The invitation: “I recall them sitting there in awe”
Prince was in the middle of promoting his 2004 album, Musicology, when he told Entertainment Weekly, “We’ve gone too far now.” And it was shortly after he wrapped up the Musicology Live2004ever tour that the NFL began to float the idea of Prince as the perfect Super Bowl halftime show performer.
Two years later, Prince hosted an intimate dinner for NFL organisers at his rented home in Los Angeles. After his critiques of past Super Bowl halftime shows pushed the NFL to ask what he would do instead, Prince led his guests to a room where his band was set up, and treated them to a private performance which left them in no doubt that Prince was the artist they needed to book. “I recall them sitting there just, like, in awe,” Prince’s keyboardist Morris Hayes told The Ringer in 2020. “They were like, ‘We’re done. We’re good.’ It was crazy.”
The rehearsals: “He put a lot of effort into the halftime show”
Prince was staging his Per4ming Live 3121 residency at Las Vegas’ Rio All-Suite Hotel And Casino when he began to plan his Super Bowl halftime show. As well as earmarking classics from his Purple Rain album for inclusion in the setlist, Prince looked wider afield, considering songs by R&B and soul pioneers Ike And Tina Turner (Proud Mary) as well as rock icons past and present – Queen (We Will Rock You), Bob Dylan (All Along The Watchtower) and Foo Fighters (Best Of You) – among them, as he aimed to present the Super Bowl’s global audience with swathe of music history. “It’s like, ‘No it’s not about me. It’s about the music, it’s about this moment,’” his backing singer Shelby J said, recalling Prince’s approach towards crafting his set.
“He put a lot of effort into the halftime show,” Don Mischer, Executive Producer of Super Bowl XLI’s halftime event, would later tell journalists. “He’s been very conscious of music that will work in a stadium and that will work for football fans, and that’s familiar.”
Prince had toured his Musicology album on a stage shaped as his “Love Symbol” and placed in the middle of the arena venues he had sold out throughout 2004 – perfect for the centre of a field in a sports stadium, but impossible to fit into the club-sized venue Prince was using for his Vegas residency. Bits of tape marked the band’s positions on the floor during rehearsals, which later relocated to Prince’s Paisley Park complex, in Minneapolis; but it wasn’t until three days before the Super Bowl itself that Prince and his band got to rehearse at Dolphin Stadium. With only three hours to work out the logistics of having the “Marching 100” Florida A&M University Marching Band enter the grounds, and to ensure the 600-plus volunteers, who had been practicing one night a week for four weeks, could seamlessly assemble and then disassemble the “Love Symbol”-shaped stage with zero delay to Prince’s performance or to the game, by the time it came to the event, Prince had only found time for one complete dress rehearsal inside the cavernous venue.
The press conference: “Contrary to rumour, I’d like to take a few questions right now”
Prince publicly announced that he would be headlining Super Bowl XLI on 1 February 2007, at a press conference held in Miami Beach Convention Center. Tradition had it that each halftime-show performer would agree to a public interview alongside that year’s singer of the national anthem – in this instance, Billy Joel. Prince, however, demurred, preferring instead to deliver a brief performance with his band – thought he would have his own fun with the journalists gathered in Conference Room C, unsure which of the day’s Prince rumours would come to pass.
“We hope we don’t wreck your ears too much,” Prince said as he took to the small stage following a glowing introduction from Don Mischer. “Contrary to rumour, I’d like to take a few questions right now.”
A single journalist had barely finished his question (“Prince, how do you feel about performing?”) before Prince launched into a breakneck version of Chuck Berry’s rock’n’roll classic Jonny B Goode. With his three-piece horn section racing behind him, he shifted gears into the Parade album highlight Anotherloverholenyohead, one of his two lookalike backing dancers, The Twinz, draping herself around him as he fired off an incendiary solo that exploded into a series of riffs that strafed The B-52’s Rock Lobster for good measure. Finishing the three-song set with Get On The Boat, from his recently released 3121 album, Prince may not have spoken much, but he answered any questions the press may have had regarding his intention to deliver the best Super Bowl halftime show in history.