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The 15 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows in History 

Ranking the Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows

The early Super Bowl halftime shows mostly featured college marching bands Up With People. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it became customary for the halftime show to feature A-list stars performing a 12-minute stadium concert before a worldwide audience. 

The best Super Bowl halftime shows have mostly been in the last 20 years, featuring big stars. In the upcoming Super Bowl LVII, Rihanna will do the honors, as Apple Music takes over sponsorship from Pepsi; the Taylor Swift dream has been deferred for at least one more year.

Here are the best of the shows; pretty much all of these halftime shows can be watched in full on YouTube. 

Prince (Super Bowl XLI) 
Image: NFL

1. Prince
Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show

Even before Prince died in 2016, his halftime show, performed in 2007, was the consensus best of all time. As rain poured down in Miami, Prince started with “Let’s Go Crazy,” cycled through a couple of surprising covers before closing, naturally, with “Purple Rain.” It was all, of course, performed on a stage in the shape of his symbol. 

U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI)
Image: NFL

2. U2
Super Bowl XXXVI Halftime Show

This bowl, in New Orleans, is remembered as the post-9/11 Super Bowl and as the first championship that Tom Brady and the Patriots won. But it also featured one of the most memorable halftime shows, with U2 performing in front of a large scroll of those killed in the attacks. 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Super Bowl XLIII)
Image: NFL

3. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Super Bowl XLIII Halftime Show

Bruce performed the halftime show for the first time in 2009 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, therefore rendering him unavailable for the New Jersey Super Bowl five years later. The band, which knows its way around a stadium show, played one then-new song, “Working on a Dream,” and several old ones, including “Glory Days.” 

Michael Jackson (Super Bowl XXVII)
Image: NFL

4. Michael Jackson
Super Bowl XXVII Halftime Show

The best Super Bowl halftime show of the previous millennium featured Michael, at the Rose Bowl, during his “Dangerous” era in 1993. He did break out some older stuff, though, including “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” along with “Black and White” and “Heal the World.”

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

5. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar
Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show

The New York Post TV critic Phil Mushnick likes to decry the influence of hip-hop culture on sports, sometimes even transcribing the risqué lyrics of rap songs he’s never heard in his column. It’s a bit of an upset that the 2022 Super Bowl halftime show didn’t kill him in his chair. 

Super Bowl halftime shows have very often been about nostalgia and celebrating the music of decades ago, and in 2022 it finally did it with classic hip-hop as the Super Bowl returned to Los Angeles- just a few miles from Compton. 

Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Super Bowl XXXIII) 
Image: NFL

6. Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Super Bowl XXXIII Halftime Show

The 1999 halftime show, in Miami combined two big stars from decades past with the bad that was at the heart of the brief late-’90s swing-dancing craze. But then Stevie busted into “Sir Duke,” and all was forgiven. 

Lady Gaga (Super Bowl LI)
Image: NFL

7. Lady Gaga
Super Bowl LI Halftime Show

Lady Gaga’s performance in Houston in 2017 began with Gaga appearing to sing “God Bless America and “This Land is Your Land” from the top of the stadium before leaping off the edge. Once safely on stage, she sang a medley of her hits and even played the keytar. Then, she caught a football as he jumped offstage. 

Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz (Super Bowl XLIX) - best Super Bowl halftime shows
Image: NFL

8. Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz
Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show

This performance, at Arizona’s stadium in 2015, featured Perry’s blend of colorful costuming and fun pop songs, but the show is remembered for two words: Left Shark. Originally meant as part of a beach tableau in the desert, the shark’s dance moves instantly made him the most iconic background dancer in Super Bowl history. 

Beyonce and Destiny's Child (Super Bowl XLVII) - best Super Bowl halftime shows
Image: NFL

9. Beyonce and Destiny’s Child
Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show

This Super Bowl, at the Superdome in New Orleans, was the year the lights went out during the game, but they stayed on for the halftime show, featuring a medley of Beyonce’s hits and a reunion with her former group Destiny’s Child. 

Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, and Kid Rock (Super Bowl XXXVIII) - best Super Bowl halftime shows
Image: NFL

10. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, and Kid Rock
Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show

Not the greatest Super Bowl halftime show, but certainly the most historically significant. The “wardrobe malfunction” incident, in which Janet Jackson’s nipple was exposed for a couple of seconds, not in closeup, and at a time when almost no one had an HDTV, was the primary culture war conflagration of 2004. Prior to that, the show was a hodgepodge of popular acts at the time, as was customary during the days when MTV produced the show in years when CBS had the game. The resulting backlash against Jackson was so egregious that they’re still making documentaries about it. 

Justin Timberlake  (Super Bowl LII)  - best Super Bowl halftime shows
Image: NFL

11. Justin Timberlake
Super Bowl LII Halftime Show

This show, held at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium during the Eagles-Patriots matchup in 2018, also caused controversy amid rumors — whose truth is still unclear, all these years later — that a hologram of the then-newly deceased Prince was going to make an appearance. That didn’t happen, but Timberlake performed an engaging medley of his own hits, in addition to a Prince tribute performance of “I Would Die 4 U.” 

Tom Petty  and the Heartbreakers (XLII)
Image: NFL

12. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Super Bowl XLII Halftime Show

This 2008 performance in Arizona, part of a long run of established rock acts that followed the Janet Jackson incident earlier that decade, featured Petty and his band playing years of hits, including  “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” 

Madonna (Super Bowl XLVI)
Image: NFL

13. Madonna
Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show

The first solo female performer to headline the Super Bowl halftime show since Diana Ross 16 years earlier, Madonna’s turn in the Indianapolis Super Bowl in 2012 featured a Roman gladiator theme, along with 

a robust selection of the singer’s hits from over the years, like “Vogue,” “Open Your Heart,” “Express Yourself,” and the finale, “Like a Prayer.” 

Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Super Bowl XLVIII) - best Super Bowl halftime shows
Image: NFL

14. Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers
Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show

Sure, it led to controversy after someone noticed that Chili Peppers bassist Flea’s bass wasn’t plugged in. But this 2014 performance, held in the cold weather of New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, was underrated, featuring two very different acts who each brought their own thing to the proceedings. 

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez (Super Bowl LIV)
Image: NFL

15.  Shakira and Jennifer Lopez
Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show

Sure, we later learned in a documentary that Lopez wasn’t particularly happy with having to share the top billing of the show. But the two stars put on a successful show in 2020 in Miami, with the costumes just about as impressive as the music. 

It was part of Lopez’s pre-pandemic resurgence, including her 50th birthday and her appearance in the film Hustlers. Indeed, Lopez even performed on a pole in the halftime show. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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