It’s nearing that exciting time again: Super Bowl Sunday. While most are looking forward to the football, many are excited to see the commercials and even more excited to see the halftime show. We anticipate the halftime show announcement as soon as we find out which teams are battling for the football title. The Super Bowl has been around for a long time and boasts some incredible musical artists at the half. But which shows stand out above the rest? We read through eight expert reviews to come up with this list of the top seven best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.
In the early years of the Super Bowl, halftime shows were a far cry from the extravagant spectacles we see today. From 1967 to the early 1990s, the stage belonged to marching bands, often from universities. These displays of precision and athleticism served as a welcome intermission from the on-field action but lacked the star power and cultural impact that future shows would embrace.
The tide began to turn in the early ’90s. In 1991, New Kids on the Block brought a taste of pop music to the halftime stage, followed by Gloria Estefan’s vibrant Latin flair in 1992. Michael Jackson’s electrifying performance in 1993, however, truly elevated the show to a cultural phenomenon. His iconic medley of hits mesmerized millions, shattering viewership records and setting the stage for the era of superstar headliners we know today. The Super Bowl halftime show had officially become an event in its own right, a must-see spectacle attracting A-list artists and generating fervent buzz.
From Diana Ross’s dazzling costume changes in 1994 to Beyoncé’s powerful feminist statement in 2016, each halftime show has brought its own unique flavor and cultural commentary. Controversies like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in 2004 have sparked heated debates, while unforgettable collaborations like Madonna and Missy Elliott in 2004 and Shakira and Jennifer Lopez in 2020 have pushed creative boundaries and solidified the show’s place as a platform for global music celebrations. Today, the Super Bowl halftime show is a carefully curated event, blending nostalgia with cutting-edge entertainment, all under the watchful gaze of millions. Its evolution from marching bands to megastars reflects not just the changing landscape of the NFL, but also the cultural forces and social conversations that shape American society.
While the main event is the biggest football game in the world, the halftime show is something that many pin as their favorite part. Live performances have the power to touch us in profound ways. StudyFinds has consulted eight expert reviews to create this list of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time. These performances were mentioned most across the board with the highest accolades. There were many more performances than seven, so if your favorite isn’t on the list, let us know in the comments below.
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Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows, According to Fans
1. U2 (2002)
How can U2’s performance not sit at number one when just a few months after 9/11, they made it a tribute to the victims? Rolling Stone remembers the names of the victims scrolling down the screen as they started the show off with “Beautiful Day.” This touching tribute built up to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” At the end, Bono opened his jacket to reveal the American flag sewn inside.
There was an immediate recognition of Bono as he strutted his way through the crowd wearing his famous fly sunglasses. Ticketmaster informs us that Bono was making music he refers to as “defiant joy,” honoring everyone who lost a loved one in the 9/11 tragedy while also killing it with a stellar performance.
U2 performed “Where the Streets Have No Name” on a heart-shaped stage as the names of those lost in the attacks were projected. Timeout commends Paul McCartney for appearing during the pregame show also paying his respects to the tragedy with the anthemic “Freedom.” The performances really moved the audience.
2. Lady Gaga (2017)
It’s pretty heartwarming when someone starts a Super Bowl performance with “This Land is Your Land” and lines from the Pledge of Allegiance like Lady Gaga did. The sky lit up behind her with a literal constellation of drones. While this was not her usual shock factor style, she made up for it with a dive off the roof of the stadium to start the show.
Gaga unsurprisingly owned the stage whether she was cutting it up with dozens of backup dancers or performing the emotional piano ballad “Million Reasons.” Ticketmaster calls Gaga one of the most magnetic performers. Rolling Stone admits that “Telephone” is still a jam, with or without Beyoncé.
There is so much to unpack from this performance, like her dancers tossing glowing spears that looked like what Vulture calls a weapon out of “Star Trek.” This show has to be the most technologically advanced Super Bowl halftime show.
3. Prince (2007)
This icon of the music industry did not disappoint in his 2007 performance with songs like “We Will Rock You” into “Let’s Go Crazy,” “All Along the Watchtower” and more! Of course, this performance is more cherished since he died in 2016. Rolling Stone calls it, “Total mastery. Total cool. Total Prince.”
Unlike Gaga’s performance, Prince’s didn’t include any risky stunts, but it wasn’t lacking in thrills and chills. The middle of the stage was hard to miss as it represented the “Artist Formerly Known As Prince” symbol. He opened with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” (awesome) before switching gears with “Let’s Go Crazy” (double awesome). The performance preceded to include a lit-up marching band in songs like “Baby I’m a Star,” “Proud Mary,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” He did the whole thing in the pouring rain. Vulture raised a great point asking, “who could ever top that?”
