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Bruno Mars at the Super Bowl: Why choosing him makes good (business) sense

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There are still nearly four months left in 2013, but we already know what the most-watched musical performance of next year is going to be.

Over the weekend, the NFL announced that the next Super Bowl Halftime Show performer will be Bruno Mars. He’ll take the stage midway through football’s championship game on February 2 inside MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (home to both the New York Giants and the undefeated New York Jets).

There are a number of names that were tossed out as alternatives to Mars, the most popular being Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Jay Z. But there are compelling reasons for all three of those to be avoided, if they were even considered: Springsteen did the halftime show too recently (remember when he crushed that camera with his crotch?), Bon Jovi seems to be in flux (who knows if the Richie Sambora situation will be resolved by February), and Jay Z is way too polarizing for an event of this size and scale (even with his nods to big business, he remains too risky a figure for this stage as far as the check writers are concerned).

Really, Mars is the biggest pop star to never have done the halftime show, save for maybe Taylor Swift (who seems like a lock to do this show some day). And his resumé is chock full of qualifications for one of music’s biggest gigs: He has two chart-topping albums, five Hot 100 number ones, has shifted over 115 million singles, and has already performed on the Grammys, the VMAs, and Saturday Night Live. He’s a bona fide superstar, and yet the overwhelming reaction to the announcement that he got the gig has been negative: He’s not a representative of New Jersey (or New York), he’s simultaneously too young and too old; he’s too short.

But really, the selection of Mars should not be surprising to anybody. The Super Bowl is, primarily, a massive business opportunity for advertisers, media outlets, corporate sponsors, and the NFL itself, and Mars represents a shrewd business solution: He’s famous and an excellent live performer, but most importantly, he sounds like someone your mom would like.

That last piece of criteria is the most important: Since the Super Bowl is the most-watched television event of the year (and many broadcasts have become the most-watched television event of all time, at the time), programmers have to assume that there are people watching who don’t normally watch football and don’t pay close attention to music.

That’s why the game itself is weighed down with non-sports-related tie-ins, why the commercials have been built into the entertainment, and why the halftime music tends to skew towards the broadest selections. 

Honestly, when was the last time you were truly moved by the halftime show at the Super Bowl? Outside of Michelle Williams being shot into the air, can you recall anything from Beyoncé’s performance at the last Super Bowl? (Even these FCC complaints seem foreign now.) Save for M.I.A.’s middle digit, is there anything that sticks from Madonna’s performance the year before that?

The last 10 years have been full of a lot of competent-yet-unremarkable performances by classic rock acts like the Who, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones—booking that was a direct reaction to the MTV-produced 2003 show that ended with Janet Jackson’s nipple exposed and clearly led to the end of civilization as we know it.

So it’s clear that the NFL, Fox (who is broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl), and all the relevant sponsorship parties want to keep everything as even as possible, which probably means Mars’ performance will be more Grammy-centric than his psychedelic fire-and-brimstone sex sermon from the VMAs. (And if he does sing “Gorilla,” it’ll definitely be the radio edit.) It’s a business decision, and a shrewd one at that: There are billions riding on the Super Bowl, and Bruno Mars is exactly the sort of artist that keeps all the check writers happy. He won’t make you any money, but he also won’t drive people to the Puppy Bowl either.

Here’s one other point about the next Super Bowl Halftime Show: Since the show will be outdoors in February in New Jersey, how many people do you think said no because they don’t want to perform in what will almost certainly be frigid conditions? Sports writers are already complaining about having to work in the cold, and it’s entirely possible that scenario drove away some potential names. (Singing live in cold weather comes with its own set of well-known problems.)

So who would you have booked for the Super Bowl Halftime Show? Would you have chosen some other pop star, somebody with more narrative ties to the New Jersey/New York area, or would you have preferred another dip into the classic-rock well? And how many of you wish the WWE still did Halftime Heat? Sound off in the comments below.