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The Four Greatest Super Bowl Halftime Gaffes

The Super Bowl game has had many stellar gaffes over the years, including Dallas Cowboys tackle Leon Lett getting the ball knocked away just as he was crossing the goal line in 1993, and Miami Dolphins’ kicker Garo Yepremian’s blocked kick — after which he showed why he was a kicker when his attempt at a pass slipped out of his hands straight into those of an opponent, who raced downfield with the ball for a touchdown.

The Super Bowl Halftime Show has also had its share of memorable mishaps over the years.

1. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake
Unquestionably the greatest was the accidental (?) baring of Janet Jackson’s breast by Justin Timberlake as they performed together in 2004. Countless words — and the term “wardrobe malfunction” — have been expended upon the incident, which Timberlake claimed was an accident. The end result was thousands of outraged letters from viewers; a serious sidelining of Jackson’s career and not much damage to Timberlake’s; and a half-million-dollar fine levied on CBS by the FCC and a significant investigation into MTV, which produced the show.

2. Madonna and M.I.A.
In 2012, Madonna was joined by British/Sri-Lankan singer and serial provocateur M.I.A. for her performance at Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Near the end of M.I.A.’s verse on “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” in place of the word “sh–,” she gave the camera the finger. The NFL was forced to issue an apology for being unable to blur out the image, fining M.I.A. a reported $16.6 million in damages, settled in a confidential 2014 agreement. The Sir Lankan hip-hop star was originally issued a $1.5 million fine by the NFL, who claimed her gesture was “in flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand and the Super Bowl.” According to the league, M.I.A. breached a pre-show agreement as a publicity stunt, insisting the $16.6. million was “restitution” for the public exposure she gained as a result. M.I.A. said at the time, it was a “massive waste of time, a massive waste of money, it’s a massive display of powerful corporation d–k-shaking.”

3. Prince 
Which actually makes for a great segue to Prince’s performance at a rainy Miami Hard Rock Stadium in 2007, considered by many to be the greatest Super Bowl Halftime Show of all time — though not without its own, to quote the Purple One, controversy. Seconds into his glorious, climactic version of “Purple Rain,” as the downpour continued to pelt both performers and spectators, he coyly asked a doubtlessly rhetorical question, “Can I play this guitar?” wielding the purple axe with the curlicue in the shape of his famed “symbol,” tossing his do-rag into the roiling pit of fans below and peeling off that incredible solo chorus of his signature number. As the anthem hurtled into to its climax, Prince’s silhouette could clearly be seen on a windswept sheet behind him, the shadow of his patented guitar making it look like, well, a giant erection. Amid much “malfunction” talk, New York Daily News TV critic David Bianculli called it “a rude-looking shadow show… embarrassingly crude and unfortunately placed.” Prince’s keyboardist, Morris Hayes, recalled to Variety’s Jem Aswad last year, “I’m sure [Prince] said in his mind, ‘When they put up the silhouette, I’mma have somethin’ for ‘em!’ — [laughing] — because he didn’t do that in the rehearsal.” At the time, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league received no complaints. “We respect other opinions, but it takes quite a leap of the imagination to make a controversy of his performance… It’s a guitar.”  Right …

4. Katy Perry 
It might pale beside Nipplegate, Birdgate and Princegate, but Katy Perry’s performance three years ago at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona created plenty of headlines (and an Internet meme) of its own when the backup dancer so-called “Left Shark” seemingly went off on his own, “Jaws”-style, during the performance of “Teenage Dream.” It turns out, dancer Bryan Gaw “going rogue” was part of his own strategy.

“There’s something called freelance choreography,” he explained to NPR this week. “Like, you get to move around or play your character as a dancer. I’m in a 7-foot blue shark costume. There’s no cool in that. So what’s the other option? Well, I’m going to play a different character, an imperfect everyday person.”

He created an instant viral sensation that, for better or worse, will go down in Super Bowl history. And while it’s definitely a stretch to think that Timberlake will wield a phallic guitar or give anyone the finger when he returns to the Halftime stage this week, perhaps he too can find some inspiration in Gaw’s concluding words.

“Don’t take life so seriously,” Gaw said. “I was on the biggest stage in the world, acting crazy, and I got a lot of press and a lot of attention in the most positive ways. It’s great. Be you. Do you.”

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