The show ended with a huge cloth shot up into the night sky, with Prince’s giant backlit silhouette projected as he shredded the guitar solo from “Purple Rain.” Timeout says, “The Purple One kicked all kinds of ass with a medley of classic rock covers and his own hits.”
4. Aerosmith, NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly (2001)
Ahh, we love a medley of top performers. How can these guys not be on the list? This was the first year that fans were allowed on the field surrounding the stage. It was also the first time someone (Timberlake is someone) literally shot fireworks out of his hands like fire-based hero, Phoenix Force. Vulture points out that fan interaction has since become a staple.
I bet you never thought you would hear “Walk This Way” with Steven Tyler and Justin Timberlake performing dueling chicken dances. Timeout says thankfully somebody did have that idea, and also realizes that “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” sounds way better played back-to-back with “Bye Bye Bye.”
It was a scandal at the time – a couple months later, in the middle of inducting Aerosmith into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Kid Rock paused to ask, “What were you guys thinking?” While it was chaotic, the world wouldn’t be the same without it. Rolling Stone admits that “the whole gloriously sleazy history of American pop music is here in this performance.”
5. Beyoncé (2013)
The OG fans got a treat in this performance when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams burst on the stage for a Destiny’s Child reunion. Rolling Stone adds that “Bey ran the world with superhuman renditions of ‘Crazy in Love,’ ‘Baby Boy,’ and ‘Independent Women.'”
The Queen looked like she was having the time of her life throughout all of the intricate choreography. With pyrotechnics exploding all around her, she hardly appeared to break a sweat, but that’s what makes Beyoncé, Beyoncé right? Her performance of “End of Time” made a huge influence with its marching band drums and Afrobeat rhythms. Ticketmaster points out that all of the hits Beyoncé performed were the perfect segue way into the dramatic finale “Halo.”
Your entrance is everything and Queen Bee is well aware. “After her silhouette was lit on fire, Beyoncé emerged from a cloud of smoke with an inspired display of hits,” adds Billboard. “She was also backed by dozens of female dancers and band members (including a killer horn section), and innovative animation screens with duplicate Beys running wild.”
6. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar (2022)
This performance was very anticipated, especially for Eminem fans because where has he been? This was the first time hip-hop took over the Superbowl, and they introduced it with a bang. Rolling Stone reminds us of when Snoop joined him for “California Love,” while Mary J. Blige, the Queen of hip-hop soul, came in with “Family Affair.” The show also included Kendrick Lamar performing “Alright.”
Vulture paints us the picture of Dre and Snoop kicking it off with “The Next Episode” and “California Love,” before 50 Cent entered hanging upside down for “In Da Club.” Mary J. Blige killed it (in a good way) in a dazzling costume and Eminem was backed by a band that included Anderson Paak on drums, while he encouraged the crowd to “Lose Yourself.” Kendrick Lamar’s performance included a host of highly choreographed dancers.
In addition to being the first in the hip hop division to grace the Super Bowl halftime show, Dre’s performance was the first to ever to win the top program Emmy of Outstanding Variety special (live). That’s huge, and no surprise according to Billboard. The show creatively begins with Dre sitting at the piano to play “Still D.R.E.” It continues with the artists intertwining, like when Snoop raps to Blige’s hit “Family Affair.”
7. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (2009)
I mean, duh, he is the “Boss.” Springsteen did a 14-minute end-zone power drive that crammed in all the fervor of a four-hour concert marathon that Rolling Stone remembers as “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” “Born to Run,” and “Glory Days.”
Besides his performance, the most memorable moment was when the Boss demanded viewers to “put the chicken fingers down.” Timeout brings up an interesting point saying that this was the night that there were a lot of intimate angles from the camera leading straight to Springsteen’s crotch. The things we must do in the name of a live performance.
Unsurprisingly, Bruce was invited to perform at the halftime show several times. It was only a matter of time until he killed the suspense by committing in 2009. For the performance, Billboard remembers the E Street Band squeezing in four of their top hits.
Editor’s Pick: Rihanna (2023)
While this show did not highly-rank across expert lists, the 2023 Rihanna Super Bowl halftime show was something our Associate Editor Sophia Naughton had to give kudos to. “Rihanna left fans speculating her second pregnancy after this performance. While it is still not clear whether it was planned or not, her little baby bump gave the nation a hint,” says Naughton. “Not to mention that all of Rihanna’s songs are nostalgic masterpieces that always hit. However, I was hoping she would announce a new album dropping, but we can’t have it all.”
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