The Best And The Worst Super Bowl Halftime Shows
Super Bowl halftime performances seem to go one of two ways – amazing or amazingly bad. The performances at the halftime show can be so incredible and uplifting, it’s hard to decide what people are talking about more after it’s all said and done: the game, or the halftime show! From the masters – Madonna, Prince, The Boss – to the misers –Miami Sound Machine, Blues Brothers, Toni Braxton – it’s always talked about in the weeks after, and sometimes, the years! First, the worst. Next, the best.
Worst: Blues Brothers – 1997
Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, and Jim Belushi as the Blues Brothers performing at the Super Bowl Halftime Show never really made sense. The Blues Brothers did some blues and soul which fell flat. When The Godfather of Soul (James Brown, of course) showed up, it could have been great, but it was a “day late, dollar too short.”
Catherine Crier and ZZ Top (those classic rockers) showed up for some good times, but the whole thing was deflated by then, and the audience was more interested in filling their popcorn buckets and getting a fresh drink with lime than watching the tops.
Worst: Pete Fountain, Irma Thomas, Doug Kershaw and Snoopy – 1990
The 1990 Super Bowl halftime was two tributes: one to New Orleans, and another to the 40th anniversary of the comic strip Peanuts. Luckily, this was in New Orleans, so the music was still worth listening to.
It all ended with Snoopy dancing on a Mississippi River steamboat to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which segued into “Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown.” The jumble of influences and lack of a coherent musical theme directly impacted the audience’s enjoyment of this halftime show, as well as its legacy, which is to end up on many of the “worst Super Bowl halftime shows” lists.
Worst: Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye – 1995
Patti LaBelle, Tony Bennett, Teddy Pendergrass, and Miami Sound Machine all participated in this halftime show, which Bleacher Report called “the craziest, weirdest, most unbelievable—and many would say the worst—Super Bowl halftime show ever.”
The NFL had a problem after Michael Jackson’s successful halftime show, according to Jim Steeg, the NFL Senior Vice President of Special Events at one time. “After Michael Jackson, a lot of big, A-list talent was afraid to compete with him.” This show had skydivers, live pythons, an actor playing Indiana Jones, and plenty of stunt people. And now it also has a place in history as one of the worst halftime shows ever!
Worst: Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, And Toni Braxton – 2000
If that’s not enough performers for you, how about Toni Braxton and Edward James Olmos, too? The website For the Win said of the singing acts, “The singers performed five songs. More than a decade later, I doubt there’s a single person who could name them, Collins or Aguilera included.”
An orchestra opened and right afterward, Christina Aquilera and Enrique Iglesias sang a mild duet to start the Disney-sponsored, international-themed affair for the new millennium. Unfortunately, this Lion King-meets-Broadway-style production didn’t fly with viewers or those who make lists about good Super Bowl halftime shows!
Worst: Black Eyed Peas – 2011
The Black Eyed Peas did what they do: wore light-up robot suits, and sang a version of the very, very old song, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life.” Slash, the fierce guitarist from Guns N’ Roses was there but Fergie sang “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” which caught a whole lot of flack in the media.
Rolling Stone said of the show, “The worst. Just the worst. Watching at the time, you instantly knew you were witnessing something magical and special – like seeing a unicorn cough up blood.” Ouch. On the other hand, For The Win wrote, “It was merely watchable and entertaining. Is that so bad?”
50/50: Jennifer Lopez And Shakira – 2020
With Super Bowl LIV taking place in Miami, it only made sense for the NFL to have Latin music superstars Jennifer Lopez and Shakira perform at the halftime show. For some, the show was an amazing spectacle. For others, the show took it a little too far.
The internet was split on the performance, which was praised for the passion of the two performers. Detractors focused on the amount of skin shown by both Shakira and J-Lo, labeling the show not “family friendly” and criticizing the NFL for approving such revealing outfits.
Worst: The New Kids on the Block – 1991
This halftime show was supposedly in support of our troops, but many couldn’t see how, exactly. The show featured Disney characters and small children jumping around to the New Kids’ song, “Step by Step” and the Disney classic “It’s A Small World.” It was the first year that a contemporary group played at the halftime of the Super Bowl.
This was also the year Whitney Houston delivered her incredible performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that went on to become a huge hit and best-selling, certified platinum, single. The show wasn’t even played live on TV; many networks just played a condensed version after the game or none at all.
Worst: The Who – 2010
For the Win was so under-impressed by The Who’s 2010 Super Bowl halftime show, they wrote, “Remember when there was an uproar after NBC cut away from The Who’s Closing Ceremony performance at the 2012 Olympics? That wouldn’t have been a terrible fate for this halftime show.”
The Who was roundly criticized for what was considered an underwhelming performance, with Rolling Stone writing, “Alas, they showed up even more shoddily prepared than the Colts, fumbling a medley of classics – sad to think of all the kids out there first hearing ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ or ‘Baba O’Riley’ in this sorry condition.”
Best: Rolling Stones – 2006
The Rolling Stones kicked off Super Bowl in 2006 by getting right into the rock and roll and busting out “Start Me Up,” “Rough Justice,” and the expected but still completely satisfying “Satisfaction.” Mick Jagger joked before singing “Satisfaction,” “This one we could have done for Super Bowl I.”
With some of the more racy lyrics changed or left out altogether, the show’s producer still chose to use a ten-second delay in case of emergencies with lyrics or words. The Stones put on a loud, enthusiastic show that pleased the crowds and the critics. They played a 12-minute set that was completed by “Rough Justice.”
Best: Katy Perry and Missy Elliott – 2015
Katy Perry put on a Vegas-style show, with wild dancing palm trees and Left Shark. And just as everyone was having the time of their lives, the big reveal came with a dark silhouette, and a snippet of “Get Ur Freak On” played. Yes, it was Missy Elliott, doing a come-back appearance, her first in years.
Rolling Stone wrote of the big reveal, “Talk about knowing how to choose your moment. Give Katy credit – only a true star would be confident enough to share a spotlight with Missy.” True! Katy Perry and Missy Elliot make the top Super Bowl halftime shows of many lists, and both continue having success as recording artists in the public eye.
Best: Madonna – 2012
Madonna has been putting on spectacular stage shows since her 20s, something she reminded the world of with the Super Bowl in 2012.
Madonna got on stage and vogued her heart out with ancient-Roman gladiator dancers, and then Madge was doing a greatest hits compilation, and though it was considered hit or miss, it was entertaining for viewers. Madonna had fun with LMFAO for a “Party Rock Anthem” mix-up. She sang the intense “Like A Prayer” for the finale, with Cee Lo singing along, and a large robed choir. The set went on for 12 minutes.
Best: Beyoncé – 2013
Beyonce opened her Super Bowl halftime with her silhouette lit on fire, after which she appeared from a cloud of smoke and started wailing her hits, like “Love on Top” and “Crazy in Love.” Then there was a Destiny’s Child’s, reunion which took off when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams shot out from under the stage to sing with Beyonce in three songs: “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women,” and “Single Ladies.”
Beyoncé had dozens of female dancers and band members on stage with her, and there were animation screens with duplicate Bey’s running around to highlight the show. Beyoncé (and Destiny’s Child) made the public happy with this intense, well thought out show.
Best: Prince – 2007
After Janet Jackson’s situation at the Superbowl, it was a little surprising the NFL took a chance with Prince, known for his risque lyrics and dance moves. But it paid off!
Prince put on a powerful show, playing many of his classics, like “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” as well as the classics of others, like “Proud Mary,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Prince put on a grand finale with fan-favorite, “Purple Rain,” which had the stadium jumping and hollering and waving their arms. The last three songs were “All Along the Watchtower” which turned into “Best of You” followed by “Purple Rain.”
Best: U2 – 2002
This NFL Super Bowl came five months after 9/11, so it had a different feel than any before. Bono and U2 paid tribute to our country’s loss during “Where the Streets Have No Name.” While U2 sang the song, a scrolling backdrop featured the names of all of the victims of 9/11, and as Bono finished the song, he opened his jacket to reveal the stars and stripes in its lining.
Although this show makes most “best of” lists, it was uncomfortable according to many reviewers. Billboard said, “It was great theater and a touching tribute, but going from football to Beautiful Day to a heartbreaking, scrolling list of the thousands killed in a terrorist attack, then back to football in a span of 25 minutes was disorienting.”
Best: Bruce 2009
Bruce Springsteen, one of America’s most popular musicians played one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all-time.
The Boss’ set was 15 minutes, so longer than many other halftime shows and long enough to hear some of his greatest hits. Although he played an unknown song, which some thought a strange choice for a four-song set, he also played his hits, like “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and the classic “Born To Run.” The boss had turned down several previous invitations to perform at Super Bowls, so the country was happy to have him in 2009.
Best: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake – 2004
It would be hard to argue there is a better known Super Bowl Halftime show than the one with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, and that now world-famous wardrobe malfunction during their duet of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock That Body.”
Billboard wrote of the famous show, “FCC fines have been assessed, thrown out and appealed in judicial court, and the court of popular opinion will be in sessions for years. But bedazzled breast or not, you have to admit that J&J put on a pretty amazing show. It’s a shame all anyone remembers is the last two seconds.”
Best: Aerosmith, Britney Spears, NSync, Nelly, & Mary J. Blige – 2001
The 2001 Super Bowl halftime show had something unusual going for it: two performers at the height of their respective careers, Justin Timberlake with NSync, and Britney Spears.
Rolling Stone wrote of the performance, “Walk This Way” has to be one of the most demented three-minute spectacles ever aired on TV. Britney, in silver football pants, starring as the Missy Who Was Ready to Play. Mary J. Blige wailing along. Nelly rapping over Joe Perry’s guitar solo. Really, the whole gloriously sleazy history of American pop music is here in this performance.”
Best: Michael Jackson – 1993
For the Win says the 1993 Super Bowl Halftime show was Michael Jackson’s last great performance of his career. The King of Pop stood without moving for 90 seconds while 100,000 fans screamed and waved, waiting on his five-song set.
Michael Jackson started his set with the rousing song, “Jam” and then went into one of the most iconic pop songs ever to be sung, “Billie Jean.” He then sang “Black or White,” and closed with the entire stadium singing “Heal the World,” along with him. “It was the birth of the modern-day Super Bowl spectacle,” wrote For The Win.
Best: Stevie Wonder – 1999
When Stevie wonder came to Miami to grace the halftime show, he did so with style and elegance. Stevie Wonder sang a slew of his best classics and also gave Gloria Estefan a shot at Super Bowl redemption. He even performed “Sir Duke” as a tribute to Duke Ellington’s hundredth-birthday.
Gloria Estefan spiced things up for the Miami audience too. She gave us an uptempo salsa percussion. And there was also an appearance by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. One of the funniest moments of all those was that Stevie Wonder drove the car on the field. Who let him do that?!
Worst: Shania Twain, Sting, And No Doubt – 2003
Sorry, Shania Twain fans, but this was arguably one of the country star’s most forgettable moments. We almost forgot that she even showed up. The performance she put on was essentially a snooze fest — so much so that the cameraman even zoomed in on the keytar guy. Now, that is some bad entertainment when you don’t want to do close-ups of the main event.
Luckily, Gwen Stefani and Sting were there to save the day. They harmonized to the sweet tune of “Message in a Bottle” and made the perfect combo. A bonus for Gwen was that she got to put on a show for her hometown SoCal crowd.
Best: Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – 2014
Bruno Mars came and set the stage on fire in 2014. The show commenced with a dozen teens singing and then boom, the spotlight goes to Bruno Mars as he is doing his best John Lennon impression on the drums. The multitalented star sang, did instruments and danced all for our enjoyment.
And to make it better, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers took everyone by surprise. They took off their shirts and started jumping around to one of their biggest hits. At first, people questioned this lineup but they proved to be a good choice.
Best: Diana Ross – 1996
This was the most diva a halftime show before Queen Bey came around. As Diana Ross was being lowered to the stage on a crane, she yells, “Come on, world!” The crane was even made out of sparklers, which makes the whole entrance that much better.
There was a lot of commotion on the stage while she was performing so some were worrying if she would get run over by the army of the red-vested dancing squad. But the best part was when she said, “Oh my, here comes my ride!” A helicopter landed and she was taken away in true diva fashion.
Worst: The Halftime Shows From 1967 To 1989
Back in the day, Super Bowl Halftime shows were nowhere near what they are today. To be fair, it seems like the head honchos at the Super Bowl didn’t really know they were allowed to put on spectacular shows that are essentially better than the games themselves.
The shows were so lackluster that Rolling Stone describes the halftime events from ’67 through ’89 as merely “bathroom breaks.” It wasn’t until the 1990s that things really started heating up on the field.
Middle Of The Road: Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, Travis Tritt and The Judds – 1994
If you’re reading the headline and wondering “…who?” don’t worry — you’re not alone. During the 1994 Super Bowl halftime show, America was blessed with a set by Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and The Judds.
All hailing from Nashville, the all-American country entertainment made for a very wholesome, yet astonishingly forgettable, set. While there were no frills with this lackluster performance, after several mishaps throughout the years, you can’t blame the Super Bowl execs for wanting to play it safe.
Best: Tom Petty, 2008
If there was ever a musician who knew how to entertain a Super Bowl halftime show, it was Tom Petty. When Petty took the stage during halftime in 2008, he delivered a stellar performance.
Tom Petty understood the audience and delivered a set that proved that after opening up with “American Girl!” Unfortunately, even Tom Petty himself couldn’t make up for the other Tom…Tom Brady. The 2009 Super Bowl, from an athletic perspective, was one of the most cringe-worthy in history, especially for New Englanders.
Best: Paul McCartney – 2005
When you’re the leading man of one of the most iconic bands of all time, people expect a lot from you. While some musicians might crack under the pressure, Sir Paul McCartney is a different kind of individual entirely.
When he hit the stage during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2005, he did what he’s done for the past half-century, and he did it perfectly. Opening with “Drive My Car” followed by “Get Back,” before closing out with “Live and Let Die” and “Hey Jude.” Paul McCartney delivered an unforgettable performance.
