Do Viral Moments Mean More for Music Than the Super Bowl Halftime Show?

Investigating Rihanna's Super Bowl halftime show bump—do viral moments move the needle more than Super Bowl music?

Do Viral Moments Mean More for Music Than the Super Bowl Halftime Show?
Maura Johnston
Maura Johnston
February 13, 20239 min read
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By Maura Johnston, a Third Bridge Creative contributor.

The Super Bowl Halftime Show has been one of Pop music's biggest performances since Michael Jackson’s set at Pasadena's storied Rose Bowl in 1993. Jackson performed at the American Music Awards a week prior, and his 1991 album Dangerous—which was released two years prior—experienced an upswing in sales after that performance. Not only did Dangerous’ sales again increase in the wake of the Super Bowl, the game experienced a second-half uptick in ratings for the first time in its history.

Jackson's halftime show established the Super Bowl as a draw for audiences less concerned with touchdowns, a tradition that's continued in the three decades since. Fervent fan bases watched the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs face off at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Sunday, but Pop aficionados wouldn't be completely off the mark to consider the Super Bowl a mini-concert.

That's certainly the case for Rihanna, who headlined this year's halftime show in her first performance since 2018. Despite not releasing a new album since 2016's Anti, her mogul status and catalog have helped her remain one of the brightest stars around (she's currently ranked No. 8 among 8.7M artists worldwide, according to Chartmetric Artist Rank). This drought has left fans returning to her classics. Her Chartmetric Score ticked up twice last year: In September, when she announced her halftime show performance, it went from 398K to as high as 428K and rose as high as 620K after she released two songs, "Lift Me Up" and "Born Again," for the soundtrack to Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in November.

A week before her Super Bowl performance, Rihanna revealed in an interview with Apple Music, the halftime show's sponsor, that the set list for Sunday's 13-minute halftime show had gone through at least 39 revisions. “It’s gonna be a celebration of my catalog in the best way we could’ve put it together," she said. "You only have 13 minutes, and that’s a challenge, so you’re trying to cram 17 years of work into 13 minutes."

Rihanna's career goes back to 2005 and is full of hits, but can her recent Super Bowl performance—and a pregnancy announcement—refresh earlier tracks? In an era where older songs can receive a second life due to viral visual moments, like the Super Bowl or TikTok, is the halftime show as important as it was in 1993?

Super Bowls

The past three years of Super Bowls have taken a varied approach to headliners, with 2022's multi-person homage to hip-hop being preceded by The Weeknd's 2021 solo jaunt and 2020's dual-headliner gig featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira (Super Bowl LIV halftime show, Feb. 2, 2020)

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's 13-minute 2020 halftime show at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium contained bits of at least 19 songs from the two artists' catalogs, as well as cameos from música urbana superstars Bad Bunny and J Balvin. The headliners' combined stature is fairly grand; as of writing, the Colombia-born Shakira was No. 2 in Chartmetric's Artist Rankings, while J. Lo was 109th.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, both artists' popularity spiked; one month before the Super Bowl, Shakira's Chartmetric score was 247K and Lopez's 177K, and on the day of the game, those numbers had grown to 367K and 211K, respectively. A week later, both artists' overall scores had grown even further, and on Feb. 9—one week after the Super Bowl—Shakira's was at 484K, while Lopez's was at 249K. A month after the game, both artists had fallen from their immediate post-Super Bowl heights, but were up from two months prior, with Shakira's Chartmetric Artist Score at 333K and Lopez's at 215K.

The week after the Super Bowl, Billboard reported that, along with the streams of both artists going up 193 percent in the two days after the Super Bowl compared to the two days before it, Shakira's 2006 single "Hips Don't Lie" had been the most-streamed song in the halftime show's wake. Its track score fluctuated in the Super Bowl's immediate aftermath, dropping from 99 on Feb. 4 to 35 the next day, although it rebounded to 111 a few weeks later.

The Weeknd (Super Bowl LV halftime show, Feb. 7, 2021)

The Weeknd's 2021 halftime show at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium is an anomaly among the NFL's recent pop extravaganzas. The Canadian R&B enigma—at the time of writing, No. 4 in Chartmetric Artist Rank—performed nine of his songs solo, with no musical guests. His show was also unique because of how current its featured songs were: The insistent synthpop cut "Blinding Lights," which closed the set, was No. 3 on the Hot 100 and in the 60th week of what would go on to be a record-setting 90-week run on the American singles chart when the Super Bowl aired in February 2021.

The lead single from The Weeknd's 2020 album After Hours retained its blockbuster status in the wake of the Super Bowl, with its Chartmetric Track Score peaking at 6K on Feb. 18. Still, the Super Bowl exposure wasn't enough to return it to the top of the singles charts, thanks to Olivia Rodrigo's breakout ballad "Drivers License" having a firm grip on the No. 1 spot.

Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Mary J. Blige (Super Bowl LVI halftime show, Feb. 13, 2022)

Last year's halftime show at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium was headlined by a local legend, the Hip-Hop pioneer Dr. Dre, along with a slew of notable figures from Hip-Hop's last three decades: Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, and 50 Cent. (Anderson .Paak also sat in on drums.) The 11-song set won the halftime show's first Outstanding Variety Special (Live) Emmy, and it attracted 103.4M viewers for its quarter-hour.

Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E.," which closed the halftime show and brought all the featured artists together onstage, experienced significant gains. That 1999 track's Chartmetric Score was at 141 on Jan. 13 and eventually peaked at 242 on March 6, and its gains have sustained, with its Chartmetric score currently at 186.

Chartmetric Scores for other tracks that could be perceived as playlist and radio staples also substantially increased. Eminem's Oscar-winning "Lose Yourself" experienced a more than 100-point jump in its Chartmetric Score in the weeks following the Super Bowl, going from 319 on Feb. 6 to 434 on Feb. 24; Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," meanwhile, had a score of 90 on Feb. 6, a week before the big game, and peaked at 213 on March 11.

TV Shows and Viral Videos

While the huge exposure offered by the Super Bowl halftime show is still unparalleled by any other event, viral sensations—like those born on TikTok or mass-distributed television—can have a similar effect on reviving an artist’s career.

Fleetwood Mac, "Dreams" (viral TikTok, Sept. 25, 2020)

In late September 2020, Nathan Apodaca headed out with his phone, his skateboard, and a bottle of cranberry juice—and a viral sensation was born. The Idaho resident, also known as TikTok user 420doggface208, recorded himself vibing to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" as he cruised around Idaho Falls on his longboard. That video has since been viewed 89.3M times, and "Dreams" re-entered the Hot 100 after a worldwide fascination with the clip that included recreations by Fleetwood Mac members Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood.

"Dreams," which topped the U.S. singles chart after its initial release in 1977, peaked at No. 12 in the wake of its skateboard-fueled resurgence. Prior to Apodaca's TikTok, “Dreams” had Chartmetric Scores as high as 88 (on Sept. 13), but it reached its peak of 164 the week of Nov. 1.

Fleetwood Mac's popularity has similarly stayed at a high level, thanks not only to the strength of their vast catalog but to their songs being used on shows like The Walking Dead, which featured "Landslide" on its Nov. 24, 2022, series finale, and The Last of Us, which used the early Mac track "I'm Coming Home to Stay" on its Jan. 29 episode. The band also received an uptick in its profile following the death of keyboardist and songwriter Christine McVie in late November.

Kate Bush, "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" (Stranger Things, May 27, 2022)

There weren't many 2022 Pop music surprises as welcome and unexpected as the resurgence of Kate Bush, the enigmatic British Art-Pop star who scored her first Top 10 hit with "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)," a churning single from her 1985 masterpiece Hounds of Love. Propelled to the top of the charts by an eerie scene from Netflix's throwback hit Stranger Things that was released on May 27, "Running Up That Hill" reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 in July.

Its Chartmetric Track Score spiked shortly after the first half of Stranger Things' fourth season aired over Memorial Day weekend, going from 78 on April 27 to a high of 432 on July 2. On April 27, Bush's Chartmetric Artist Rank was 2,780. By June 26, nearly a month after the episode's release, she peaked at No. 17 and has remained substantially stronger since, with Bush still ranking in the Top 1K artists worldwide.

Bush's last release was 2011's 50 Words For Snow, and three years later, she embarked on her first large-scale concert series since 1979, the 22-date residency Before the Dawn. While the likelihood of new music from her is low, her higher profile indicates that she'll likely fare better in this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame balloting: She was nominated but didn't make the cut in 2018, 2021, and 2022.

Metallica, "Master of Puppets" (Stranger Things, July 1, 2022)

Stranger Things continued its run of celebrating cult heroes of 1980s music when it used Metallica's Thrash classic "Master of Puppets" in a highly charged scene that used Kirk Hammett's shredding as its inspiration. The quartet embraced its cameo, posting on Instagram that they were "totally blown away" by how "Master" was featured, and hanging out with Joseph Quinn, whose guitar heroics were pivotal to the song's appearance, at this year's installment of Lollapalooza.

A member of Thrash's Big Four, alongside Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, Metallica have remained one of Metal's most storied bands since their inception in 1981. Being featured on Stranger Things introduced a new generation to the band, as evidenced by its spike in rank—from 136 on June 1, a month before the remainder of the show's fourth season was released, to as high as 49 on July 15.

Interest in the band returned to its pre-Stranger Things numbers—which were, admittedly, still high. Last November, Metallica announced its 11th album 72 Seasons, which is set for release in April, and a summer stadium tour.

Super Bowl Music vs. Viral Moments

While engagement for all the featured artists mentioned above was given a bump, the single-track exposures received by Kate Bush and Metallica seemed to bring in a substantial group of listeners who felt their television-borne curiosity had been rewarded.

In contrast, the artists who have performed at the Super Bowl halftime show were already popular and, in many cases, still releasing current music, so any Super Bowl bump they might have enjoyed was tempered by their profiles already being high. Still, Kate Bush and Metallica show how a single track's well-placed exposure can raise an artist's wider profile and increase engagement both in the short- and also the long-term.