Pure Magic: The Oral History of Prince’s Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show
As the heavens opened up and rain poured down, the Purple One ran through a handful of covers and some of his own songs, delivering an iconic set on the biggest stage possible and only expanding his legend By Alan Siegel Jan 29, 2020, 6:30am EST
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OnOn February 4, 2007, heavy rain fell over Miami—and for those planning the Super Bowl XLI halftime show, so did a sense of dread. It’s one thing to play a football game in a storm. It’s another to put on an intricately staged concert in one.
“It was the most scared I was in my life,” says executive producer Charles Coplin, then the NFL’s head of programming. “And I’m sure I wasn’t alone.”
The man scheduled to perform was nervous, too. Yes, even Prince saw the potential for disaster. “People are like, ‘He gets nervous?’” says his musical director and keyboardist, Morris Hayes. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s not nervous for himself. He’s nervous for us.’ He’s trying to make sure that we’re in the right places at the right parts. What’s gonna happen when it starts raining and the floor’s slick?”
By that point, the Super Bowl halftime show was in dire need of the Purple One’s energy. Over the course of 40 years, the event had gone from a marching band showcase to an Up With People residency, to a Disnified pageant with occasional drop-ins by pop stars like Michael Jackson, to an MTV-produced, superficially edgy spectacle that bottomed out in 2004 when Justin Timberlake infamously exposed Janet Jackson’s breast to a worldwide audience of 144.4 million. A course correction followed, as the NFL turned to baby boomer–friendly acts Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. And while they may have been rock legends with countercultural roots, by the aughts they’d become safe entertainment.
Prince was different. Even after decades of fame, the sex symbol hadn’t toned down his genre-defying music or his envelope-pushing persona. Just three years prior, on the night that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” stole the show from a handful of less-otherworldly legends. Unlike his big-game predecessors, Prince refused to trot out a handful of his hits and call it a night. For the intermission, the icon designed a unique 12-minute set. After all, he wasn’t about to allow himself to be overshadowed by the biggest damn sporting event of the year.
“It was one of those instances where you dread something might happen and then when it does,” says executive producer Don Mischer, “suddenly it turns around and almost becomes a blessing.”
The story of the greatest Super Bowl halftime show of all time starts not on that rainy South Florida evening, but with a sales pitch by late producer David Saltz at Prince’s house in Los Angeles …
Part I: “Sir, Follow Me, Please.”
John Meglen (Concerts West copresident, Prince tour promoter): David Saltz, rest his soul, approached [Concerts West copresident] Paul [Gongaware] and I to see if Prince would be interested in doing the halftime show. That was right after we had finished doing the Musicology tour.
Ruth Arzate (Prince’s personal assistant/manager): David Saltz worked with the NFL and he worked with ABC.
Don Mischer (executive producer): Since the wardrobe malfunction, the NFL decided to get more involved.
Charles Coplin (executive producer): David was hired to go out into the music community and ask around and sort of say, “Hey, we’re building this franchise.” I think that after we did McCartney and the Stones we had built up some credibility on the rock ’n’ roll side, overcoming the Janet Jackson–Justin Timberlake theater. There were so many things about Prince that we liked, between his catalog, the fact that he was a performer, the fact that he appealed to a diverse group.
Meglen: Prince finally told Paul and I, “Bring this guy David Saltz over to the house for dinner.”
Paul Gongaware (Concerts West copresident, Prince tour promoter): It would’ve been sometime in ’06.
Morris Hayes (Prince musical director, keyboardist): We were at his house in L.A. just rehearsing, doing stuff with the band, when he had the NFL people come.
Meglen: We had a little meal, just the four of us. At the end of the meal, Prince reached down, and he had a little portable DVD player, because that’s what you had at the time. We weren’t going online at that point. He had a bunch of the previous Super Bowl halftimes. And he basically was critiquing them, saying, “This was good but I wouldn’t have done this.”
Hayes: This is what his thing is: “I don’t care about how you did it before. This is how I do it.”
Meglen: Which finally prompted Saltz to go, “What would you do?” He looked at Saltz, and in his normal Prince way, said, “Sir, follow me, please.” And the three of us followed him upstairs into the living room. And the entire band was standing there in position.
