The Super Bowl halftime show is the biggest promotional opportunity an artist can get — as covered in TIME’s feature on the evolution of the franchise. Year after year, artists have consistent sales bumps and less quantifiable boosts to their prestige after all of America watches their act. And yet stars use the opportunity in radically different ways. In 2013, Beyoncé ambitiously performed nine of her songs, racing through the eras of her career; Bruno Mars, in 2014, pulled off a more manageable four. (Five if you count his supporting the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their “Give It Away,” six if you count the children’s choir introducing him.)
This year’s act, Katy Perry, has — over the course of her three major albums — strung together enough hits to make choosing a set reasonably difficult, but has a short enough career that making herself seem like a credible successor to past halftime acts Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney will be imperative. What will she sing? What will she snub? Here are a few predictions.
“Roar”: In. Perry has said she believes “maybe there is no better person” for the Super Bowl in a year marked by scandal over domestic abuse in the NFL, thanks to the particular inspirational quality of songs like “Roar.” If only the Jacksonville Jaguars were playing, this would be even more perfect!
“California Gurls”: Out. To be clear, “Gurls” is one of Perry’s signature hits. But it’s a little too specific, perhaps, for a broadcast that reaches the widest audience of the year. Also, there’s only so much time in the broadcast for a performance that’s meant to touch on each era of Perry’s career, and when it comes to tracks off the Teenage Dream album, there are better options, like the sunnily appealing title track, or like…
“Firework”: In. This seems obvious, particularly as a show-closing moment. It’s already Perry’s signature song even before one considers that there are often pyrotechnics in Super Bowl halftime shows. On-the-nose? Sure, but this is hardly a moment for subtlety. On the other hand, too-explicit material presents a conundrum.
“I Kissed a Girl”: Out. The NFL looks at their halftime performer as a brand ambassador of sorts, and it’s not hard to expect that Perry’s act will be more allusive than blatant, meaning that her 2008 breakout hit may be a tough sell for a league looking to focus on the sunny. (Perry herself has moved beyond the particularly lazy provocations of this song, so it’s hard to imagine her really pushing to sing it.) But given the Super Bowl’s power to sell albums, there’s a need for Perry to include some of her earliest material.
“Hot N Cold”: In. That’s why Perry may want to include the only other big hit from her 2008 One of the Boys album. It’s a little less recognizable than hits like “Roar” and “Firework” and less of a piece with their uplifting messages, so maybe it could be interpolated with another single. Still, it’s likely that Perry will pay homage to her history.
“Dark Horse”: In. She’ll also need to salute the Prism era: Her most recent album did not produce an unbroken string of hits (Perry has said she is passionate about ballad “Unconditionally,” but it’s hard to imagine her putting it in front of some 110 million viewers after the market didn’t make it into a “Roar”-sized hit). But the 2013 record did give her what was arguably her biggest song ever. Performing “Dark Horse,” a world-beating recent hit, makes Perry look credible; it also fits what we know about the act. Perry has said there will be “distinct worlds” in her act, and “Dark Horse,” which she’s performed at the 2014 Grammys as a witch burning at the stake and performed in the music video as Cleopatra, lends itself to visual metaphor. Also, with its break for a rap verse, the song provides an ample opportunity for Perry to welcome a second guest.
“American Woman”: In. The first announced guest is Lenny Kravitz, who’ll presumably be tapped to do more than support Perry on guitar. It’s about as likely that he’ll sing this while Perry vamps and poses as that he’ll sing “Fly Away” while Perry straps onto some sort of trapeze apparatus, but in keeping with the broadcast’s celebration of obviousness, give the edge to the song with “American” in the very title.
New Perry material: Out. The Super Bowl has not traditionally been as hospitable to brand-new material as it has for back catalogs: It’s easier to remind audiences of songs they’ve liked but never bothered to buy than it is to introduce a new song. (Neither Beyoncé nor Bruno Mars, the past two acts, bothered to play any new songs.) Sorry to anyone who’s hoping for a Prism reissue with new songs: This set is likely to be about Perry’s past legacy. Perry can emerge from the big game a champion—she already has the raw materials—so why should her playbook include any risks?
- “Teenage Dream”
- “Dark Horse”
- “Part of Me”/”Hot N Cold”
- “American Woman” (duet with Lenny Kravitz)
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