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Handicapping the Super Bowl 51 Halftime-Performer Race

Super Bowl 50 is over. The NFL’s obsession with making everything gold and drubbing it into our heads that the league's 50th edition of the "Big Game" would be the most important ever has ceased. Plus, we now know that Coldplay wasn’t going to have a washout performance because Beyoncé and Bruno Mars decided to have a dance battle in the middle of it. Thank you, Beyoncé; thank you, Bruno Mars.

With eyes moving away from San Francisco and onto Houston for next year's Super Bowl 51 — or LI, since the NFL has now resumed counting by Roman numerals — it’s time to start talking halftime performers. Getting Beyoncé back in the big-stage spot would make her the first performer, male or female, to have performed at three different Super Bowls. Thus, we have to handicap this thing. Factoring in global appeal, outstanding reach and the ability to rope in millions of viewers for 12 minutes, only a select few could own the Super Bowl Sunday stage.


Taylor Swift
Beloved as she is, no pop singer has had the consecutive Billboard success that Swift has albums-wise. The Nashville country girl turned pop sensation has seen her most recent three albums — Fearless, Red and 1989 — all appear at the summit of the Billboard 200, all of them selling more than 1 million copies in their first week on the chart. Swift may be bubblegum in some aspects, but she’s a pop force, a singer with an elaborate stage setup large enough to sell out Minute Maid Park twice, even if her 1989 World Tour had to move thanks to Astros playoff baseball. Also, the NFL has decided to become less and less provocative with its halftime choices in recent years, M.I.A. joining Madonna and Beyoncé's Black Panthers appropriations notwithstanding. Plus, since Taylor Swift can call anyone her friend, this is as strong a possibility as anything.


Though she can’t exactly move with the same force and energy as her contemporaries Katy Perry or Swift, Adele is a balladeer of the highest degree. At the moment, she’s the most beloved singer in the world, breaking records left and right with her 25 album making certain that most people do their best not to shed tears over their exes or other heartbreak. The last time a diva who wasn’t truly known for dancing performed as one of the leads during a Super Bowl halftime show was Diana Ross in 1996. Ever since then? Dancers and entertainers. Here’s hoping that an Adele performance doesn’t keep us in tears once it’s all said and done.

In terms of pop stars who have managed to capture the attention of the globe, Rihanna is definitely up there. The singer was heavily used in CBS's promotion bridging the Super Bowl and the Grammys, and would be a cinch. She’s been tied to CBS in previous big events, premiering “FourFiveSeconds” and “American Me” during last year’s NCAA men's basketball tournament. Plus, the ANTI singer has made her bones perfectly making pop hits left and right just for an occasion like this, and even though “Work” may not be as big an international single as prior hits such as “Umbrella” or “Diamonds,” Rihanna still has big pop-star clout.

Justin Timberlake
The last time Justin Timberlake was on a Super Bowl stage in Houston, CBS lost $50 million, the world saw Janet Jackson’s right nipple and everybody freaked out. More than a decade later, Timberlake is a star, able to blend his R&B and country roots into a super-charismatic pop personality. Chris Stapleton, country’s newest star, joined Timberlake for a rousing performance during the CMAs this past year and could easily tie into Texas’s country roots. So Timberlake could go country, bringing Stapleton, Kenny Chesney and others who know how to merge the idea of "pop country." Then again, RodeoHouston may be a wee bit pissed at that idea, considering that Stapleton may well be making his rodeo debut in 2017 as well. See, there goes Timberlake ruining things in Houston again.


Drake, Future, etc.
All right, NBA All-Star Weekend this year absolutely lost because Drake isn’t performing during halftime — Sting is. No, not Crow Sting, “Every Breath You Take” Sting. Hip-hop has pretty much been shut out for the Super Bowl since the Black Eyed Peas took the stage in Dallas in 2011; there’s no bigger rapper than Drake right now. And the list of friends that could join him onstage? Endless.

Drake & Future? Drake & Jay Z? Drake & Lil Wayne? Drake & Kanye West? All of these things are possible. All of these things may be necessary. All of these things could happen. And if Drake is rude enough to drag his feud with Meek Mill into 2017 (it’s already in conspiracy-theory territory now), let him do it. Or you could even — fingers crossed here — get a medley of Houston rap all-stars to balance out Drake's pop stuff. Who wouldn't, and I mean who wouldn't, want to see America collectively gasp as Z-Ro performs the Texas National Anthem, a.k.a. "Mo City Don"?

Then again, Lady Gaga would be a solid enough choice, but she’s a serious actor now. Her National Anthem, though memorable, also brought back memories of the Heat Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus. I’m spitballing here, but had this been 2011 or 2012, Gaga would have been a perfect choice. Gaga in 2017? A light reach, even if it would be a good one.

I say this knowing that we may get either One Direction or The Eagles for some strange reason or another. And I don’t know what the emotions would be of an Eagles show without Glenn Frey.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell