A look back at the 10 all-time best Super Bowl halftime shows.
Ah, yes. Maybe this isn’t the best, but it was definitely among the most memorable. Janet and Justin were doing a rendition of “Rock Your Body” that was absolutely smoking… until the smoke turned into a PTC wildfire. In hindsight, the wardrobe malfunction might have saved this show. Does anyone even remember that Nelly, Diddy, and Kid Rock also performed that night?
9. Diana Ross (1996)
The halftime show went through some growing pains in the 1990s, but Diana Ross’ soulful performance at Super Bowl XXX was definitely a high point. Her dramatic exit via helicopter was a precursor for the larger-than-life moments that later performers would pick up.
8. Paul McCartney (2005)
Sir Paul’s show marked the beginning of the six-year classic rock era of halftime shows following the backlash from Janet Jackson‘s notorious wardrobe malfunction in 2004, and what a breath of fresh air it was. McCartney knew exactly what songs from his catalog would fill up a football stadium. Starting with “Drive My Car,” pumping through with “Live And Let Die,” and finishing with the crowd pleaser “Hey Jude,” this show showed how sometimes the old ways are the best.
7. Katy Perry (2015)
This is a halftime show that we’ll look back at as emblematic of its time. Katy’s show was loud, weird, and specifically tailored to the Internet’s tendency to latch onto weird things and meme the fajezzus out of them. But in terms of actual musical performances, the real star was Missy Elliott, who strutted out in a surprise appearance and blew the crowd away. She didn’t steal the spotlight. She commandeered it.
6. Prince (2006)
Super Bowl XLI took place under a torrential Florida downpour, but that played right into Prince’s hands. His performance of “Purple Rain” amid raindrops turned purple by stage lights was breathtaking, as was his take on Bob Dylan‘s “All Along The Watchtower.”
5. Beyonce (2013)
Of course she’s on this list. It’s BEYONCE, for crying out loud. She has a stage presence that is unrivaled by any musician of her generation. But what really made her show unique wasn’t just the surprise Destiny’s Child reunion. It was also the fact that she actually paid respect to the event by starting her show with a soundbite from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.
4. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009)
Wasn’t Super Bowl XLIII amazing? Not only did it have one of the most dramatic championship games ever between the Steelers and Cardinals, but it also had a performance from The Boss that was the apex of the classic rock era. From his order to “put the chicken fingers DOOOOWN” to his knee-slide right into the camera, Springsteen was on a mission to get everyone out of their seats. Mission accomplished, sir.
3. Aerosmith and ‘N Sync (2001)
Okay, okay. Some older readers might be annoyed that a show with “Bye Bye Bye” and Britney Spears got ranked above one with “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” but back in 2001 this lineup was a big deal. After struggling through the ’90s, the NFL gave control of the halftime show to MTV, who responded by gathering the biggest Top 40 heavyweights that could be found. The sight of Aerosmith performing “Walk This Way” with Spears, Nelly, Mary J. Blige and the biggest boy band of all time in ‘N Sync was the kind of show the NFL had been dreaming of for years.
2. Michael Jackson (1993)
The one that started it all. MJ’s reign as the King of Pop was coming to an end at this time… and the beginning of his creeper reputation would arrive with the first wave of sexual abuse allegations later that year. But at this point, he still had enough star power to make the Super Bowl halftime show a must-watch event for the first time ever. The children’s choir performance of “We Are the World” followed by Jackson’s dramatic finale performance of “Heal the World” became a defining moment of his career, one that would be reenacted at his memorial service at the Staples Center 16 years later.
1. U2 (2002)
There will likely never be a halftime show bigger than this one. Mounted just four months after 9/11, U2’s show was a perfect mix of poignant remembrance and breathtaking musicianship. In a beautiful tribute, U2 performed “Where the Streets Have No Name” in front of a scrolling list of those who perished in the terror attack. To this day, the show still draws tears.