Hayes: He tried to give us a heads-up just to make sure we were on point. Just so, like, everybody knew their stuff.
Meglen: He went over, put on his guitar, and said, “Hit it.”
Arzate: He gave us actually all a private show. The cleaning people, myself, and the executives.
Hayes: The four of us—me, Josh [Dunham] on bass, Cora [Coleman] on drums, and him—we just played some songs and it just sounded like a wall of sound. It was bananas. They couldn’t believe that four people put out that much sound. Prince really liked to show that off. And they were just like, “Oh my God, this is crazy.”
Arzate: I kept watching them, because they’re four straight white dudes, and Prince is just jamming on the guitar.
Meglen: At one point, Saltz takes out his lighter. Because it’s just the [four] of us in the living room. He takes out his lighter and he’s going back and forth with it up above.
Arzate: I look over and their mouths are agape. They were incredibly enthralled.
Hayes: I recall them sitting there just, like, in awe. They were like, “We’re done. We’re good.” It was crazy.
Arzate: And they’re like, “Yes, yes, we definitely want him to play the halftime.”
Part II: “The Greatest Super Bowl Show Ever Done”
Prince wasn’t interested in going through the motions of a standard Super Bowl halftime show. The set list he came up with featured a medley of his own songs and four covers, including a recent one by the Foo Fighters, a band that in 2003 had recorded a version of Prince’s “Darling Nikki.” While the details of the concert were being worked out in late 2006 and early 2007, the artist was in the middle of a residency at Club 3121 inside the Rio hotel in Las Vegas.
Arzate: After David Saltz came by the house and Prince put on that half-hour private show, he began to compile music. He asked me to retrieve a list of CDs every Tuesday when new music was released but he added some Foo Fighters albums, Santana, Hendrix, and Nine Inch Nails. I think he was playing with the idea of mixing up some of those artists.
I made a mention that I loved the Foos and I heard them do “Darling Nikki” at a show once. He said, “The Foos are the only band that could do a collection of my rock songs justice.” I replied, “Oh my gosh, that would be amazing!” He then said, “You wish.” I responded with, “I do. I do.” He made a smirky face and dismissed me from the office.
Hayes: He said he wanted to do the greatest Super Bowl show ever done. He just said, “We really want to think about what we do and not be like everybody else.” We kind of sat in the studio and talked it out. He’s like, “I like this Foo Fighters song.” And “All Along the Watchtower.” He just started thinking about the show and piecing it together in his head.
Shelby J. (vocalist): When we started looking at the songs on the set list, I was seeing like, “Best of You” and “Watchtower.” This dude is planning a show. And the way his mind works—it’s hard for me to speak of him in past tense—is to want it to be about the music and not do what everybody’s expecting, like come out and play “Raspberry Beret” and “Little Red Corvette” and then go into “Kiss.” He was paying homage to Ike and Tina Turner with “Proud Mary.” And Queen! And then he mixed his music into that. It’s like, “No it’s not about me. It’s about the music, it’s about this moment.”
Josh Dunham (bass): He loved what he loved. Even though his music was great, he enjoyed doing other people’s music.
Mark Caro (Chicago Tribune critic): The idea that Prince had 12 minutes and devoted some of it to a Foo Fighters cover—that’s really quirky! He didn’t have a Foo Fighters cover on record. It wasn’t available anywhere. He wasn’t promoting anything.
Coplin: I do remember, and I hate admitting this, that I thought that there could’ve been a couple more of his hits in the set list. But I was glad nobody took me seriously. ’Cause I would’ve been wrong.
Mischer: We met at his residence at the Rio hotel where he had the logo imprinted in marble on the floor. It was pretty amazing. And we went through what it’s like to do the Super Bowl. The first thing we have to tell people is: You have to understand that when you do the Super Bowl halftime show, you’re one cog in a wheel and it’s not 100 percent yours. There are limitations.
Shelby J.: To rehearse for the Super Bowl, we had tape on the floor where we did our shows. We didn’t have the symbol stage. We were there in Vegas without that symbol stage. We were just doing it in a theater. But it wasn’t like in the round or anything like that.
Nandy McClean (singer, dancer): We kind of mapped out where the point was and where the two side sections are. The little shoehorn side and then the curl side of the symbol. And then we rehearsed it—that was our preparation for the arena.
Hayes: When we got to Minneapolis for a few days, then it intensified. That’s how he liked to work. He likes to focus on the project at hand. And then we kind of do it. And when we got to Minneapolis it was all about the Super Bowl. We ran it and then boom, locked it in.
Coplin recalls having a spectacularly memorable pre–Super Bowl week meeting with Prince in the star’s spacious room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Coplin: We took the elevator up, walked down the hall, knocked on the door, and there he was. There was Prince. He was wearing a canary yellow suit and makeup. And he just didn’t look human. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. He looked like he was kind of this angel or this alien or something. He smiled at us and he invited us in and we were walking and he was gliding, and the reason why he was gliding is because he was wearing these kids sneakers with the wheels on them. He was wheeling down the floor and the lights of his sneakers were lighting up in the back, the same color as his canary yellow suit.
Arzate: They were specially made by Andre’s shoes. So when you step, they spark and they make colors. He also had a pair of skates like that.
Coplin: We sat down on these white couches in his suite, and he sat down across from us, and started to try to explain his thought process for what we were about to hear. And he’s kind of a low talker, so you were leaning in to listen to what he was saying. I think he kind of looked at us and got the fact that we aren’t artists. He sort of shifted gears and said, “Well rather than keep going, I’d like you to experience this in the fourth dimension.” And we were all like, not gonna say, “What does that mean?” because we didn’t want to look like we weren’t cool. He wheeled over on the hardwood floor to this mixing board he had at the end of his suite where he had these giant speakers.
Arzate: Prince looks like he floats and he flits—but he kind of does. You’ll turn around and he’ll be right next to you. How the freak did that happen? It’s very unnerving.
Coplin: He pressed a button and wheeled toward us, and then you heard that thunder crack and then the sort of beat from “We Will Rock You.” And he just cranked it. It was just so fucking loud. That’s when you’re like, “Oh shit, what’s he gonna play?” Is he gonna play “Little Red Corvette?” Is he gonna play “1999?” Is he gonna play “Raspberry Beret?” Then as the songs were going, he wheeled in and out of the room and, maybe when “Baby I’m a Star” came on, he had this box of tissues. And he gave each one of us a tissue and then he wheeled out again.
So we were just sitting there holding these tissues listening to this music at high volume, trying to evaluate whether these were the right songs. And as we listened, “Proud Mary” and “Best of You” came on, which was really like, “Whoa.” And “All Along the Watchtower.” And then it went into that reworking of “Purple Rain.” It was just really, really beautiful and overwhelming and surreal.
And then the music came to an end and kind of faded out, he wheeled back in again with the tissues, and held his tissue aloft, and kind of asked us to raise our tissues. And then he just kind of waited a beat, until we were almost uncomfortable. I think he was enjoying the fact that we were a little freaked out—he was mischievous. He was nice but he liked to fuck with you a little bit. And he just took the tissue, put it up to his eye, and dabbed his eye, like he was crying. Then he started laughing. We were like, “Thank you so much and we’ll see you in Miami.”
Part III: “I Don’t Do Interviews”
Prince’s Super Bowl week was booked solid. In between a full show at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Wednesday and an appearance with Latin funk outfit Grupo Fantasma at a private party for CBS on Friday, he made time for the halftime act and national anthem singer’s customary press conference at Miami Beach Convention Center.
Mischer: When we said, “You’ll have to have a press conference. They would like to interview you,” Prince point blank said, “I don’t do interviews.”
Coplin: There were just a few things where he was like, “I’m not gonna do that.” We’re like, “We’re not gonna break the deal over this.”
Mischer: He said, “I’m just gonna play for them.” And we said “OK.”
J.A. Adande (Los Angeles Times and ESPN columnist): Colts-Bears, 2007. I was at one of the team’s media availabilities and I just remember somebody coming up to me and saying, “Prince is gonna do a mini concert at his press conference.” Really? The anthem singer and halftime act traditionally do a news conference. And Prince didn’t talk to the media. So I thought, “Wow, if Prince comes it’s gonna be cool enough.” And then they said, “No, it’s gonna be a performance.” I said, “OK, I have to be there.”
Bill Plaschke (L.A. Times columnist): When they do it now, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, they’re all there. That’s who dominates those press conferences. Back then, it was just a band and a bunch of us hacks.
Adande: I was there early. There’s instruments set up. So I think he really is gonna perform.
Plaschke: This was the same press conference as Billy Joel.
Adande: Billy Joel was just in this sour mood. I don’t know why. You’re in Miami, it’s the Super Bowl, you’re gonna do the anthem.
Plaschke: Adande nudged me during Billy Joel and said stand up and ask Billy Joel if anyone’s ever said he looks like me. And I wasn’t gonna do that.
Mischer, whose company produced the show, soon introduced the guest of honor.
Hayes: Once again, Prince being a master of just stirring the pot and really doing something different, he had said, “We’re gonna have this press conference, but just be ready for anything.” And so we was like, “OK.” We knew that he knew that he was gonna do something.
Meglen: I just remember being back there with all these pipes and draped-off rooms. We were there for the longest fuckin’ time. It’s not easy to keep him there long. We just wanted to get it over with so we could get the hell out of there.
Shelby J.: As we’re walking to the stage I’m like, “I think I’m gonna be sick.” All I can see ahead of me is all these cameras. And so there were these doors over to my left, I didn’t say a word to anybody. I just kindly excused myself for a moment. There were bushes outside. I literally got sick, stood back up, and was like, “OK.” And people were [there] in their Super Bowl garb, but they don’t know me from a can of paint, so I was cool with that. I shut the door and came back in.
Adande: Prince and all his people come out and kind of pick up their instruments, and take their positions.
Flanked by Australian dancers Nandy and Maya McClean—the Twinz—Prince stepped up to the microphone in a salmon-colored suit, thanked Mischer, and addressed the reporters sitting in front of him. “We hope we don’t rock your ears too much,” he said. “Contrary to rumor, I’d like to take a few questions right now.” At that moment, someone in the crowd blurted out, “Prince, how do you feel about performing …”
Adande: I think it was a plant.
Gongaware: It was one of the sportswriters.
Adande: Before he could even finish [the question], Prince just breaks into “Johnny B. Goode.”
Hayes: He says, “All right, when we get out here, I’m gonna say this and make a downbeat, and then we just go for it.”
Adande: I’ll never forget that set list. “Johnny B. Goode” and “Anotherloverholenyohead.” [Editor’s note: There was a third song, “Get on the Boat.”]
McClean: A bit of a wow factor. He doesn’t tell us what he’s doing, either. We didn’t know he was gonna do that. I reacted and laughed when it happened. He’s keeping us on our toes.
Arzate: That’s part of Prince’s humor. He’s a clown. “That was typical Prince: I’m gonna fuck with you, but I’m gonna make you happy.” —Charles Coplin
Coplin: That was typical Prince: I’m gonna fuck with you, but I’m gonna make you happy.
Adande: It was labeled a press conference, so people weren’t in concert mode. There was a smattering of applause, because journalists don’t applaud at press conferences. Folks stayed in their seats. Maybe he didn’t go all out, but Prince’s floor is so high that it still was evident we were watching a virtuoso at work. We didn’t deserve that performance.
Shelby J.: He kept y’all guessing. He kept us guessing. He would always say, “Stay ready. To stay ready, you’ve gotta get ready.” That’s it. We had to stay ready for whatever. He might’ve kept going and gone into another song. There were many times where you never knew what you were gonna get.
Cora Coleman (drums): Rehearsals were as intense as the shows themselves. Always on! Always ready! Always seeing ourselves beyond ourselves, as we want the audience to see us.
Hayes: Prince was just a master of that kind of thing—generating interest and doing something different—and it was always a lot of fun. That’s what I liked about him. He wasn’t afraid, so he just tried stuff. And it just worked.
Part IV: “He Wasn’t Upset. He Was Nervous.”
Prince and his band practiced for the halftime show in a tent next to Dolphin Stadium. They had only one chance to do a full run-through inside the then-75,000-seat behemoth. It didn’t exactly go smoothly.
Mischer: Thursday night we got three hours on the field itself. That’s the only time in 2007 when we actually got on the field to rehearse it.
Coplin: Thursday, that’s when we brought in the FAMU marching band and all of the sort of bells and whistles.
Mischer: The stage was the shape of Prince’s logo. It came out, I think, in 48 separate pieces. It was rolled together by about 624 volunteers who had donated their weekends and one night per week for four weeks before the Super Bowl to actually rehearse the stage being put together, connected electrically, being disassembled, and rolled off.
Meglen: The run-through on Thursday, they have to tape that. Because if for some reason, you physically can’t really do the halftime show, they still have to have something to broadcast to the rest of the world, right? So they tape that one. But the whole time they’re in rehearsals, Prince never turned his guitar on, and never turned his vocal mic on, so he knew what everybody else was doing at all times.
Hayes: That’s why they shoot it at the dress rehearsal. If there’s something like a weather anomaly, then they’ll just run the footage, [and] cut it for television like it’s live. They had it all planned out. The prep stuff, it was always intense. He’s like, on everybody. He’s on the techs. He’s on us. He’s with the production. He’s out in the sound truck. It’s just crazy intense because he’s trying to cross every “t” and dot every “i.”
McClean: You know how we had the little elevator on the stage where he goes down? During rehearsals he had one of these microphone stands that had the round base. And when we ran it in the rehearsals, every time we got to that part, he ended up placing the microphone stand half on the stage and half on the area that gets lowered down.
Meglen: His foot hits the base of the mic stand and pops it right in his forehead. He goes down in the toaster and he gets in a golf cart, and three minutes later, you hear on the radio, “Prince would like to see John Meglen and Don Mischer in his trailer.” Mischer goes, “What does he want?” I say, “I don’t know.” We go in and it’s just the two of us in the trailer. Prince waves me down at the far end and he starts going, “I want you to get that tape.” And Mischer can hear me at the other end and he’s going, “I’m not giving up the tape.” I don’t know where that tape is. It would be amazing to see it.
Arzate: He was upset about the sound. And part of that was, Prince is really very cognizant of how black performers are treated. And he always has a slight—not a big one—paranoia that someone’s gonna mess with the sound and make him look bad.
I go to the [production] guys and they’re like, “We’re aware, there’s nothing we can do. When the stadium is filled, it’ll sound way better. What’s most important is what’s on television.” I go back to Prince, I give him the rundown, and he’s still not happy. He’s like, “I need you to make sure that the sound is gonna be fantastic.” I realized he wasn’t upset—he was nervous.
Part V: “Now That’s Show Business”
By the time Super Bowl Sunday dawned, clouds had rolled in. The NFL’s championship game had never been played in the rain, but Mother Nature was about to change that.
Coplin: I had grown up in Miami. It was just unheard of to have a driving rainstorm in February. So everybody started watching the radar and everybody kept telling us that the good news is that the radar looks like it’s gonna clear up when the show goes on. We had no Plan B.
Mischer: We were aware that there was a possibility of rain. And we worried about it, because that was water on that Mylar stage, with all that electricity and everything else. I remember the night before the Super Bowl just [thinking], “God what would happen if he fell down? Or the Twinz fell down or broke a leg or something. What does he do? Does he just step over them and keep going? What do we do?” We were dreading it.
Lesley Visser (CBS Sports): I’ve been freezing in Lambeau, I’ve been in the snow in Foxborough and Soldier Field. Mailmen will always tell you that rain is the worst.
Arzate: The morning comes, and I get up really early, and it’s storming. It wasn’t like rain. It was like somebody was throwing buckets of water at the window.
Shelby J.: Not just a drizzle. Not just a light rain. It was like a monsoon.
Arzate: I was like, “Oh shit.”
Shelby J.: We’re thinking, “Are we gonna change some stuff? … Are we gonna wear tennis shoes now?” Prince was like, “Don’t change nothing.” And that was part of him teaching us and me personally to be fearless.
Arzate: I knew that the executives were concerned about the rain and about electrocution and they were like, “We can always pretend that you’re singing” and have everything off and just play the track. And Prince was like, “I’m Prince, I’m gonna play live.”
McClean: I was wrapping my mind around how big the event was. I didn’t have much experience with it, coming from Australia. My only visual image of it was Michael Jackson—I remember him being out in the sunny stage with his glasses on and popping to the stage and then standing there like a robot. That was my only association with it. So, it was pretty exciting to think that we were kind of going to be doing our own version of that.
