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Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows: 20 Must-See Performances
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List & Guides

Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows: 20 Must-See Performances

From torrential rain to ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, the best Super Bowl halftime shows have seen it all – including music’s greatest legends.

From torrential rain to ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, the best Super Bowl halftime shows have seen it all – including music’s greatest legends.

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With over 750,000 viewers in the US alone, and broadcast to millions more around the globe, the Super Bowl offers one of the biggest stages in the world, so it’s no wonder its halftime-performance slots have attracted the biggest names in music. For those who aren’t even interested in the game itself, the best Super Bowl halftime shows still provide one of the most notable calendar events each year.

When did Super Bowl halftime shows begin?

The Super Bowl halftime show is a tradition that started in the 60s, when performers usually consisted of college marching bands and drill teams – a huge contrast to the megastars that now command the halftime slot. It wasn’t until the early 90s when pop music started to infiltrate the game, after New Kids On The Block appeared at the now-demolished Tampa Stadium in 1991 to perform Step by Step, This One’s For The Children and It’s a Small World After All.

Who’s performing the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show?

In the three decades that followed, the best Super Bowl halftime shows have seen musicians deliver some of the wildest, most shocking and entertaining performances aired on TV. Following in the footsteps of Prince, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, Super Bowl LVII will see Rihanna take the stage at State Farm Stadium, in Glendale, Arizona, on Sunday, 12 February, in the hopes of adding her performance to the ranks of the best halftime shows.

To get us excited for what will undoubtedly be an iconic appearance, here’s a look at the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows: 20 Must-See Performances

20: Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias and Toni Braxton (Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000)

The line-up alone earns this performance a place among the best Super Bowl halftime shows – though anyone expecting some of the biggest names in 90s pop to sing their own songs would have been mistaken. Produced by Disney, Super Bowl XXXIV’s halftime show saw the artists turn to the Disney songbook, with Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias singing that year’s Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration theme song, Celebrate The Future Hand In Hand, Phil Collins turning to one of his Tarzan soundtrack numbers, Two Worlds, and Toni Braxton performing We Go On, the closing song of IllumiNations: Reflections Of Earth, the fireworks show that dazzled visitors to Disney’s Epcot centre from 1999 to 2019.

19: The Black Eyed Peas (Super Bowl XLV, 2011)

Following a string of performances from rock veterans such as Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones and The Who, The Black Eyed Peas were brought in to try and bring a younger audience to the Super Bowl. Not wanting to completely alienate the championship’s traditional fanbase, however, BEP brought Guns N’ Roses’ Slash along for a guest spot, during which they overlapped their 2009 hit Boom Boom Pow with GNR’s Sweet Child O’ Mine. Usher also made an appearance – entering the stadium on a zipwire – but despite the high production values and a smattering of the group’s hits, the energy didn’t quite fill the Super Bowl stage.

18: The Weeknd (Super Bowl LV, 2021)

Performing to an empty stadium due to COVD-19 lockdown restrictions, the first post-pandemic Super Bowl halftime show headliner, The Weeknd, nonetheless gave it his all. No less than two metres away from a coterie of red-suited backing dancers who had their heads wrapped in bandages, the Can’t Feel My Face hitmaker ran through a selection of his most-loved songs, such as The Hills, the Daft Punk collaboration I Feel It Coming and Blinding Lights. With a cover of Happy House, by Siouxsie And The Banshees, adding a gothic touch to his flair for dystopic contemporary R&B, The Weeknd proved what a daring and uniquely original force his is on the pop charts.

17: Diana Ross (Super Bowl XXX, 1996)

From the moment Motown diva Diana Ross descended to the stage on a platform lit with sparklers, viewers knew they were in for something special. Featuring a 60s soul medley of The Supremes’ hits, as well as solo smashes Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Chain Reaction, what made Ross’ performance stand out among the best Super Bowl halftime shows was the arrival of a helicopter (“Oh my, here comes my ride!” she shouted) which took the icon away in impeccably glamorous style.

16: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (Super Bowl XLII, 2008)

A reminder that not all performers need razzle-dazzle stagecraft and choreographed dance moves, Tom Petty was a consummate and stately rock’n’roll professional at the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. Running through a compendium of his greatest hits to please the blue-collar masses, Petty turned in a rolling setlist of classic-rock favourites (American Girl, I Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’ and Runnin’ Down A Dream). With the crowd passionately singing along, it was clear Petty was the right choice at the right time.

