Bayou City

Relive the Super Bowl’s Most Controversial Musical Moments

It's doubtful Janet Jackson will ever be invited back to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
It's doubtful Janet Jackson will ever be invited back to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Courtesy of mADMan via Flickr Commons
click to enlarge It's doubtful Janet Jackson will ever be invited back to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. - COURTESY OF MADMAN VIA FLICKR COMMONS
It's doubtful Janet Jackson will ever be invited back to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Courtesy of mADMan via Flickr Commons
The Super Bowl itself, with a few exceptions, has been a relatively controversy-free affair over the years with regard to what happens between the hashes. The same can’t exactly be said for the musical goings-on that surround the big game.

From political statements to exposed nipples, the Super Bowl is littered with juicy tabloid fodder that sometimes overshadows the game itself. In fact, the controversy that inhabits the top spot on this list – which coincidentally enough took place in Houston – did just that.

Will the upcoming Super Bowl at NRG Stadium result in controversy? The bar for inclusion in this list is fairly high.

Maybe not so much controversial but rather just kinda weird, Slash joined the Black Eyed Peas onstage for a halftime performance of Guns n’ Roses' classic “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Reaction ranged from “eh” to “what the hell is Slash doing jamming with the Black Eyed Peas?” Fortunately, the game itself featured two name-brand franchises that helped overshadow what was a bland, if overly contrived, halftime show – Green Bay beat Pittsburgh 31-25 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.


Look, when you hire the late, great Prince to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, you can expect a few things. For starters, the music is going to kick ass, mostly because Prince – during his run on this earth – did just that. Second, it’s going to be a little weird, because, well, Prince was always an eccentric guy. Finally, and perhaps most important when putting together a family-friendly event such as the halftime show, it’s going to get sexual. Prince did just that during his halftime performance at the big game in 2007, complete with a phallic-shaped guitar that he stroked throughout his performance. The performance sparked a number of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission. The complaints labeled the performance “porn” and “pro-homosexual.” The best complaint, however, came from someone who felt the performance ruined his or her son’s future. Let the complainer take it from there…“my son hoped to be a quarterback and now he will turn out gay...Thanks CBS for turning my son GAY.” Whether that prediction came to fruition is inconsequential, but one thing is for certain – in the rain, and with the world watching, Prince delivered arguably the greatest Super Bowl Halftime Show of all time.

There was a time when British rapper M.I.A. seemed on the cusp of being a legitimate thing here in the States. Her record sales were on the upswing and she was beginning to gain some footing by making her rounds on the American music festival circuit. In fact, she was even invited to perform as part of the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2012, which featured the New York Giants beating the New England Patriots (again!!!) in a hard-fought contest. M.I.A. was on hand to support headliner Madonna, who invited both her and Nicki Minaj along to perform “Give Me All Your Luvin.’” Now, it’s not uncommon for sports fans to hold up their index fingers in a collective “we’re number 1!!!” chant – happens all the time. What rarely happens, however, is a performer's raising his or her middle finger while uttering “I don’t give a shit,” with the world watching, as M.I.A. did during her screen time. She was later sued by the National Football League for $16.6 million for doing so, and the two parties later settled out of court. As for M.I.A. the musician, her career – at least in the U.S. – never really recovered.


Man, this one really pissed some people off. Houston’s own Beyoncé put on one hell of a controversial performance during last year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, one that referenced the Black Panthers and gave shout-outs to the Black Lives Matter movement. Considering the political climate in our country at the time, this caused quite a stir. Police departments nationwide threatened to boycott her concerts, which would mean less security or potentially none at all. Here in Houston last May, the Coalition for Police and Sheriffs protested outside a Beyoncé show. Of course, regardless of your political affiliation, this performance marked the beginning of “don’t give a damn” Beyoncé, which is how we got last year’s Lemonade.

A Houston native grabs the runner-up slot, and the top spot goes to an incident that took place in our city during the Super Bowl in 2004. There’s no need going into great detail, other than to note that Janet Jackson was performing alongside Justin Timberlake, who proceeded to rip at Jackson’s jacket, thus exposing her nipple. The term “nipple-gate” was born, Jackson became a national pariah (to a somewhat ridiculous extent) and the Super Bowl Halftime Show played it über-safe for the next couple of years, inviting Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones for the next two installments.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale