The Weeknd has a Super Bowl gig just 7 years after his breakthrough, but is that the soonest ever? Here’s the list…

(January 10, 2021).  As the NFL season grinds through its playoff schedule after one of the most unusual regular seasons ever, many eyes are on pop superstar The Weeknd, who is gearing up to perform as the headliner at the Super Bowl LV (55) halftime show on February 7 in Tampa, FL.

The hype machine has already been running full speed for The Weeknd’s upcoming SB halftime show with these Pepsi ads.

The number of subplots to this year’s show will be many: the first big game played during the Covid-19 pandemic (what will attendance look like?); The Weeknd’s first major performance after being crowned with the No. 1 Hot 100 single of 2020 (“Blinding Lights”); and his first public appearance since being snubbed by the Grammys with zero nominations for his After Hours album and its record-breaking single.

But there’s another aspect to The Weeknd’s ascension to the grandest of stages that has people buzzing.  He is headlining the show after just seven years in the major spotlight – seven years and four months to be exact – since his album Kiss Land debuted at No. 2 in September 2013.

That’s a remarkable career trajectory for an artist who was just five years old the last time the Buffalo Bills won a playoff game (they won their first in 25 years on Saturday, January 9).

But it’s not the fastest turnaround overall for an artist from the beginning of their mainstream success to their first Super Bowl headlining event.  In fact, it’s not even in the top five.

Out of curiosity, and because I love doing these things, DJROBBLOG did some research and a little analysis to determine which artists have had the quickest trajectory from their breakthroughs to their first time headlining a Super Bowl halftime show.

To set the stage, we’ll need to go through some preliminaries. 

First, we’re defining a major breakthrough as an artist’s first appearance in the upper half of the Hot 100 singles chart, or the upper half of the Billboard 200 albums ranking, which in The Weeknd’s case was in September 2013 when Kiss Land debuted at No. 2.

Secondly, it’s also worth noting that the NFL didn’t start featuring musical acts during the big game’s halftime show on a regular basis until Super Bowl XXV (25) in 1991 when New Kids On The Block performed.  The stakes were raised even higher when Michael Jackson headlined Super Bowl XXVII just two years later, less than a decade after cementing his status as the biggest act in the world with the Thriller album.

For a number of years after the King of Pop’s show, the Super Bowl used a mix of solo and ensemble performances, and often did not name a headline act while, instead, giving multiple artists equal billing when applicable.  It wasn’t until after Janet Jackson’s and Justin Timberlake’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” incident in the 2004 game (SB XXXVIII) that the NFL began featuring single acts as “headliners,” some of which have since been accompanied by guest performers.

For the purpose of this article, only headline acts are being considered.  In cases prior to 2004 where the NFL didn’t designate one, DJROBBLOG considered those artists who performed the most songs during the event, or whose stature was the biggest among those who performed, or those who performed on the center main stage (in cases where there were multiple platforms).  In some cases, this resulted in multiple acts being credited for the same halftime show.

And finally, solo artists who fronted groups are calculated from the time their groups broke through.  For example, Michael Jackson was calculated from the time his group The Jackson 5 first hit the top half of the Hot 100 with their single “I Want You Back” in late 1969 to his performance in January 1993.

Okay, let’s get on it.  Here are the acts with the fastest trajectory from their mainstream career breakthroughs to their first appearance as a Super Bowl halftime show headliner.  

Rank – Artist – Time from Breakthrough to SB game (SB game and year):

  1. New Kids on the Block – 2 years, 6 months (SB XXV; 1991)
  2. Bruno Mars – 3 years, 4 months (SB XLVIII; 2014)
  3. Travis Tritt – 3 years, 9 months (SB XXVIII; 1994)
  4. Clint Black – 4 years, 7 months (SB XXVIII; 1994)
  5. Gloria Estéfan – 6 years, 1 month (SB XXVI; 1992)
  6. Boyz II Men – 6 years, 7 months (SB XXXII; 1998)
  7. Katy Perry – 6 years, 8 months (SB XLIX; 2015)
  8. No Doubt – 7 years (SB XXXVII; 2003)
  9. The Weeknd – 7 years, 4 months (SB LV; 2021)
  10. Shania Twain – 7 years, 9 months (SB XXXVII; 2003)
  11. Lady Gaga – 8 years, 4 months (SB LI; 2017)
  12. The Black Eyed Peas – 10 years, 3 months (SB XLV; 2011)
  13. Beyoncé – 15 years, 2 months (SB XLVII; 2013)
  14. Coldplay – 15 years, 5 months (SB L; 2016)
  15. Maroon 5 – 16 years, six months (SB LIII; 2019)
  16. Blues Brothers – 18 years, 1 month (SB XXXI; 1997)
  17. Shakira – 18 years, 2 months (SB LIV; 2020)
  18. Tanya Tucker – 19 years, 9 months (SB XXVIII; 1994)
  19. Justin Timberlake – 19 years, 11 months (SB LII; 2018)
  20. Jennifer Lopez – 20 years, 7 months (SB LIV; 2020)

So The Weeknd only has the ninth fastest leap from his mainstream breakthrough to his first Super Bowl halftime performance. New Kids On The Block (now NKOTB) had the fastest with just two years and six months from their first appearance in the top half of the Hot 100 in 1988 to their SB performance in 1991.

