Peas readying for their Super Bowl closeup

It takes a lot of hard work and sweat to get to Super Bowl XLV, not just for the two teams facing each other but also for this year’s halftime headliners.

“We’ve been trying to do the Super Bowl for five years now,” says the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am about the group’s Feb. 6 appearance at Arlington, Texas’s Cowboy Stadium. And for good reason: More than 90 million people — and in the case of last year, a record 105 million — typically tune in to what is the country’s premiere sporting event.

Plus, halftime acts often see a staggering sales surge following the game in both album and digital single sales.

Artists playing the Super Bowl from 2005-2009 averaged a 555% spike the following week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. For example, digital sales for Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” soared 1,320% in the days after he performed the song at the big game in 2009. His newest album came out the week of the Super Bowl so there was no way to measure the bump, but his catalog sales rose 218% the week after the game.

The Black Eyed Peas, best-known such hits as “I Gotta Feeling” and “Let’s Get It Started,” has played plenty of NFL events, including two season kick-off concerts and multiple Super Bowl pre-shows, all to get to one of the most coveted gigs in the world: the 12-minute Super Bowl halftime show. “We’ve been working our way up to play the Super Bowl. We worked hard,” will.i.am says.

After six years of featuring veteran rock acts like Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, the NFL decided to switch tracks this year, in part, out of necessity. “We’ve done most of the major rock bands,” says halftime producer Ricky Kirshner of RK Prods. “There are some that haven’t done it yet; there are some that are hot today but don’t have as many hits as we would like. Springsteen can go out and play and that’s all you need. …We were looking for something new.”

Picking the halftime act, who plays for free, commences shortly after the final seconds of the previous year’s game tick down. Discussions begin with a number of acts in the spring, with the selection process winnowed down in the summer. “It’s one thing to know we all know (an act’s) music. The other part of you says, how do we make a show out of this?’ ” Kirshner says.

That’s the part the Black Eyed Peas are wrestling with right now. “The biggest challenge so far is the arc,” will.i.am says. “How do we perform this song leaving these bits out. Does it flow right? Does this seem like 12 minutes of a good time?”

After a fairly static halftime show last year with the Who, Kirshner promises the Peas’ performance will be interactive and highly visual.

“We’ve had more discussions about wardrobe on this show than we’ve ever had,” Kirshner says. “We’ve had more discussions about what the people on the field will be doing than we’ve ever had.” For his part, will.i.am says he’s trying to incorporate eight costume changes.

While Kirshner and will.i.am are keeping details secret, Kirshner reveals that instead of practicing under a tent, as is usually done, the Peas will be practicing at different high school football fields the week before the game. In a first, the band will also rehearse on the Cowboys Stadium field twice before the final rehearsal “because the show will encompass the whole field,” Kirshner says.

As soon as the buzzer sounds to end the second quarter, Kirshner and his team go into overdrive. The time frame allows for eight minutes to set up the stage, a 12-minute performance, and seven minutes to break down the set. It’s a given that protecting the field is paramount. “We’ve created a great relationship with (the NFL),” says Kirshner, who has produced four previous Super Bowl halftimes. “Once you’ve gotten their confidence, they understand you’re not going to do any harm.”

Will.i.am says his goal of playing the Super Bowl isn’t to convert new fans among the millions of people watching, it’s to be in service of the event. “If you go on to the Super Bowl stage — or any stage of that magnitude — to win over fans, then you’re performing for the wrong reason,” he says. “You need to be performing to make everybody feel good, that’s the only reason. It’s entertainment, not business. If we walk away and you still don’t like us, as long as you had a good time, that’s the only thing that matters.”

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