Coldplay’s Halftime Show Director: ‘No Other Show Comes Close’
From Hugh McIntyre, Forbes
With the Super Bowl just a few days away, everybody is speculating not only about which teams will take home the big rings, but also about what Coldplay is planning for the Halftime show—the most-watched concert stage in the world, year after year. As the group was putting the finishing touches on what promises to be a very special performance, I spoke with their director and creative collaborator Hamish Hamilton, the man who has been behind many of the Super Bowl Halftime shows.
What’s working with Coldplay like?
Well, I’ve worked with Coldplay for many years now, and they’re always a band who actually surprise. I think as a frontman, Chris [Martin] has really come into his own. The other three also. They’re a band of four quite interesting and individual characters. Will, the drummer, has this very powerful onstage presence. They’ve got great ideas. Of course, this year is going to be the first daytime Half Time show that there’s been in many years, so that provides a whole new set of opportunities and challenges. It’s the Super Bowl Half Time. It’s the biggest in show business.
How does their creative process differ from any of the other performers you’ve worked with on this show?
Artists now are, in many ways, brands in their own right. Each artist has a very different brand essentially, don’t they? Brand Beyonce is very different to Brand Bruno is very different to Brand Katy is very different to Brand Coldplay. I think that Coldplay’s show will be in some ways bigger, in some ways more inclusive. I think there’s going to be a lot of people involved in the show and a lot of color involved.
For the first time in quite a few years, you’ve got a band onstage as opposed to a, essentially, a solo performer. Some of the most recent shows have been more about movement in terms of artists’ movement or I think Coldplay. Again, not really what they are about. They have challenged us and themselves to come up with moments that are both intimate and spectacular. Each Super Bowl is a completely different experience because not only is the music different, but the working practice is the people around the artists are different. It’s every year is a completely unique creative logistical and organizational challenge.
How early did you guys start brainstorming this show?
You start thinking about the show almost the moment the previous year’s is finished. It is really an all-year-round proposition and there are various stages to the creative process. Some of the creative process is based on very practical considerations like the width of the tunnels. This year, as I mentioned before, the very fact that the show will be in daylight is a huge creative, practical, and logistical consideration.
Once the artist is chosen and says yes, then that’s when everything really does start in earnest. We’ve been working now with Coldplay for a few months to kind of hone a show, which is a Super Bowl spectacular and Super Bowl appropriate.
Of all the Super Bowls that you have worked on, do you have a favorite moment that stands out?
Well, my first Super Bowl was The Who. you only do your first Super Bowl once, so that’s obviously very close to my heart. I couldn’t quite believe that. I was this guy from England who was directing the Super Bowl Half Time in America. In each of the shows, there’s great moments both in the room and on television.
I can pick great moments from every show because they’re all really special. You spend such time crafting them, worrying about them, thinking about them, and working with the artists on them. I mean, that Madonna opening was fantastic. The Beyonce fire girl moment was great. Katy and Left Shark, the [Black Eyed] Peas dropping from the roof, the James Brown doing James Brown. There’s a really impressive body of work in Super Bowls that goes way back to Super Bowl I.
Is there anybody else that you would love to see do the show in the future? That you’d love to work with?
I honestly, just from a personal point of view, I would love to do Led Zeppelin. I guess for many, many reasons, that’s unlikely to happen, but you know what? Their music has been around for all of my life. On all of my various digital devices, cassette players, CD players, radios all the way through my life. I think that that would probably be my ultimate Super Bowl. Honestly, this can’t happen, but The Beatles. That would have been incredible. What a great Super Bowl that would have been!
What would you say is the most difficult part of the entire process?
Stress and expectation. Everybody expects such amazing things from the Super Bowl. There’s no margin for error. It puts tremendous strain on you. You want to deliver the best that you can possibly do for the great American and global public, for the artist that you’ve been working with. There’s so much that could go wrong technically. You have no control over many things. There’s a huge team of people who really, really are working, fully stretched, maxed out to get these things to happen. That’s, I think in many ways, what makes it so special because every year, the team pulls off the impossible. Much has been written and much has been said about what it takes to put a Super Bowl on. Every year, the team tests those parameters to the max.
You’ve also worked on the Oscars and several huge live concerts. How does the Super Bowl differ from any of these other massive events?
In many other jobs that I do, we do, the term “Super Bowl” is almost now used as an adjective to suggest the biggest, the best, the most challenging. “It’s the Super Bowl of this” or “It’s the Super Bowl of that”. A hundred and twenty million people watch it. It’s a drama filled, white-knuckle adrenaline ride for about thirty minutes for thousands of people working on the show and a hundred and twenty million people watching it live. No other show comes close in terms of drama, numbers, spectacles, or ambition. It’s not the Super Bowl of anything, it’s the motherf—ing Super Bowl.