Super Bowl Halftime Will Be "Uniquely Lady Gaga": Pepsi Execs Promise "One of the Greatest Halftime Shows Ever"
Pepsi's North American head of music and sports marketing director on how they pick the perfect performer and, yes, even thinking ahead to 2018.
Lady Gaga's Super Bowl halftime show was announced way back in September, and the day is finally here. Of course, there's a group of people who are already thinking ahead to next year's show, even though Gaga hasn't even hit the 50-yard line of Houston's NRG Stadium just yet.
That group includes Emma Quigley, Pepsi's North American head of music, and Justin Toman, Pepsi sports marketing director, who helped mastermind the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show and can't take their eyes off the ball to celebrate even for one very super night.
Billboard sat down with the executives Saturday night before the big game — and the big show — to find out how they pick the perfect performer, why this year's show is "uniquely Lady Gaga" and, yes, even thinking ahead to 2018.
Why did Lady Gaga make sense for this year's halftime show?
Emma Quigley: She's had an amazing last couple of years. I think after Artpop and then going and collaborating with Tony Bennett and then doing the Julie Andrews [Sound of Music] tribute at the Oscars and then followed by the spectacular national anthem she did at the Super Bowl last year, I think she's really gone through this incredible evolution and she sort of has done the unexpected — which she's always done — but in a completely sort of reverse way. And she's really sort of grown up and shown that she's so much more than just this incredible show-woman, that she has this insane voice inside of her as well. I think to the NFL and to us, she really was the obvious choice.
Justin Toman: It's one of those cases where you look at the small set of the people that could pull that kind of a show off. Sets up in seven minutes, it's a 12-minute show, and they have to break it all down again in seven minutes. In those 12 minutes of the show, someone has to deliver power, punch, performance, singing, lights. It's one of those cases where, led by Emma and the NFL and working with us, we did all the metrics: OK, who has the reach, the social following, the album sales, who's trending, who's in cycle? And then she was on the shortlist, obviously, and then you just kind of put your common-sense filter on top of that, and think, "Well, of course. she's the perfect person." She's the consummate performer. It was almost a no-brainer to say, "Wow, she's going to put on an unbelievable halftime show."
This is a unique year because for previous halftimes, collaborators have been announced before the show, but so far, we don't know anything.
Justin: You always want to keep a few things for surprise, but I think you look at Gaga — she's one of the few, you look at Beyoncé, and back in the day, I would say the first modern halftime show was 1993 with Michael Jackson. He kind of changed the paradigm of what a halftime show could be. And from then on, that set the bar and now everyone's jumping off of that to match that performance. She's one of the few people that could probably carry it herself if she wanted to or needed to. You never know what she has up her sleeve, but if she has to go it alone, she certainly will.
I know you can't tell us any details, but can each of you just tell us how you're feeling about tomorrow based on what you've seen so far in rehearsals?
Emma: I would say, it is absolutely uniquely Lady Gaga. And the wonderful thing about it with her is to expect the unexpected and it will be memorable, and I think it's gonna be one of the greatest halftime shows ever. She's really going to hit it out of the park. She's incredible.
Justin: I completely agree. Having seen the rehearsal and seeing the show take shape — you know, the Pepsi Super Bowl halftime show has really become the Super Bowl of music performances. The Super Bowl of anything is really the marquee, the pillar. And this performance throughout the years has really become the Super Bowl of music in many ways. I think what I've seen of her performance has really delivered on that expectation. This should really be one of the best if not the best performance of the year. I mean, you have Grammys and people do amazing performances throughout the year, but talking overall package — music, singing, performance, spectacle — I think it will be one of the best Super Bowl halftime performances ever, certainly one of the best performances of the year.
Pepsi has been spearheading the halftime show since 2013 and your deal was just renewed last year. What have been some of the benefits you've seen from this Super Bowl partnership so far?
Emma: There are so many incredible moments throughout the year, but I say hands down, the halftime show is the biggest moment in music. And this is a massive statement to make — but not only in the U.S., globally. [Coldplay's] Chris Martin touched on this last year, that there is no other stage in the world like the halftime show. And it's amazing that these artists who go and play stadiums — that sort of superstar level, they're no longer at that arena level, but they're selling out crazy stadiums — they're so intimidated [by the Super Bowl halftime show], but they feel it's the greatest thing they've ever done. And the show is so spectacular.
Justin: We've been fortunate to have this partnership for four, five years now. It's almost like in 2013, we got the keys to a Ferrari and we didn't really know how to drive it yet. We were in first gear. You do that first year and you realize, "This worked, this didn't," and you keep evolving that model. And you do it all with the spirit of, "How can we continually elevate the show, amplify the message of the show and continually allow fans to experience it in new ways?" Gaga's going to be a great show. If we did nothing else, it's going to be a phenomenal show. But we've learned what works and what doesn't by bringing the fans in, giving them more of a peek into the journey to halftime, tapping into the artist fanbase — that really works. Doing a behind-the-scenes content program, giving people that glimpse of what it takes to prepare. People love that. So that really worked and we continue to do that.
How early do these performer conversations typically begin? Are you already thinking about the 2018 show?
Justin: What day is Monday? Feb. 6? (Laughs.) Emma's always thinking about it.
Emma: We were actually talking about it last night. (Laughs.) I think sometimes it's really obvious who it should be and then it's kind of homing in and checking on availabilities, and then sometimes it's a little unclear and there are many contenders. I think really it starts to get laser-focused around late spring, so around April, May is when it starts to get like, "OK, let's nail this." We are, as are the NFL, incredibly driven by insights, so we pull all that data. The most important thing is it can't be someone who we just love and feel passionate about and "It's our favorite artist, let's put them in the halftime show." It has to be the right fit. Because even though it is the most powerful and incredible moment of an artist's career, it's also probably the most highly criticized. It doesn't matter who it is — there will always be some criticism because you can't please everyone. But ultimately, you need an artist who is going to be able to transcend genre, age demographics, and bring it on the big stage.
Justin: No pressure. Go up there and knock 'em dead. (Laughs.)
Emma: Like I said, we were thinking about it last night, and we've nailed it already. (Laughs.) No.
Thank you both so much for your time.
Justin: Yeah, you know, I said it the other day: I think Gaga was born to do this show.
Emma: She was born this way!
Justin: She was born to do this show and there's going to be a million reasons she's going to absolutely slay it.
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.