In 2001, a yellow sponge named SpongeBob and a grumpy old queen octopus named Squidward corralled the who’s-who of Bikini Bottom to form a last-minute football halftime show performance. Clad in crimson red and mustard orange fatigues, the hodgepodge Bikini Bottom Superband featured Patrick on drums, Sandy on bass and Mr. Krabs on keytar. Yes, keytar. It was the early aughts.
Performing the original song “Sweet Victory” by David Glen Eisley and Bob Kulick (with Eisley providing his own voiceover), the Bikini Bottom Superband left everything in that elevated aquarium — yes, the Bubble Bowl is a human event — and changed the mold of what a halftime show could look like. It wasn’t just an ingenious musical moment on a beloved kids’ show. It’s one of the best halftime shows to date.
The Super Bowl is one of the most intimidating stages in showbiz. Even the best rarely live up to the hype. Justin Timberlake and Maroon 5 — two artists, loved by straight people, who famously also love football — lacked the charisma and fanfare to dominate what is both a live stadium show with in-person spectators and a televised performance with viewers watching at home. As for seasoned performers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Who, they couldn’t modernize their classic hits for an audience dissecting their performance an hour later on YouTube.
It takes a rare star whose music and energy can live up to the moment and withstand the test of time — and internet trolls too. It’s not impossible: Diana Ross nailed it in 1996, and so did Prince in 2007. In recent years, pop stars with highly stylized personas fared best: Beyoncé in 2013, Lady Gaga in 2017 and both Shakira and Jennifer Lopez (despite the unfair criticism) in 2020.
Save for U2 in 2002, a solo act virtually always outperforms a band. It’s much harder for a group to run through the costume changes, lighting sequences and dramatic dance numbers needed to distinguish the onslaught of songs covered in just 15 minutes.
But SpongeBob and his Bikini Bottom Superband managed to do exactly what few bands have done: give us more than a frenzied guy standing at a mic stand. At the Super Bowl, no one really cares how good you sound. It’s about how well you can perform.
Give us a little showmanship and audience interaction — just like Patrick did at the start of the Bubble Bowl set. “These are some ugly-looking fish,” he says to SpongeBob after archival footage of real-life football fans plays. Patrick, buddy, I’m with ya. I have never understood grown men who wear jerseys.
The entire performance hinges on band conductor Squidward, who brings the Bikini Bottom Superband together after his arch-nemesis (with admittedly great eyebrows) Squilliam Fancyson sets him up for failure. Fancyson patronizingly offers Squidward the halftime show knowing full well Squidward is not actually part of a band like he claims.
That’s when the ragtag bunch of aquatic characters come together for a Cinderella story more satisfying than Tom Brady’s journey from sixth-round draft pick No. 199 to legendary ass-eating quarterback. (Also, I don’t think SpongeBob has a MAGA hat in his locker room.)
Out of nowhere, Bikini Bottom pulls together a surprising feat of excellence with SpongeBob at the helm. Who knew he could give Freddie Mercury or Mick Jagger a run for their money?
This year, the Weeknd will take the social-distanced halftime stage for Super Bowl LV on February 7th. Based on his performance in November at the AMAs, he certainly has the charisma to give an off-kilter show the success it needs.
But if he demands a virtual guest performer, he shouldn’t hesitate to call upon SpongeBob and the Bikini Bottom Superband. Now wouldn’t that be a sweet victory?