The 11 Most Epic Super Bowl Halftime Performances of All Time

The 11 Most Epic Super Bowl Halftime Performances of All Time

Sunday, the Super Bowl hits its midlife crisis. 

The helmet smashing, light beer-fueled major television event is turning 50 this year. Instead of celebrating this milestone like the average 50-year-old, with a reckless purchase or an ill-advised outing, the Super Bowl has scheduled one of the most tired bands in rock for its halftime show: Coldplay. The band is currently on a victory lap, promoting its most recent A Head Full of Dreams, which received a resounding "meh" from music critics. 

Beyoncé is also scheduled to appear. She'll likely help the band through their collaboration "Hymn for the Weekend," which dropped with a controversial video Friday, and go on to steal the show.

Read more:
° Coldplay's "Hymn for the Weekend" Video with Beyoncé Is as Colorful as It Is Controversial
° Is Beyoncé Planning Another Surprise Album Drop? Singer Seen Recording Music Videos in US

Beyond celebrating one of the oddest collaborations in recent musical memory, Sunday's Super Bowl milestone presents another gratifying opportunity for fans who have been tuning in for the past 50 years — a chance to reminisce. 

The Super Bowl stage has hosted some of the most awe-inspiring performances ever televised, from Diana Ross to Madonna. If the commercials aren't up to snuff Sunday, consider putting on one of these classic performances (listed in no particular order) instead.


1. Prince, 2007

The Purple One never half-asses a performance, and he sure as hell wasn't going to start while nearly the entire nation watched. While getting drenched by actual Miami rain, Prince shredded out three guitar solos for the people, including one over "Purple Rain" on his iconic symbol guitar. He also mixed in some rock classics, like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," blessing them with some irresistible Princely funk.

Source: Veoh

2. Michael Jackson, 1993

Source: YouTube

1993 marks the year that the Super Bowl moved away from featuring college marching bands and random Olympic figure skating demos and started taking its halftime performances seriously. Michael Jackson was the leader the show's organizers needed to signal to the world the game had changed. Starting the show posed in a golden bandolier, Jackson ran through "Billie Jean," "Black or White" and "We Are the World," bringing all his show-stopping moves with him, including his signature moonwalk. Watching the master perform that move right at his peak was the truth.

3. U2's 9/11 Tribute, 2002

Source: YouTube

When U2 took the stage in 2002, the tragedy of 9/11 was still fresh in the nation's mind. The Irish rock stars took a moment for the victims, scrolling the long list of their names while playing "Where the Streets Have No Name." That song's soaring choruses already guarantees chills; matched with the heartfelt 9/11 tribute, it made for a truly moving performance.

4. The Blues Brothers Bash with ZZ Top and James Brown, 1997

Source: YouTube

In 1997, Dan Aykroyd took the Super Bowl stage on a mission from God. He brought his beloved Elwood Blues character back to the stage, alongside John Goodman and John Belushi's brother Jim to promote their upcoming Blues Brothers 2000. Watching them stumble through "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" is over-the-top Super Bowl pageantry as its most ham-fisted and cheesy. Without James Brown's lightning-fast performances of "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," it would have been entirely forgettable. Even heading into his mid-60s, that man could bring some serious soul.

5. Diana Ross, 1996

Source: YouTube

Diana Ross has never been the flashiest singer in soul, but at the Super Bowl in 1996, she was stunning. Unassisted by auto-tune or a lip synching track, Ross ran through all of her hits from her days with the Supremes and beyond. They flow together so smoothly, it's almost as if they were written to be played as a medley.

6. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, P. Diddy and Kid Rock, 2004

Source: YouTube

Besides Janet Jackson's wardrobe debacle — which encouraged the NFL to follow 2004's halftime show with back-to-back performances from older white men with inoffensive nipples, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones — there was actually a lot to love about this performance. It was one of the last times P. Diddy's music actually enjoyed widespread cultural relevance. There are also few musicians who can pass for a living embodiment of the NFL and all its trashy joys better than Kid Rock. Yet everyone only remembers the nipple — perhaps inevitable, but still disappointing.

7. Madonna, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., 2012

Source: YouTube

Following Nipplegate, the Super Bowl didn't go back to highlighting female performers until 2012, when they chose perhaps the most defiant, boundary-pushing female artist to ever grace a stage: the queen Madonna. Ironically, she wasn't even the one who gave the Federal Communications Commission its migraine that year. That was M.I.A., who gave the middle finger to the cameras (and, ostensibly the American people). She later tried to explain it away, saying the middle finger is actually yogic meditation sign corresponding to the Hindu god Matangi. Everyone totally bought that.

8. Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott, 2015

Source: YouTube

Katy Perry's has a song called "Roar," and she sang it riding on the back of a gigantic animatronic lion. Perry has a song called "Firework," and she sang it on top of a shooting star platform, framed by fireworks. The 2015 show offered some the most literal lyrical interpretations the Super Bowl has ever arranged, but it amounted to an incredibly endearing sort of kitschiness (Left Shark, anyone?). It also helped introduce Missy Elliott to an entirely new generation of fans. That in and of itself is a huge win.

9. Aerosmith and N'Sync, 2001

Source: YouTube

In a somewhat confused attempt to appeal to both the oldest and youngest half of the Super Bowl's audience at the same time, two very different boy bands from two very different eras took the stage in 2001. Aerosmith played two of their softer numbers, "Jaded" and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," while N'Sync hit "Bye Bye Bye" and "It's Gonna Be Me." They came together in the end for "Walk This Way" with Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly, and all felt right in the world.

10. Beyoncé and Destiny's Child, 2013

Source: YouTube

From intimate venues to the most widely televised musical events, no matter what stage she finds herself upon, Beyoncé will slay it. Her 2013 Super Bowl performance, in which she revived her former group Destiny's Child for three incredible songs, was no exception. She'll likely do the same at Super Bowl 50. With that performance, Beyoncé will join the small handful of elite performers to ever grace the Super Bowl stage more than once, which includes Justin Timberlake, Nelly and Gloria Estefan.

11. Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan, 1999

Source: YouTube

Super Bowl performances are all about the entrance. In 1999, Stevie Wonder made one of the most unbelievable entrances of all time: While the horns to "Sir Duke" played around him like royal fanfare, the blind virtuoso drove (!) up to the stage, one hand on the wheel one hand on the mic, in a classy golf cart-sized coup. Sure, it added one more bit of evidence to the "Stevie Wonder's not blind" truther campaign, but the crowd went wild for it. The fact that he and Gloria Estefan both sang beautifully more than 40 years into their respective careers sealed the deal.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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