New Kids on the Block in the 1991 Super Bowl halftime show

In more recent years, that is in the current millennium, Bruno Mars marked the fastest time with just 3 years and four months from career launch to SB stage in 2014.  Some may recall that the show planners received a lot of flack for booking Mars so soon in his career, especially in the wake of such legacy artists as Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Madonna all having just had their debuts on the Super Bowl stage.

I think it’s safe to say that Bruno redeemed himself with one of the most memorable performances in Super Bowl halftime history.

By the way, the acts that had to wait the longest time between their major breakthroughs and their first Super Bowl halftime show headlining appearances are as follows (in order from longest to shortest).

Rank – Artist – Time from Breakthrough to SB game (SB game and year):

  1. Tony Bennett – 43 years, 7 months (SB XXIX; 1995)
  2. The Who – 43 years (SB XLIV; 2010)
  3. The Rolling Stones – 41 years, 7 months (SB XL; 2006)
  4. Paul McCartney – 41 years (SB XXXIX; 2005)
  5. James Brown – 38 years, 2 months (SB XXXI; 1997)
  6. Smokey Robinson – 37 years (SB XXXII; 1998)
  7. Aerosmith – 36 years, 7 months (SB XXXV; 2001)
  8. Stevie Wonder – 35 years, 5 months (SB XXXIII; 1999)
  9. Temptations – 34 years (SB XXXII; 1998)
  10. Bruce Springsteen – 33 years, 4 months (SB XLIII; 2009)
Tony Bennett’s Super Bowl halftime show made him the artist with the longest wait from career breakthrough to halftime headliner

Here’s the complete list of Super Bowl Halftime Show performers in reverse chronological order, along with the year of their major breakthroughs and the time elapsed between that and their performances (headline acts are in bold). 

Game (date)Artists Artists breakthrough yearTime from breakthrough to SB game
SB LV (2021)The Weeknd 20137 years, 3 months
SB LIV (2020)Jennifer LopezShakiraLopez – 1999; Shakira – 2001Lopez – 20 years, 7 months; Shakira – 18 years, 2 months
SB LIII (2019)Maroon 5200216 years, six months
SB LII (2018)Justin Timberlake 199819 years, 11 months
SB LI (2017)Lady Gaga20088 years, 4 months 
SB L (2016)Coldplay200015 years, 5 months
SB XLIX (2015)Katy Perry20086 years, 8 months
SB XLVIII (2014)Bruno Mars20103 years, 4 months
SB XLVII (2013)Beyoncé 199715 years, 2 months
SB XLVI (2012)Madonna198328 years, 2 months 
SB XLV (2011)The Black Eyed Peas200010 years, 3 months 
SB XLIV (2010)The Who196643 years 
SB XLIII (2009)Bruce Springsteen & the E. Street Band197533 years, 4 months 
SB XLII  (2008)Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 197829 years, 8 months 
SB XLI (2007)Prince197927 years, 2 months 
SB XL (2006)The Rolling Stones 196441 years, 7 months 
SB XXXIX (2005)Paul McCartney 196441 years 
SB XXXVIII (2004)Janet Jackson, Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake 198221 years, 1 month
SB XXXVII (2003)Shania Twain, No Doubt, StingTwain – 1995; No Doubt – 1996; Sting – 1979Twain – 7 years, 9 months; No Doubt – 7 years; Sting – 23 years, 10 months
SB XXXVI (2002)U2198120 years, 10 months
SB XXXV (2001)Aerosmith, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly197436 years, 7 months
SB XXXIV (2000)Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton Ensemble – each act performed one song as part of a themeNo headliner 
SB XXXIII (1999)Gloria Estéfan, Stevie Wonder, Estéfan – 1985; Wonder – 1963Estéfan – 13 years, 1 month; Wonder – 35 years, 5 months
SB XXXII (1998)Boyz II MenSmokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Queen Latifah Boyz II Men – 1991; Robinson – Jan 1961; Temptations – 1964Boyz II Men – 6 years, 7 months; Robinson – 37 years; Temptations – 34 years 
SB XXXI (1997)The Blues Bros., ZZ Top, James BrownBlues – 1978; ZZ Top – 1973; James Brown – 1958Blues – 18 years, 1 month; ZZ Top – 23 years, 5 months; Brown – 38 years, 2 months 
SB XXX (1996)Diana Ross196432 years 
SB XXIX (1995)Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandaval, Miami Sound MachineLabelle – 1962; Bennett – 1951LaBelle – 32 years, 7 months; Bennett – 43 years, 7 months
SB XXVIII (1994)Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, The JuddsBlack – 1989; Tucker – 1974; Tritt – 1990; The Judds – 1985Black – 4 years, 7 months; Tucker – 19 years, 9 months; Tritt – 3 years, 9 months; Judds – 9 years 
SB XXVII (1993)Michael Jackson196923 years, 2 months 
SB XXVI (1992)Gloria Estéfan 19856 years, 1 month
SB XXV (1991)NKOTB19882 years, 6 months
Research courtesy of DJRob for djrobblog.com

DJRob 

DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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