Why a Country Star Needs to Headline the 2015 Super Bowl Halftime Show
Not necessarily it’s about time for Carrie Underwood, though she’d be a great choice. It’s about time that a country star headlined the Super Bowl halftime show, period.
Incredibly, in the entire history of the Super Bowl, only a handful of country performers have played America’s biggest gig. Shania Twain was part of a lineup that also included No Doubt and Sting in 2003, but to find the last time an all-country lineup graced the Super Bowl, we have to reach all the way back to 1994, when Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and the Judds took over halftime.
Country has been more fairly represented in the national anthem, with Charley Pride, Garth Brooks (accompanied by sign language from actress Marlee Matlin), Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks and Underwood all taking on those duties over time. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert also performed ‘America the Beautiful’ at the Super Bowl in 2012.
"To find the last time an all-country lineup graced the Super Bowl, we have to reach all the way back to 1994."
The time has never been better for a country act to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. The genre has expanded its parameters significantly over the course of the last decade, taking on new influences and expanding its share of the commercial marketplace in the process. We’re seeing country artists reach across genre lines and collaborate with pop and even rap artists, and as a result, country has become mainstream like never before.
Television also plays a big role in this change. Ever since ‘American Idol‘ first went on the air in 2002, aspiring country stars have been beamed directly into people’s homes on a weekly basis, and the show has made stars out of a long list of country singers, including Bucky Covington, Casey James, Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler, Lauren Alaina and, of course, Underwood. Country superstar Keith Urban bears the country standard each week as a judge on the show.
‘The Voice‘ is another very important television outlet that has raised country’s mainstream visibility. The show has made rising stars out of Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery, while increasing Shelton’s mainstream recognition many times over. Brad Paisley is getting a similar benefit from his gig on the new reality competition ‘Rising Star.’
The net effect of all this mainstream exposure is a bigger audience share for country music across the board — especially in the live side of the equation. It used to be that only a small handful of the most successful country acts could play arena gigs, but that’s been changing rapidly in recent years.
“They’ve taken the music to an incredible level,” Oak Ridge Boys singer Joe Bonsall tells The Boot. “They’ve made country music the new popular music. To me, when the Oak Ridge Boys, when we worked with Kenny [Rogers] back in the ’70s and ’80s, to sell out a coliseum, Kenny had to have ‘The Gambler’ and ‘Lucille’ cross over. The Oaks had to have ‘Elvira’ and ‘Bobbie Sue’ cross over into pop music, for us to be able to sell out coliseums.
“Today, these kids are selling it out on country music alone,” he adds. “Country airplay, country albums sales, TV, country popularity. I could probably name 10 or 15 of these artists today that can go in and sell out a coliseum tonight. I think that’s great. I love what’s going on in this business.”
Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan all made appearances recently on Forbes’ Country Cash Kings list, which ranks the highest earners in the genre. Much of that success derives from touring at the highest levels and, particularly for Swift and FGL, the crossover appeal of their music.
"On top of country’s growing mainstream visibility, it’s a natural fit for football’s all-American audience. Football is America’s game, and country music is America’s music."
“I think country is just getting bigger in general,” FGL’s Brian Kelley says. “Pop music isn’t really a sound, it’s just what’s popular.”
On top of country’s growing mainstream visibility, it’s a natural fit for football’s all-American audience. Football is America’s game, and country music is America’s music.
Underwood is undoubtedly a perfect choice for the halftime show. She’s one of the biggest stars of the genre, and she gained that fame via ‘Idol,’ so she’s got a built-in platform from country into all other genres. She’s also proven her versatility and ability to take on other challenges by triumphing in the TV production of ‘The Sound of Music Live!‘ last year, drawing some of the most spectacular ratings in recent TV history.
She’s also a veteran of performing in giant arenas, and Underwood’s pop-country style lends itself to the kind of visually engaging performance that would play extremely well at the Super Bowl. It doesn’t hurt that she’s already a known quantity to football fans; Underwood took over the theme song for ‘Sunday Night Football‘ in 2013.
Swift is another obvious choice. Besides the fact that she is the biggest-selling artist of the digital age, whose music has done more to blur the lines between genres than perhaps any other country musician of her generation, she is also accustomed to performing in the biggest arenas not only in America, but all over the world. Swift’s live shows are a multi-media experience that rivals anything U2 or any other arena act could offer, featuring music, lights, dancers and even aerialists, and there’s little doubt that she could succeed at the Super Bowl.
If you’re more of a traditionalist, there are several options there, too. George Strait just wrapped up his touring career with a sold-out stadium tour, and with his 60 career No. 1 hits, he could play the halftime show every year for a decade and offer up nothing but chart-topping songs without repeating a single one.
Or there’s Reba McEntire. The country superstar has not only amassed a huge string of hit songs, she has also starred on Broadway, as well as in a long-running TV series. She has the experience, songs and name recognition to pull off a Super Bowl gig with no problems.
Then, of course, there’s Brooks. The superstar recently emerged from more than a dozen years of self-imposed retirement from touring to announce a staggeringly ambitious comeback tour, which has already been breaking ticket sales records. Brooks is one of the most commanding and riveting stage performers of his generation, and since his visibility is higher than ever right now, he’d be an ideal halftime headliner.
"‘I think country is just getting bigger in general,’ FGL’s Brian Kelley says. ‘Pop music isn’t really a sound, it’s just what’s popular.’"
“Bro-country” has been dominating the charts and the live performance aspect of country over the last few years — imagine how a Bryan / Aldean / Florida Georgia Line triple bill would perform, ratings-wise, as the Super Bowl halftime show. As an additional benefit, those acts are all very comfortable in an arena and stadium environment, since their music is essentially crafted specifically for that setting.
Urban certainly has the energy and profile to handle the job, and you could also go with a superstar couple like Tim McGraw and Hill, or Shelton and Lambert.
But let’s not forget perhaps the most obvious Super Bowl contender of them all. Chesney has built one of the biggest and most loyal fan bases in contemporary music through a savvy mix of recording and touring that has seen him essentially create a lifestyle brand beyond his music.
Chesney performs in the biggest venues in the world, and his tours routinely place among the top road shows every year that he tours. He was the only country star to earn a spot in the Top 10 of Billboard’s list of the Top 25 live acts of the past 25 years. Chesney ranks at No. 9 on the list, raking in $752,706,599 over 755 shows, with 12,681,629 fans in attendance — numbers all the more impressive since the country music superstar took a break from touring in both 2010 and 2014.
On top of that, Chesney is a well-known football fan. He scored a huge hit single, ‘The Boys of Fall,’ which is an homage to the game, and went on to produce a documentary by that same title. He also produced a documentary about Condredge Holloway for ESPN and is set to co-produce a film about Steve Spurrier for the same network.
Chesney played football in high school, and he has made no secret of his love for the game and the life lessons it imparts.
“Anyone who knows me knows how much I look to football, the lessons learned, the experiences, the feelings as a map for living life, having a music career, being the kind of man I want to be,” he explains.
Any one of these artists would make a excellent choice for the upcoming 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, but is there anyone we somehow missed? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.