How Missy Elliott Came to Be the Surprise Star of the Super Bowl
Says Super Bowl halftime show's executive producer, "The hardest part is that the Super Bowl halftime has to appeal to 12-year-olds, me, my mom, different people all across the board."
Few who pay attention to rumors were surprised to see Missy Elliott come out for a guest spot during Katy Perry's Super Bowl halftime show. But what was surprising was how much airtime she got: nearly three minutes of the 12-and-a-half-minute performance and a medley of three of her biggest hits: "Get Ur Freak On," "Work It" and "Lose Control" — prime real estate that many superstars would give the last five years of their careers for.
It's paid off big time: Elliott's song downloads and albums posted a sales gain of 996 percent in the week ending Feb. 1, according to Nielsen Music — in other words, in just the few hours after the show aired.
While Elliott is an icon to many, she hasn't released an album in nearly 10 years, focusing instead on the work that brought her into the limelight in the first place: writing and producing. Her work with Timbaland on songs by SWV, 702 and particularly Aaliyah thrust her into the spotlight, leading to a run of hit singles and albums over the following several years. And although she's recently worked with artists like Monica, Jazmine Sullivan, Sharaya J and Faith Evans, 10 years is a couple of lifetimes in the pop world — leading to some confusion on social media from younger viewers.
There's no question why Elliott was on the show — an NFL rep confirmed the decisions to include both Elliott and Lenny Kravitz were both Perry's. Also, her ongoing Prismatic World Tour includes homages to '90s music. But it was unexpected.
Billboard caught up with Ricky Kirshner, executive producer of the halftime show (and a veteran of the Tony Awards and Democratic National Convention), to talk about Elliott's performance.
How long had you known Missy would be involved in the show, and what was your reaction when she was suggested?
It's been a few months. My reaction was, "It's an interesting idea that Katy has." I have 23- and 25-year-old daughters — who know how to keep a secret — and they thought it was a great idea. She brought a different element to the show. We knew before that Lenny would be playing, because we needed to rock out on "I Kissed a Girl," and Lenny is the ultimate rock god. You don't always have to have a guest [for the halftime performance], but there was a moment where we had to get Katy into the harness for her flying finale, and Katy suggested Missy.
You've probably seen online that some younger viewers didn't know who Missy is. Were other names discussed?
Yes, there were a few. But with halftime shows, we have to do the best show we can. My daughters knew who she was. The hardest part is that the Super Bowl halftime has to appeal to 12-year-olds, me, my mom, different people all across the board.
Can you name any of the other performers you considered? Was there any pressure to include newer artists, like, say, Meghan Trainor?
(Laughs.) Don't get me wrong, I love Meghan Trainor. Look, some people last year said, "Who's Bruno Mars?" And others said, "Who are the Red Hot Chili Peppers?" You can't worry about whether a specific demographic is going to like it. It's always, "Is the music going to work?" And then we can make it visually exciting, if the music does work. Missy's name was one of the first that came up, and once she said yes, we went with it.
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.