Arzate: He calls me into the trailer, and of course he looks impeccable. I go, “Prince you look amazing.” And he goes, “Thank you.” And he looks at me and he doesn’t say anything. I remember I looked like a drowned rat.
Meglen: The rain was pouring down, it was Paul, me, and Trevor [Allen], his bodyguard, and this little guy from CBS, with his headset. It’s like the two-minute warning and he goes, “All right, it’s two minutes time to roll.” And we’re all standing there and nobody’s doing anything. We’re all waiting for him to come out, you know? And he’s like, “It’s one minute. It’s getting critical.” And we all look at each other. Are you gonna go in there? I’m not going in to get him. You go in and get him! I think Trevor was going to open the door. That’s when he opened up. He was putting his do-rag on.
Kim Berry (Prince’s hairstylist): He was like, “They’re not gonna make me do this show, are they?” I said, “Man, this is live. Yes, you’ve got to do this show.” So he was like, “Kim, get me a hat.” And I said, “You can’t wear a hat. This is the Super Bowl!” I started tucking all his scarves in a couch and trying to hide them. By that time, they already had him in a golf cart taking him across the field.
Coplin: I had made a call downstairs to the backstage area: “Are we good, are we good?” And then I finally heard from one of the people downstairs and I said, “Is Prince OK?” And then he said, “He wants to know if you can make it rain harder.” I was like, “We’re gonna be OK.”
Shelby J.: Like, who says that? That was just him!
Arzate: Once they call showtime for him, you can see all the people scrambling with the stage. It’s such a production.
Coplin: That stage had a bunch of moving parts and it was pouring rain. Supposedly part of the stage wheeled over a cable and severed the cable, and some very heroic guy had to plug in this cable in a pouring rainstorm and probably risk serious electrocution.
Mischer: There was a man on our lighting crew whose name was Tony Ward. And Tony, realizing we were now counting down to going on the air, took his pliers and stripped the insulation off the three cables. And he inserted them into a plug, just raw, and held that for the entire 12-and-a-half-minute duration, in the rain. To keep the lights and all that working. I’m glad I didn’t know about that until afterward because that would’ve scared the hell out of me.
Hayes: These guys went through hell and back to make sure all of the tech worked.
Arzate: When they announced Prince, and you see the symbol light up and all of that, the crowd. It’s all dark. The crowd goes nuts. And I’m like, “Are these white people really gonna be into Prince?”
Berry: He comes out on the stage and he has this do-rag wrapped around his head. And I’m like, “Oh, my God! He’s covered up my hair.”
Hayes: You just have to realize that the floor is this slippery tile. It looks dope but when it got wet it was like standing on glass.
McClean: Obviously the stage was really slippery and there was no way for us to control that environment except for putting little grips on the bottom of our shoes. We had planned to do that anyway, because we’re always dancing in knee boots, so we always had those on hand.
Hayes: I worried about Prince because he’s got these heels on, man. And he goes for it, man. You do not want a national TV wipeout.
Mischer: When we hit air I was really worried and concerned. And then after about 45 seconds, I began to say, “This actually looks incredible. This could be a blessing in disguise.” Mist was dripping across the stage, creating this ethereal mood. Drops of water began to create stars on the lenses.
Arzate: He starts performing and we hear the first few bars. I’m like, “Do we really want to be up here watching this?” I think we need to be down on the floor. And [Kim’s] like, “Oh my God, yes.” We take off from the suite, and then we run. This is the dumbest thing ever. Why did we think we wanted to watch the show from here? We run through this maze. We zip through, I nearly hip-thrust Billy Joel to the ground. And I hear him say, “Oh my God, it’s Prince, I can’t miss Prince.” “‘That man was pure magic.’ He was one that could dance underwater and not get wet.” —Kim Berry
Berry: People ask me, “Was there an umbrella on the stage? How did he not get wet?” I said, “That man was pure magic.” He was one that could dance underwater and not get wet.
Arzate: I look at Prince and I’m like, “Kim, am I hallucinating or is there no rain on him?” You could see a couple of droplets on his shoulder. And we’re looking and she’s like, “It just looks like a fine mist on his face.”