15: Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005)

Hoping to move on from the “Nipplegate” controversy that blighted Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s halftime performance the previous year, the organisers of Super Bowl XXXIX invited Paul McCartney to the stage, and the Beatles and Wings legend fired up the crowd with classics such as Drive My Car, Get Back, the immortal James Bond theme Live And Let Die, and Hey Jude. Sending fans into the second half of the game to a goosebumps-inducing chant of “na na na”s, McCartney’s 2005 tour de force more than earns its place among the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

14: Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band (Super Bowl XLIII, 2009)

It had taken Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band a remarkably long time to score the Super Bowl halftime slot, but the wait was worth it. Though Springsteen fans are used to witnessing exhaustive shows which run as long as three hours, The Boss condensed his setlist down to a brief but blistering collection of heartland-rock anthems (Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Born To Run, Working On A Dream and Glory Days). Springsteen was already a US rock icon by the time he played the Super Bowl, so to see him front the country’s biggest sporting event felt like destiny being fulfilled.

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

Bringing together some of the biggest names in hip-hop past and present, G-funk legend Dr Dre reminded the world of his gargantuan rap-producer status by topping the bill with Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar. Kicking things off with The Next Episode, the performance saw 50 Cent hanging from the ceiling for In Da Club, Mary J Blige belting out No More Drama with soulful intensity, Kendrick Lamar delivering his fiery modern-day civil-rights anthem Alright, as well as a brief homage to 2Pac’s I Ain’t Mad At Cha, with Dre on piano. And that’s not even mentioning Eminem’s roof-raising performance of Lose Yourself. A veritable feast of sounds from hip-hop’s early-2000s rebirth, it instantly asserted itself as one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows.

12: Shakira and Jennifer Lopez (Super Bowl LIV, 2020)

Latina bombshell Shakira ran through a genre-hopping array of hits during her 14-minute performance at Super Bowl LIV. With She Wolf melting into a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir as the Colombian pop sensation played guitar, the set also included snippets of Cardi B’s I Like It Like That, with rapper J Balvin making several appearances. For the ultimate finale, Jennifer Lopez burst on stage to remind viewers exactly why she’s still Jenny from the block. A wild and diverse celebration of Latin pop’s influence across the ages, Shakira and J.Lo knocked it out of the park.

11: The Rolling Stones (Super Bowl XL, 2006)

After Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” (see No.5), the Super Bowl organisers turned to classic rock artists who could be relied on to play it safe, and invited The Rolling Stones to perform at Super Bowl XL. The original bad boys of rock’n’roll were, however, censored during their three-song performance, which featured Start Me Up, new song Rough Justice and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, with lead singer Mick Jagger’s microphone being turned down during lines that were deemed provocative.

10: Lady Gaga (Super Bowl LI, 2017)

As someone known for her more extravagant outfits (remember the egg and meat dresses?), music fashionista Lady Gaga took to the Super Bowl stage in a series of relatively tame space-age costumes designed by Versace. Her performance, aided by a troupe of dancers, was as dramatic as expected, however, with a crowd-pleasing set of hits, including Edge Of Glory, Poker Face and Born This Way, immediately entering the ranks of the best Super Bowl halftime shows. “We’re here to make you feel good,” Gaga told the crowd at Houston’s NRG stadium. Tick.

9: Katy Perry and Missy Elliott (Super Bowl XLIX, 2015)

Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show delivered two things: a triumph, and a whole world of memes, courtesy of “Left Shark”. Flanked by an array of dancers in beach-themed costumes, Perry sang the hits Teenage Dream and California Gurls – though one of the two dancers dressed as sharks (her longtime background dancers Bryan Gaw and Scott Myrick) caught most fans’ attention. Wildly out of sync with its counterpart, the shark on the left’s quirky dancing became an overnight sensation. Also stealing the show was Missy Elliott, who made her first stage comeback in years and appeared with Perry to perform Get Ur Freak On, creating a moment that will be forever remembered among the best Super Bowl halftime shows.

