Ranking the 15 best Super Bowl halftime shows in history

·7 min read

Ranking the 15 best Super Bowl halftime shows in history originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

One of the biggest sporting events of the year is the Super Bowl. While football fans around the world watch to see how the NFL season will conclude, millions of people tune in to watch the Super Bowl halftime show. For 15 minutes the world's biggest entertainers solidify their legacy during the halftime performance. 

For many years the halftime show was quite basic. It would simply feature a college marching band or two. In 1960, the first Super Bowl Halftime show consisted of the Liberty Bell that was performed by the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band. But that all changed in 1993 -- the year THE Michael Jackson turned the Super Bowl halftime show into must-watch television. Today's performances require as much preparation as the Oscars or Grammys.

The Super Bowl LVI halftime show has already been revealed and the star-filled performance will feature Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. It will be a jam-packed stage in February 2022, here’s a look back at some other memorable Super Bowl halftime performances.

15.  Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (1999)

This performance is maybe the most unbalanced in the list. These three artists together may not be your first choice, but in the 90's they were individually some of the biggest stars at the time. Gloria Estefan was a superstar who led the "Latin invasion" era and co-headlining with Stevie Wonder in 1999 was monumental for bridging generations and genres. Adding in Big Bad Voodoo Daddy may have thrown the mix off but it created a memorable moment among the 90's greats.

14. Justin Timberlake (2018)

Former NSYNC leader Justin Timberlake took to the Super Bowl halftime stage 14 years after the Janet Jackson debacle. Timberlake decided not to perform some of his greatest hits but used this performance to promote his new album "Man of the Woods." Many said it was a bland performance, but it was Timberlake's rise from the halftime show ashes.

13. The Rolling Stones (2006)

There are two memorable things about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones’ Super Bowl performance: The legendary group performed on a stage shaped after their logo, and they only performed three songs -- Yes! THREE. They kicked it off with “Start Me Up,” “Satisfaction” and rounded it out with “Rough Justice.”

12. Lady Gaga (2017)

Lady Gaga is one of the most eclectic artists in history and everyone tuned in to see what her halftime performance would unveil. From her stage costume to her song selections, many wondered what exactly Gaga would do at the Super Bowl. Gaga decided to go “safe” and performed some of her uncontroversial hits, starting with an arrangement of the Star Bangled Banner, but was sure to include her queer-positive anthem, “Born This Way.”

11. Maroon 5 (2019)

No one wanted anything to do with the halftime show stage in 2019 after the outrage over the NFL’s blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick. Stars such as Cardi B and Rihanna flatout turned the performance opportunity down, but Maroon 5 decided to accept the challenge. The controversial performance included cameos from Travis Scott and Big Boi.

10. The Weeknd (2021)

The 2021 Super Bowl halftime performance was reminiscent of a music video stuck inside a haunted house of mirrors. The halftime show mainly took place in the upper pavilion of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Weeknd did not appear on the field until he performed "Blinding Lights."

9. Bruno Mars (2014)

The highlight of Bruno Mars’ career at the time was his performance at Super Bowl XLVIII in New York City’s first-ever Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Many doubted that the Hawaiian native would have enough of a catalog for such an honor, but he outdid himself. It started with small children holding hands in front of American flags and ended with soldiers dedicating “Just the Way You Are” to their families. The lighthearted and fun performance even featured the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and a drum solo from Mars himself.

8. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira (2020)

While Jennifer Lopez and Shakira weren’t the first Latinas to rock the halftime stage, they certainly did get loud in 2020. With Colin Kaepernick’s blacklisting, it was hard finding a performer for the show, but the Colombian goddess and the New York Puerto Rican hustler took the stage. Shakira played the guitar and J. Lo rode in on a stripper pole. The performance also included a cameo from Lopez’s daughter, Emme, who sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” 

7. U2 (2002)

U2 had one of the greatest live-TV rock & roll moments when they performed at Super Bowl XXXVI. The performance took place just a few months after 9/11 and the Irish rock band found a way to make this performance strong, yet emotional. They kicked off the show with “Beautiful Day,” then played “MLK” while the names of those who passed away scrolled on a giant screen. It was an unforgettable moment that ended with “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  

6. Madonna (2012)

Madonna graced the stage at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis and arrived as a Greek goddess carried by Spartan soldiers. She brought some of the most talented and expressive stars to perform alongside her. M.I.A gave the middle finger during "Gimme Your Luvin," sung with Nicki Minaj, and Madonna who also sang with Cee Lo Green. There was a colorful LMFAO mashup of “Music” with “Party Rock Anthem.” The performance was effortless.

5. Katy Perry (2015)

Katy Perry made sure to roar as she performed at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, arriving on the back of a giant lion puppet, then was dragged through the sky as she sang “Firework.” The pop spectacle included cameos from Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott, who performed three of her own hits.

4. Janet Jackson (2004)

Unfortunately, it’s not because Tom Brady won his second championship, but it’s simply because of a mishap that birthed a whole new phrase in the English language: “wardrobe malfunction”. 

While the 2004 performance included Diddy, who performed in a sea of smoke, Nelly who came out in a giant red car to sing “Hot in Here,” and Kid Rock and Jackson who ripped through 10 tracks on top of the matching band interludes, the moment was overshadowed by Justin Timberlake "accidentally" ripping off Janet’s chest covering.

3. Beyoncé & Destinys Child (2013)

Beyoncé put together one of the greatest halftime performances in history, placing her rightfully behind the next two epic acts. But she didn’t do it alone. Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé and Michelle Williams came together for a long-awaited reunion of Destiny's Child during Super Bowl XLVII. 

The trio performed some of their greatest hits: "Bootylicious," "Single Ladies," and "Independent Women.” Beyoncé was also sure to sing the Beyhive’s favorites, from “Crazy in Love” to “Baby Boy.”

The 2013 production was so extravagant that half the lights at the Superdome went out, creating a 33-minute, 55-second blackout shortly after.

2. Michael Jackson (1993)

For a 1993 halftime performance to be rated so highly in 2021 shows how before-his-time Michael Jackson was. While he didn’t go too deep into his enormous catalog, he did perform “We Are the World” with a children’s choir, then did “Heal the World” while an enormous globe inflated in the middle of the stage. He also performed “Billie Jean” and was sure to moonwalk across the stage.

While the King of Pop was the first star to perform at the Super Bowl -- ending the marching band era as we know it -- he is without a doubt the most memorable.

1. Prince (2007)

We’ve made it to No. 1, and who else would be in this spot than The Artist (Formerly Known as Prince)?

No one knew how badly we needed to hear Prince backed by a brass marching band until he brought the house down at Super Bowl XLI, placing it as the greatest halftime show of all time. The performance also became more famous after his death in 2016. 

He did mashups of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," Queen's "We Will Rock You," and Foo Fighters' "Best of You" with his own songs. He closed the performance with the most perfect rendition of Purple Rain that included an epic guitar solo in the rain.