Mischer: We started off with “We Will Rock You.”
Shelby J.: You’ve got rock, mixed with R&B, mixed with his stuff. It’s like, he knew how to weave together this perfect painting of so many different genres. My homeboy was like, “You guys opened with Queen!” I was like, “I know!” We put our little spin on it.
Caro: He just figured out how to do something of that scale while remaining Prince.
Shelby J.: If you go back and watch he had three or four different guitars. He gave each guitar its own highlight. It had to be during “Best of You”—he played just a stupid guitar solo, and he’s walking out in the rain.
Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters drummer, to MTV in 2007): I was watching the game at our producer Nick Raskulinecz’s house, and since he’s doing the new Rush album, all the guys from the band were there. I mean, I’m outside smoking a cigarette with [the late Rush drummer] Neil Peart and someone sticks their head outside and goes, “Uh, dude, Prince is doing your song.”
I have no idea why he did it, but I’d love to find out. I mean, the thought went through my head that maybe he was doing it as a sort of “Fuck you” to us, or maybe he really likes the song. Either way, it was pretty amazing to have a guy like Prince covering one of our songs—and actually doing it better than we did.
Coplin: I would be watching the monitors and trying to factor my own opinion about the show, but no matter what you see in the television truck, you have no sort of sense of what people at home are experiencing. And I remember just my phone started blowing up. Like, “OMG, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” I just had all these people, friends, colleagues, people in the business, just really losing their minds on my texts. And that’s when I knew that this thing was really maybe even better than we thought it was gonna be.
Nathan Vasher (Bears cornerback): The last two or three minutes, I peeked out of the tunnel. I didn’t want to go all the way out there, but for two or three minutes I got to witness greatness. I haven’t experienced that greatness again.
Hayes: The rain started to come during “Purple Rain.” It was crazy. It was like, “Dude, you couldn’t ask for anything better than this.”
McClean: When we were rehearsing, Prince was like, “So when you get to this section, I want you to stage dive.” I was like, “What does that look like?” Because I’d never done it before. I’m also not Prince where everybody’s got their eyes on me the whole time, the whole show, and they’re just dying to touch me. Will they stick their hands up? And when we actually got to the arena, I couldn’t stage dive because the big sheet came up.
Adande: If you watch the halftime performance, the way he holds his guitar when his silhouette is on the sheet is very phallic.
Mischer: At the Olympics in 1996, we had created this shadow effect. We created shadows on a screen that was pulled up, reminded the world that saw those opening ceremonies that the Olympics started in Greece. We had ancient Greek poses of discus throwers, javelin throwers, and all of that. We used that again with Prince and when he turned his guitar sideways there were some comments about whether he was trying to make a statement.
While Prince’s shadow didn’t cause the same kind of outrage that the wardrobe malfunction did, The Smoking Gun reported that more than 150 people complained to the Federal Communications Commission about it. On his show, Stephen Colbert jokingly referred to Prince’s “demonic guitar phallus.”
McClean: Me and my sister, we were singers and dancers in Disney’s The Lion King. In that show there’s this African section where we all come out on stage and we’re flying these huge poles that have these beautiful rainbow kite birds on the end of them. I said, “Well, Prince is associated with doves, how about we do that same thing that Julie Taymor did in The Lion King?” I said we’ll do it on “Purple Rain,” and me, Maya, and Shelby can fly the birds while “Purple Rain” is happening.
Shelby J.: It felt like I was trying to wrestle a marlin or something. Just with the wind blowing against this bird. And I just remember that moment. My arms are so sore, and my shoulders. And I had to keep singing!
Caro: I just remember at the end, just seeing him basking in that guitar solo on “Purple Rain,” with the rain coming down and I think it had this purple glow because they probably lit it that way. It just was like, “Whoa, this is really something.” This is an artistic statement rather than just a guy pushing those buttons and promoting his product. You just were in awe of him.
Hayes: It’s like a movie within itself because of how it all unfolded.
Coleman: It was the longest 12 minutes ever. It almost felt like slow motion.
Berry: At the end, when he snatched that do-rag off his head, and threw it into the audience, I said, “Now, that’s show business. That’s how you do it.”