Best: Coldplay – 2016
Say what you want about Coldplay, but we have to give credit where credit is due. In 2016, the British rockers opened up for Queen Bee herself. And let’s face it — most people left with this task would have been downright scared. Not only did Coldplay show up to the performance, but they delivered a great show too. The band opened with the fan favorite tune “Yellow,” which was a great way to juxtapose the energy of “Viva la Vida” next. They followed with hits “Paradise” and “Adventure of a Lifetime” before Bruno Mars took the stage to deliver his hit “Uptown Funk.”
Things really popped off when Chris Martin joined Mars and Beyonce for a mash-up of “Fix You” and “Up&Up.”
Best: Bruno Mars – 2016
Alright, since we’re already talking Bruno Mars, we’ve got to throw him in here. After all, he did accompany Coldplay and Queen Bee to give a star-studded performance during the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show.
After Coldplay wrapped up their tune “Adventure of a Lifetime,” Bruno Mars hit the stage to perform “Uptown Funk,” which is arguably one of the best song to get a crowd hyped. Beyonce soon joined and wowed the audience with “Formation” mixed with “Crazy in Love.”
Best: Lady Gaga – 2017
Lady Gaga isn’t exactly known for being a “chill” star. So it was only appropriate for Mother Monster to enter the stage during the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show via cables seemingly a mile high.
As if that wasn’t enough, she immediately began belting “God Bless America” followed by “This Land Is Your Land,” showcasing her powerhouse vocals. It was time to get the audience hyped though, so Gaga began singing “Born This Way” following by “Telephone” and “Just Dance,” both of which she hadn’t performed live in almost three years.
Best: Left Shark – 2015
Say what you want about this one, but Left Shark became such an internet sensation following his appearance at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show that he deserves a shoutout.
During Katy Perry’s Vegas-style performance, she danced alongside moving palm trees, and of course, Left Shark. The thing was, Katy didn’t just have one shark flanking her while she danced — but left Shark was the one who grabbed the attention of everyone. Halftime show director Hamish Hamilton told EW, “I don’t think anybody on the team had any idea that Left Shark was going to become such a cultural phenomenon. We were trying to work out how we could bring a beach scene to life.”
Best: M.I.A. – 2013
The halftime show during Super Bowl XLVI was jam-packed. As Madonna took the stage accompanied by LMFAO, the audience went wild. Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. joined their fellow musicians onstage, dressed in Egyptian clothing, as they danced like cheerleaders with pom-poms.
M.I.A. held her own alongside a group of talented artists who were arguably more famous than she was at the time. Everything seemed to be going well until M.I.A. did something that would cost her millions of dollars in fines. Check out the details about what happened next.
Best: Whitney Houston – 1991
The legendary pop diva Whitney Houston also performed at Super Bowl XXV, after the New Kids on the Block. Her performance that evening earned her a permanent place of honor in Super Bowl history. Houston’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was an immediate success.
Danyel Smith of ESPN Magazine wrote about the performance in 2016. “People were weeping in the stands, weeping in their homes. The song itself became a top-20 pop hit. Folks called in and requested Whitney Houston’s national anthem on the radio.” It is one of the most-beloved Super Bowl halftime moments of all time.
Best: Tribute To Louis Armstrong – 1972
Although halftime shows in the 1970s were not the elaborate spectacles they are today, there were still some really memorable moments. One of those was a tribute to the great trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong.
It took place in 1972, at Super Bowl VI. The salute to Armstrong was performed by jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and trumpeter Al Hirt. Fitzgerald had been a frequent singing partner to Armstrong. Hirt and Fitzgerald, alongside singer Carol Channing and the U.S. Marine Corps Drill Team, performed the song “Mack the Knife.” Fitzgerald was the first African-American woman to perform at a Super Bowl halftime.
Worst: Maroon 5, Big Boi, And Travis Scott – 2019
With so many radio hits, you’d think that Maroon 5 would be a perfect band to rock the Super Bowl. But they weren’t. Adam Levine warbled through classic songs like “Sugar” and “Moves Like Jagger” in a forgettable performance. But Maroon 5 never performed what the audience wanted them to.
Before the halftime show, fans told Maroon 5 on Twitter that they wanted them to play a version of SpongeBob SquarePants’ “Sweet Victory.” Did they play it? Well, they showed a clip from the episode, which is not what fans meant. At least Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” performance was good.
Worst: Justin Timberlake – 2018
Although Justin Timberlake has performed exciting shows in the past, this was not one of them. Before the 2018 Super Bowl, Timberlake’s most recent album, Man of the Woods, didn’t sell too well. His performance resulted in many lackluster reviews from Time and the New Yorker.
In particular, Justin Timberlake decided to cover the song “I Would Die 4 U” with a hologram of Prince. Not only has Timberlake had some skirmishes with Prince in the past, but also, no one can sing that as well as Prince. This gets a 3/10.