8: U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002)

Securing one of the biggest rock bands of the early 2000s must have felt like a coup for the organisers of the Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show. Surprisingly, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr, didn’t play it as safe as they could have, opting to kick off the set with their lead singer emerging from the crowd singing Beautiful Day, before transitioning to MLK, a short tribute to Martin Luther King. Capping off their performance with a scintillating rendition of Where the Streets Have No Name, U2’s Super Bowl halftime show saw the group seize their moment and deliver a powerful message for the world to hear.

7: Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Super Bowl XLVIII, 2014)

Leaving the world in little doubt of Bruno Mars’ reputation as pop’s most versatile performer, the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show saw him kick off with a drum solo before launching into the funk-addled freakouts Locked Out Of Heaven, Treasure and Runaway Baby. Upping the ante even higher, Mars then brought Red Hot Chili Peppers] on stage to deliver a scorching cover of their 1991 hit single Give It Away. Bringing things to a mellow close with a moving tribute to the Armed Forces on Just the Way You Are, Bruno Mars confidently delivered one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of the 2010s.

6: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004)

Following in her brother’s footsteps 11 years later, Janet Jackson stormed the Super Bowl stage – though her headline-grabbing performance is often remembered for the wrong reason. During a performance of Rock Your Body, Timberlake tore away part of Janet Jackson’s bodice to briefly expose her breast – a “wardrobe malfunction” that was either her worst nightmare, or, as some have claimed, a publicity stunt. Either way, it led to a crackdown on censorship, and what can and can’t be broadcasted on live television.

5: Coldplay (Super Bowl 50, 2016)

For the Super Bowl’s landmark 50th game, Coldplay were bought in to perform three of their top-selling singles, Viva La Vida, Paradise and Adventure Of A Lifetime, on a flower-shaped stage. Though delivering one of the best halftime shows of the 2010s, the group risked being outshone by special guests Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, who, with Uptown Funk and Formation, respectively, provided a stark contrast to Coldplay’s indie-rock sound.

4: Beyoncé (Super Bowl XLVII, 2013)

The Super Bowl stage is only fit for musical royalty, so who better than Queen Bey to show the world how it’s done? A spectacle of all-black outfits, epic dance moves, adrenaline and power, Beyoncé’s halftime show made the biggest sporting event in the US feel more like one of her own concerts. Singing hit after hit – the iconic Crazy In Love, Love On Top and Baby Boy – Beyoncé also invited her former Destiny’s Child bandmates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, onstage for a reunion, singing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies and the group’s hits Bootylicious and Independent Woman. With only female dancers joining her on stage, Beyoncé ensured her Super Bowl halftime show made clear her stance on girl power and who runs the world…

3: Madonna (Super Bowl XLVI, 2012)

Rising to the occasion of headlining Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, 80s pop legend Madonna brought a much-needed controversial yet glamorous edge to the Lucas Oil Stadium, in Indianapolis. With guests such as LMFAO incorporating elements of their hits Party Rock Anthem and Sexy And I Know It into Madonna’s 2000 single Music, the set also saw Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. team up with the “Queen Of Pop” for Give Me All Your Luvin’, before Cee-Lo Green took to the stage to help out on some of the best Madonna songs, Open Your Heart, Express Yourself and Like A Prayer[https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/best-madonna-songs/]. Closing with a memorable plea for “World Peace”, Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show reminded millions of viewers what makes her such an icon.

2: Michael Jackson (Super Bowl XXVII, 1993)

A born entertainer, Michael Jackson delivered one of the most-watched events in US TV history, with a staggering 133.4 million viewers tuning in to catch the King Of Pop’s Super Bowl performance. Sing a medley of hits, including Billie Jean and Black Or White, before ending his set with Heal The World, Jacko delivered one of the best  halftime shows in history, convincing the NFL to actively court global stars for all future Super Bowl halftimes. Though the NFL doesn’t pay artists for their appearances, Jackson’s appearance was so monumental, the organisation agreed to donate $100,000 to hiss Heal The World Foundation.

1: Prince (XLI, 2007)

Topping our list of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time, Prince performed a medley of his iconic hits, while also claiming songs like Queen’s We Will Rock You and Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower as his own, on a symbol-shaped stage and bolstered by a full marching band. A tropical storm had organisers concerned that Prince would call the whole thing off. Instead, he had one simple question for them: can you make it rain harder? Purple Rain never seemed so aptly named. What. A. Legend.

Check out the full story behind Prince’s Super Bowl performance

Original article: 7 February 2021

Updated: 11 February 2023. Words: Luke Edwards

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