Part VI: “I Always Make History”
Even before Peyton Manning and the Colts wrapped up a 29-17 victory against the Bears, it was apparent that Prince didn’t just put on the greatest halftime show ever. He delivered one of the most iconic performances of his career to 140 million people around the world. These days, almost four years since his death, it continues to be remembered as such.
Meglen: We had a suite, so he could go and watch the second half in it. We had a white van, a 16-seater van and we were gonna drive him from the little trailer. It’s just me and Paul with Prince. And he’s like, two seats behind us, in the back. We started to read him all the texts we’re getting from people. And he finally leans over and he goes, “Hey guys,” and we just all high five each other.
Arzate: We run through the stadium and when we show back up at the suite, he had just finished. We missed how it ended. We walk into the suite, he’s already in the suite. I don’t know how.
Coplin: I remember at the end of the show one of our producers went up to him and said, “I heard I’m not allowed to hug you.” And he said, “No, you’re not allowed to take pictures, but you’re allowed to hug me.”
Adande: At the commissioner’s party, that night, after the game, we’re there and my friend, the late [St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist] Bryan Burwell, was there, and he told me how [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell came in. Burwell goes up to him and says, “I think Prince kind of got one over on you guys.” And Goodell said sheepishly, “Yeah, that was a boner.”
Caro: He took this massively overscaled event and just sort of bent it to his will.
Adrian Quesada (former Grupo Fantasma guitarist): I remember hearing from a couple people in his band that they felt that there was a little bit of nervousness around the Super Bowl week with him. Which is hard to imagine. He just seems so superhuman.
Hayes: After the fact, it was a lot of dap slapping, and he was happy with the way the band came off. And we went and looked at the video. They added a lot of stuff. The CGI things. Like the lightning strikes, pyrotechnics. Prince actually sent me some text messages. Like, screenshots of the different pyrotechnics and some notes like, “Nice job.”
Shelby J.: He thanked us. Let’s just be honest. Prince is and was the biggest star. Star, star, star. He didn’t need the Twinz, me, Mary, Joseph, Jesus. He didn’t need nobody. He could’ve stood there by himself and done a whole show and it still would’ve been amazing. The way he was so generous with his light …
Coleman: He was a global icon and had the choice of anyone in the world to share this moment with, but he allowed me to be his heartbeat. It’s an honor that will always resonate with me. We were so used to being together like a family and rehearsing countless hours, that anxiety was replaced with heartfelt respect and gratitude. The impact was undeniable.
Coplin: There was always that, “What the fuck are we gonna do next year? How are we gonna top this?”
Visser: Having been on the field to see Springsteen, and McCartney, and Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, and the Stones, I would say it was the greatest 12-minute, mystical, magical halftime.
Hayes: When you’re on top of the heap, everybody’s gunning for you. Everybody’s like, “We’re gonna beat Prince.” Sometimes I have to admit I check to see if we’re gonna get beat. A lot of times I go away feeling like, “Yep, we won.”
Mischer: Right after the Super Bowl, I flew into Beijing and at the airport I was met by reporters who were talking about the Prince halftime show. And the first question to me was, “How many water trucks did it take to create the rain effect that you achieved on TV?”
Dan Piepenbring (Prince biographer): It was March of 2016. He and I had been working on the book for I guess two months when he finally finished the contractual negotiations with Random House. And then he threw this announcement party, which in itself is pretty unusual. I mean, for someone to have a party just to say that they’re writing a book—not have written, but are going to write. But of course everyone there was excited about it.
And he kind of took the stage and announced that he was gonna be writing this memoir, and that’s when he said that he was starting with his first memory and going all the way to the Super Bowl. That was news to me because we had never discussed the Super Bowl.
The next night I went out with him and he brought up the Super Bowl. He had just come from seeing Hamiltonand he was really jazzed on that whole musical and was thinking about the structure of the book and the tone of it. And he said, “I was thinking we could start the book with the Super Bowl. What it feels like to get to that moment.” But that was really the last time I saw him in person. And that was the last time we discussed the Super Bowl in any capacity. We had just scratched the surface of it, but I know that it was a really important moment for him, a really canonical moment in his career.
Arzate: You could tell he was very happy with his performance. I was like, “You made history.” And he was like, “I always make history.”
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