks rehearsing without the "benefit" of said giant metal cat. They had to just work like CGI actors and pretend that it was actually there. George Lucas would have been proud.
It was also during rehearsals that Chris began to notice something interesting: Bruno Mars' brother was filling in on drums (until Bruno himself got there), and none of the rest of the instruments were actually playing. He realized that the Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitars weren't plugged in, and that vocals and drums were the only live music that would be played. Chris mentioned this on social media, and he's pretty sure it prompted Flea from the RHCP to post a response explaining why they were unplugged. (The NFL couldn't risk letting them actually play instruments and maybe fuck up.)
A Word On Memes
The big thing to come out of Katy Perry's halftime show, other than Missy Elliott being back, was a meme dubbed "Left Shark." Here is a shameful collection of Left Shark memes, courtesy of our pals at BuzzFeed. Clearly, there's more overlap in our readership than we originally thought.
The shark on the left (thus, "Left Shark") seems to have a less firm grasp on the choreography than the other shark. A whole bunch of internet users who felt that their lives weren't going as well as their friends' seemed to latch onto the idea of being Left Shark, and the rest is internet history.
Well, Micah claims there's a reason for this. He'd gone to the bathroom during rehearsals one day at a high school they were using, and the bathroom was right by this school's gym. He peeked inside, and found all the palm trees and sharks and chess pieces practicing their routines and such in there. He bumped into one of the sharks, got to talking, and figured he'd made a friend.
Which is how he learned, two days before the Super Bowl, that the Sharks had been fired. Katy Perry had asked to bring her own backup dancers in to replace them, and operating on two days' worth of choreography practice, the two sharks that appeared on television had to be ready to go. These are professional dancers and are probably used to last-minute changes, but even so, that kind of bites. Ha! Get it? That's a shark joke.
The moral of this story is that two days' practice is nothing, and the internet is forever.
There's A Sense That The NFL Doesn't Want A Halftime Show
During rehearsals, despite all the secrecy, there was at least a little bit of a feeling that the NFL was going to be totally hands-off. Micah got to talking with the roadies during some of the downtime and found out that even though some of them had been doing these halftime shows for five, 10, 15 years, 2014 was the first time they were being paid by the NFL.
On top of that, there were unspoken concerns about the halftime show hurting the field. The University of Phoenix Stadium has a retractable field, but when the halftime show was rehearsed at that Stadium, they were required to practice on the concrete below it. They couldn't risk hurting the field, and there's a good chance that this is a reason Super Bowls tend to get held at stadiums with domes and artificial turf. Despite all its football history, Pittsburgh has a real grass field, and will likely not be hosting a Super Bowl anytime soon at least in part because of that. Pfft ... lawn snobs.
Anyway, Chris and Micah walked us through their Super Bowl experience, and there were some weird similarities. Neither of them were permitted into the stadium until after the game had already started, and were forced to kind of stay in some under-stadium tunnel areas. Chris at least had the opportunity to see some celebrities like Queen Latifah drive by, and meet with the teams' cheerleaders, but poor Micah saw no cheerleaders. Let's all have a moment of silence for Micah.
OK, that's enough.
After their respective shows, everyone was ushered off the field and out of the stadium, and that was that. They went home, barely in time to catch the end of the game on TV. Imagine going to the Super Bowl and not getting to watch the game. That's nuts. At least they got the opportunity that none of us ever will: the chance to crap on the 50-yard line. Though neither of them did, so that was a wasted trip.
Isaac is a halfhearted Atlanta Falcons fan because a) he's got family in Georgia, and b) the alternative would be being a Browns fan. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Micah Kosco is a 17 year old from Phoenix who makes dumb music and sleeps too much. Check out his Instagram and Twitter
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