Last night, Katy Perry rode into University of Phoenix Stadium on the back of an oversized golden jungle cat. Perry’s animatronics opened this year’s extravagant Super Bowl halftime show, including a virtual game of chess, a tropical island party, and a journey through the stars, all in twelve minutes’ time. The one to raise the creative bar for Super Bowl performances of this scale was, not surprisingly, Michael Jackson. Yet the entertainment that he created for his 1993 halftime show went beyond ‘big, bigger, biggest’. Jackson used his twelve minutes of worldwide exposure to actively engage the audience in his unwavering plea for human solidarity and compassion.
The many talents that Jackson developed in his 45-year career peeked at various moments in his life. One of these moments was his 1993 Super Bowl performance. With 133.4 million people tuned in for the show, Jackson at the time drew the largest number of Super Bowl viewers ever, earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
But Jackson deserves credit for more than being able to draw in numbers. He also used his talents to achieve his humanitarian goals, which formed the driving force behind most – if not all – of his performances.
Up to that time, the Super Bowl had been a rather tame showcase for cheerleaders, gymnasts, marching bands and rising stars. But Jackson’s performance changed the entire game. In 1993, he catapulted himself on stage using a mechanism called the ‘toaster’ and then stood frozen for 90 seconds. Nothing happened, except for the audience going bananas. Jackson then exploded, like the fireworks around him, into song and dance, performing ‘Jam’, his legendary ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Black or White’.
The hat flip, the moonwalk, the crotch grab, the white socks and black loafers, the black-and-gold uniform, the sunglasses, the synchronicity of the dancers – it was all there as part of Jackson’s carefully crafted image as a performer.
The show’s highlight, however, was Jackson’s heartfelt appeal to humanity. Turning Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium into a temporary hub for worldwide compassion, Jackson asked the audience to help him by holding coloured cards over their heads.
Within minutes, the different sections of the stadium transformed into supersized children’s drawings, showing boys and girls of all races holding hands in a circle of brother- and sisterhood. Dedicating his next song to the children of the world, Jackson performed ‘Heal the World’ while being joined on stage by hundreds of children in costumes from around the world. To underline the scope of his message, Jackson had a huge globe inflated on stage, forming the centrepiece of his grand finale.
It was not just Jackson’s talent and hard work that brought him to this moment in American football history. It was also his profound longing to ‘make this world a better place’. Throughout his entire career, Jackson chose to share the fruits of his successes with those less fortunate, and not without results. After the Super Bowl, the NFL donated $100,000 to Jackson’s Heal the World Foundation.
This is not to say that Jackson diminished the entertainment value of his performances. As much as today’s Super Bowl performers, he loved creativity, innovation and mind-blowing effects. He wanted his halftime show to be big, memorable and perfect.
But rather than limiting his appearance to a moment of wow and newspaper accolades, Jackson used his time on stage to engage humanity in his quest to eradicate war, hunger and poverty. By doing so, he brought the entire concept to a level that only few other artists have reached. Katy Perry, for that matter, didn’t even come close. But then again, Jackson’s shoes are hard to fill.
© Annemarie Latour
Note: if you wish to support Michael Jackson’s lifelong dream of making this world a better place, please visit: www.michaeljacksonslegacy.org