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The 20 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows of All-Time

Whenever a new NFL season starts, there is always one question that isn’t necessarily football-related: Who will be this year’s Super Bowl halftime entertainment?

In the earlier years, Super Bowl halftime shows would mostly feature college marching bands. That changed in the early 1990s when the NFL instead began utilizing artists as their live entertainment choice for halftime segments. Super Bowl performances have always been a solid trade-off for both parties. The NFL gets one of the hottest acts in music, and the artist benefits by being able to take their career to the next level (a Super Bowl performance either signifies that you have officially made it or solidifies your career as a legend). With The Weeknd gracing the stage this year, we decided to reflect on 20 of the best halftime shows.

1. Paul McCartney-Super Bowl XXXIX

Paul McCartney. The Man. The Myth. The Legend. One of the greatest to ever do it. You had to know that at some point, the NFL was going to pull out all the stops to get McCartney on their stage and that finally happened in 2005. McCartney was as captivating as ever, unleashing all of his hits, including ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Drive My Car.’ McCartney closed his spectacular performance with his classic ‘Hey Jude.’ Fifteen minutes of Rock ‘n’ Roll heaven.

2. The Blues Brothers, James Brown and ZZ Top–Super Bowl XXXI

Ain’t nothing like a round of the good ole Blues. You want to talk about Soul? This show embodied the Soul genre to the fullest. This performance was a grand production that brought the funk while giving you a little bit of gospel as well. The Blues Brothers busted out ‘Soul Man,’ and James Brown hit us with ‘I Feel Good.’ Not too over the top, but still enjoyable. A funkified revolution for sure.

3. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-Super Bowl XLII

Tom Petty remains dearly missed. Often underappreciated, the world got the chance to fully experience Petty’s greatness in 2008 when he took the stage with The Heartbreakers. They kicked things off with ‘American Girl,’ and the entire stadium joined along to sing ‘Free Fallin,’ ‘Won’t Back Down,’ and ‘Runnin Down a Dream.’ By the time 2008 rolled around, we had gotten used to spectacular sets and lavish productions, but Petty and The Heartbreakers dialed it back letting us know that simple works too.

4. The Black Eyed Peas, Slash and Usher–Super Bowl XLV

When this lineup was first announced, there was some skepticism as to how such different artists could come together. Well, they did it beautifully and stylishly. The Black Eyed Peas were coming off a massively successful 2010, and both the Peas and Usher were in their respective EDM phases, and they, almost surprisingly, blended together with Slash nicely. Despite the technical difficulties, the performance was still excellent. 

5. Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting–Super Bowl XXXVII

A match made in early 2000s heaven. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt performed ‘Just A Girl,’ while Shania gave us her 1997 hit ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman.’ Sting slid his way in there towards the end of the set, doing a rendition of ‘Message in a Bottle’ alongside Stefani, which was by far the highlight of the show.

6. Motown Tribute-Super Bowl XXXII

Motown was long overdue for an official tribute, and it finally happened in 1998 when the NFL put together an all-star cast to pay homage to Motown founder Berry Gordy and his many radio dominating protégés. Led by Boyz II Men, one of the biggest groups in the world at the time, the R&B crooners made their way through different Motown songs before bringing out Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, and The Temptations. 

7. Justin Timberlake-Super Bowl LII

This performance gets mixed reviews depending on who you talk to. Some believe Timberlake put together an appreciable performance, while others felt the set was lacking. In our opinion, Timberlake deserves his props. He put together a creative body of work, gave us a major blast from the past by bringing out NSYNC, and went deep into his catalog by pulling out songs from Justified and Future Sex/ Love Sounds. The Prince tribute fell short but other than that, Timberlake didn’t do too shabby.

8. Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott and the Arizona State University Marching Band–Super Bowl XLIX

Again this is another one of those performances that could be considered a hit or a miss depending on who you are talking to. This set will go down as one of the best due to Perry’s collaborations with Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot and the social media phenomenon it sparked afterward. At that time, a good percentage of Perry’s fan base consisted of those aged 12-19, and many of those Gen Z’ers weren’t previously familiar with Kravitz and Elliot’s work. Elliot had several songs chart on iTunes after the performance (as did Kravitz), and her former young mentee Allison Stoner made a dance video recreating some of their routines. You can make the argument that Perry’s performance remains among the most talked about in the social media era.

9. Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers-Super Bowl XLVIII

Make no mistake. There were people who doubted Bruno Mars and wondered if he could compare to previous acts in terms of his catalog. Those people forget about his talent. Like Prince, Mars can sing, dance, and play instruments, all while being a charismatic ladies’ man. Mars put all those skills to use in an appearance with his band, The Hooligans, and a surprise appearance from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who proceeded to rock out to their 1991 lead single ‘Give It Away.’

10. Janet Jackson-Super Bowl XXXVIII

We already know what you are thinking. Unfortunately, the ending of this performance caused such a controversial ruckus that it overshadowed what would have otherwise been one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows ever. Jackson’s last name has always been associated with greatness, and the majority of Janet’s halftime performance was a celebratory effort of her then twenty-five-year career. We don’t need to revisit all the aftermath of the performance as we are all quite familiar at this point, but hopefully, one day, we can look past the negative element and focus on the positive.

11. Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars-Super Bowl 50

Bruno Mars? Check. Coldplay? Check. Beyoncé? Triple check (sorry, Bruno and Coldplay). All three artists already had a rapport with one another through friendship, and previous performances and everyone involved delivered a head-turning performance. Coldplay got the party going with a ‘Yellow’ and ‘Viva La Vida’ mashup, and Beyoncé and Bruno essentially had a dance-off performing their hits ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Formation.’ Tributes to previous halftimes acts were thrown in there at the end making it a well-done performance, and arguably more entertaining than the actual game.

12. Michael Jackson-Super Bowl XXVII

Michael Jackson was actually the artist credited for taking halftime shows to the next level. Jackson started off the performance using a special stage toaster to ‘pop’ his way onto the stage and whipped his way into a medley that included ‘Jam,’ ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Heal The World.’ A balance between the old school joints and newbies, Jackson changed the landscape of halftime shows with this one.

13. Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Nelly, Mary J. Blige, and *NSYNC-Super Bowl XXXV

Talk about a star-studded lineup. The 2001 halftime show was one of the moments where you didn’t know exactly how it was going to work. Still, in some weird way, everything wound up coming together. *NSYNC opened up the show with their catchy single ‘Bye, Bye, Bye,’ going back and forth with Aerosmith on hits until around the midway part of the show. Britney Spears and Nelly then joined them, and Mary J. Blige, for the grand finale performing Aerosmith and Run D.M.C’s 1986 smash ‘Walk This Way.’

14. Lady Gaga-LI

Super Bowl LI is known for two reasons: The Atlanta Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and Lady Gaga’s Cirque Du Soleil-esque performance. Depending on which way you swing, many prefer to remember the latter as opposed to the former. Since releasing her first album in 2009, Gaga has established herself as being one of the music industry’s finest performers, and she got the chance to put her talents on display nearly a decade later. Of course, there were plenty of ‘monsters,’ and Gaga literally ziplined her way from the top of NRG stadium to the stage. Gaga ended the performance by jumping off the set and essentially disappearing. Where did she go? Nobody knows.

15. Diana Ross-Super Bowl XXX

If you know anything about Diana Ross, you know that she is the literal definition of the word extravagant. ‘Ms. Ross The Boss’ delivered one of the most stellar halftime performances of all-time in 1996, and the theme of the show was the altitude. Ross started off the performance being lowered onto the stage, went through four different glamorous costume changes, had fireworks go off mid-show, and performed all of her classic hits as both a solo artist and a member of The Supremes. Ross concluded the performance by leaving the stadium via Helicopter to ‘I Will Survive,’ making a grand entrance and a grand exit.

16. Madonna-Super Bowl XLVI

It was sort of an unspoken requirement that every 1980s music legend perform at the Super Bowl. By the time we approached 2012, just about every single 80s icon had graced the stage except for The Material Girl. Joined by Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, Cee-Lo, and M.I.A., the performance was described as revolutionary. Many were in awe of Madonna’s intensity and ability to perform at such a high level nearly thirty years after getting her start.

17. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band-Super Bowl XLIII

There is one thing that everyone remembers from Bruce Springsteen’s 2009 halftime performance: His crotch grab. Nobody expected it—not even the people in Springsteen’s inner circle. It was a complete and utter surprise. While the crotch grab was certainly the defining moment, Springsteen’s performance was one for the ages. It was loud, crazy, and definitely electrifying. At the time, Springsteen’s segment was the most-watched in Super Bowl history. Oh, and the game was a thriller as well, with the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.

18. U2-Super Bowl XXXVI

Super Bowl XXXVI was a poignant one. It was the first Super Bowl to take place in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks. It had only been a few months since that terrible day that impacted so many lives, and the NFL needed a performance that would help heal and bring everyone together.

Enter U2.

Instead of putting on a grand-scale production, U2 opted for a quieter approach. Performing on a heart-shaped stage, U2 played their songs ‘MLK,’ ‘Beautiful Day,’ and ‘ Where The Streets Have No Name’ as they projected the names of those lost in the attacks across the ceiling of Madison Square Garden. The performance was a moving one, with U2 doing what they did best.

19. Beyoncé-Super Bowl XLVII

Having previously performed ‘The National Anthem’ at the 2004 Super Bowl, Beyoncé finally took to the halftime stage in 2013, putting on an absolute show. Joined by former Destiny’s Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, Beyoncé went back to her early beginnings with the group and performed many of her biggest hits at the time, including: ‘Crazy in Love,’ ‘Single Ladies,’ and ‘Run The World.’ Beyonce concluded the performance with her 2008 anthem ‘Halo,’ and showed the world why she is ‘Queen Bey.’

20. Prince-Super Bowl XLI

Prince Rogers-Nelson left us all speechless in 2007 when we delivered a flawless medley of his greatest hits during Super Bowl XLI. Backed by a marching band, Prince immediately got the crowd out of their seats with ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and ‘Baby I’m A Star.’ He then launched into his own rendition of songs from artists including Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and Foo Fighters ‘The Best of Me.’

Then the unthinkable happened.

It started to rain while Prince was performing his signature ballad ‘Purple Rain.’ Many believe Prince’s guitar solo that night was his personal best, and after being on hiatus for most of the 2000s, it was good to see Prince back in action. 

The Super Bowl has always been one of the biggest stages in music and will continue to be. We are looking forward to seeing what The Weeknd does this year.

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