Watch Prince Perform “Purple Rain” in the Rain in His Transcendent Super Bowl Half-Time Show (2007)

Prince is hav­ing an after­life the oppo­site of most rock stars. Where the years after death seems to bring our gods down to human size, the more sto­ries I hear about Prince, the more I am con­vinced he was either beyond human or one of the very few con­stant­ly work­ing at max­i­mum poten­tial. But not only that, he also helped oth­ers real­ize their own poten­tial, espe­cial­ly mem­bers of his tour­ing band.

I hope that’s your take­away after hav­ing watched not just this mini-doc of his 2007 Super Bowl Half­Time show, but read­ing this thor­ough­ly enter­tain­ing oral his­to­ry of the event from The Ringer. Even if foot­ball is not your thing, and you con­sid­er the half­time show to be cheesy, this one year was not. Prince con­sid­ered it one of his crown­ing achieve­ments, and it was going to be the end point of the mem­oirs he planned to write.

Half-time shows had tra­di­tion­al­ly been the venue for march­ing bands and col­or guard, but by the 1990s they had turned into Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions, with pop stars and dancers. How­ev­er, they had also been dealt a blow with Nip­ple­gate, when Justin Tim­ber­lake ripped open Janet Jackson’s corset and exposed a met­al pastie in 2004. Mid­dle Amer­i­ca reeled, peo­ple thought of the chil­dren, the FCC levied some fines, and the NFL went into defen­sive mode, pro­gram­ming the kind of Boomer-safe artists that would please as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble: The Rolling Stones and Paul McCart­ney. (I mean, all amaz­ing artists, mind you. Just noth­ing dan­ger­ous.)

Prince was dif­fer­ent. He wasn’t going to do this like an aging rock star, just come on out and play the hits. He could have done and he cer­tain­ly had the back cat­a­log to do so. Instead, he put togeth­er a show that could stand on its own, a mix of his hits and a wild selec­tion of cov­er ver­sions: Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, “Proud Mary”, Hendrix/Dylan’s “All Along the Watch­tow­er”, and the Foo Fight­ers’ “Best of You.”

The day of the Super Bowl in Mia­mi it rained, Flori­da-style. Mon­soon weath­er. Yet, Prince and his band went ahead, defy­ing the ele­ments. The dancers—Maya and Nan­cy McClean—put grips on their high heel boots so as not to slip on the glass-like stage, formed in the shape of Prince’s “sym­bol”. There was an under­stand­able pan­ic: would some­body be elec­tro­cut­ed? Would this be Prince’s last con­cert?

But no. Prince seemed to tran­scend the ele­ments. Ruth Arzate, Prince’s per­son­al assistant/manager asked the musician’s hair­styl­ist: “Am I hal­lu­ci­nat­ing or is there no rain on him?” You could see a cou­ple of droplets on his shoul­der. And we’re look­ing and she’s like, “It just looks like a fine mist on his face.””

Prince end­ed the con­cert with “Pur­ple Rain,” which you can see above, singing *in the rain* and then bust­ing out a solo for the ages behind bil­low­ing fab­ric as a shad­ow, wield­ing that sym­bol gui­tar like a glo­ri­ous phal­lus.

Half­time show pro­duc­tion design­er Bruce Rogers says it best:

“To me, it’s about one guy in the mid­dle of a hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple and a hun­dred mil­lion peo­ple on tele­vi­sion, and it’s your moment to be Prince at the Super Bowl and Moth­er Nature is drop­ping thou­sands and thou­sands of gal­lons of rain. I always thought how cool the guy is to rise up and just get stormed upon, and just bring what he brought. That was so spe­cial.”

There are sev­er­al take­aways from the Ringer piece: how Prince would glide around on cus­tom-made Heelys. How he would per­form in meet­ings with a full band instead of just play­ing a CD. How when a cable acci­den­tal­ly got run over before the show a road­ie lit­er­al­ly held the stripped cable togeth­er for 20 or so min­utes, run­ning the risk of elec­tro­cu­tion, to keep the show going. But my favorite take­away is this quote, from Chica­go Tribune’s Mark Caro: “He took this mas­sive­ly over­scaled event and just sort of bent it to his will.”

Super Bowl XLI became a Prince con­cert with a foot­ball game on either side of it, and that’s because he made it so.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Prince’s First Tele­vi­sion Inter­view (1985)

Four Clas­sic Prince Songs Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Cov­ers: When Doves Cry, Lit­tle Red Corvette & More

Prince Plays a Mind-Blow­ing Gui­tar Solo On “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps”

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (3)
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  • DOZR says:

    If you can find it — search Youtube for his Super­bowl “Press Con­fer­ence” where he invit­ed jour­nal­ists to ask him ques­tions about the upcom­ing game and his set.

    It was basi­cal­ly a pub­lic­i­ty stunt that turned into a con­cert. It does NOT dis­ap­point.

  • Karl Reitmann says:

    Why do we remem­ber (why are we forced to remem­ber) ridicu­lous­ly untal­ent­ed and insignif­i­cant pop music star­lets like this pompous clown?

  • Stephen Geary says:

    Gee, Karl, I’m no expert, but a teenag­er who plays all the instru­ments on his debut album that he records in the stu­dio he taught him­self how to use, and then embarks on a record­ing career that fea­tures mul­ti­ple gold and plat­inum records, an oscar win­ning movie, and so much out­put that there’s still unheard music in his vault six years after his death, should nev­er be labeled “untal­ent­ed and insignif­i­cant.”

    To be blunt, some­one who would call Prince that is the real “pompous clown.”

    Get your­self some bet­ter records, man. There’s still hope for you.

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