The Super Bowl is about football and commercials, but also it’s about music.
It wasn’t always that way. The halftime show used to be an entertainment dead zone, lucky to get a past-his-prime Phil Collins or Gloria Estefan to perform. But in recent years contemporary top artists have taken control, relishing the one time every year when more than 100 million people watch the same thing.
“It’s the most important appearance an artist can make all year,” says John Sykes, president of entertainment enterprise at iHeartMedia. “Artists see it as an opportunity, as the one place to reach large diverse audiences to sell records, launch tours, and define and bolster their brands.”
Justin Timberlake is returning to the halftime show for the first time since 2004, when he capped Janet Jackson’s routine by pulling on her top, revealing a tassled nipple—thus, Nipplegate was born.
This year, Timberlake is getting ready for a new album and tour, timed nicely to follow the halftime show hype. During Super Bowl weekend, iHeartMedia is streaming Timberlake’s new album to capitalize on the surge in interest. Meanwhile, Spotify will track the artist and reveal Monday how much the show helped his streams.
“Justin is lining this up perfectly,” says Scott Keeney, aka DJ Skee, who is at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis doing musical gigs. “There’s no better venue to instantly jump to the top of the charts, with new music and classic songs.”
The music around the game is important, too. A well-placed song in a popular commercial can revive an artist’s popularity. In 2015, a Nissan ad featured Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle,” and streams for the song rose 334 percent, according to Spotify.
Last year, a Ford commercial helped raise the profile of a song by the late Nina Simone, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free,” with streams jumping 1,000 percent, according to Spotify.
This year, there already are breakout hits. Two weeks ago, Ram Trucks posted a video with The Tennessee Country Kids singing John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” which has more than 20 million views on YouTube.
John Denver’s version of the song is also seeing 8 percent more streams since Ram posted the video, Spotify says.
The Tennessee Kids are expected to appear with Timberlake at the halftime show, and while it hasn’t revealed any big game ads, Ram could wind up with a commercial spot—parent-company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has reserved five slots, but has not released full details.
“The artists not only get that moment in the Super Bowl,” Sykes says. “They get that magnification the next day. All our radio stations are talking about it, non-stop. So it extends their reach and marketing.'”
Other Super Bowl ads, already released, promise to offer musical opportunities. A Kia ad features Aerosmith’s classic anthem “Dream On.”
Squarespace has a spot starring Keanu Reeves, and it could be a success for Will Powers and his trippy motivational song “Adventures in Success.” That ditty saw streams rise 9 percent after the commerical was released last week ahead of the game, according to Spotify.
Then there’s Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” in a Doritos commercial featuring Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman. Streams of the song rose 15 percent on Spotify after the commercial was released.
Last year, the halftime show saw the peak audience from the game, with 118 million people tuning in to watch Lady Gaga’s performance, which was most memorable for her jumping off the roof of the stadium.
Lady Gaga saw streams of her songs quadruple on Spotify the day after the performance, the music streaming service said. She also went on tour afterward and she landed a star movie role in the remake of “A Star Is Born.”
“Great things happen when a musician is involved in the Super Bowl,” Sykes says.