Between the business of deciding the winners of the year’s biggest American football game, each year the Super Bowl gives us another massive moment – the Halftime Show, which has increasingly become one of the most anticipated cultural events of the year. In just 15 minutes, one of the world’s biggest acts is tasked with captivating the western world in whatever way they (and the NFL) deem fit. Sometimes that brings controversy, sometimes viral infamy, and often pure brilliance.
As Rihanna gears up for her own Super Bowl performance this year, let’s recap the 10 best Halftime Shows so far.
10Paul McCartney (2005)
The year after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” sent her career into a nosedive and caused moral outrage across America, Paul McCartney was tasked with one very important job by the NFL – keep the Super Bowl Halftime Show controversy-free and family-friendly. Ever a safe pair of hands, the Beatles legend stuck to some of the biggest hits of his career – mostly. Few would have predicted he would kick things off with ‘Drive My Car’, but it worked as a fun opener to a trio of anthemic singalongs – ‘Get Back’, ‘Live And Let Die’ and, of course, ‘Hey Jude’. Job done.
9Katy Perry (2015)
Perhaps at the peak of her career, riding high on the wave of ‘Roar’, Katy Perry kicked off her Super Bowl turn by taking that momentum almost literally and riding into the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on a giant gold tiger. It only got more fantastical and surreal from there, with dancers dressed like metallic chess pieces, a flame-filled version of ‘I Kissed A Girl’ with Lenny Kravitz, a superb Missy Elliott moment, Perry flying on her own star beam for ‘Fireworks’ and, of course, some drunken-looking palm trees and the infamous Left Shark. A fever dream of flamboyancy and a massive pop culture touchpoint.
8The Weeknd (2021)
Spare a thought for The Weeknd, who got his big Super Bowl moment right in the middle of a global pandemic. That meant no crowd in the stands to add some extra electricity to the atmosphere, but at least his ‘After Hours’ facial bandages fit in with COVID-19 mask restrictions. Despite the downsides to landing the Halftime Show gig during a period of isolation, the Canadian star still put in a brilliant turn – first with a frenzied gold labyrinth that spun a million memes and then taking over the entire pitch with bloodied and bandaged zombie dancers.
The 2012 Super Bowl Halftime Show began in perhaps its most grand style ever – Madonna being led into Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium on a gigantic golden chariot drawn by reams of snarling gladiators. A snapshot of her expansive career, the setlist featured vintage classics like ‘Vogue’ and ‘Like A Prayer’, as well as showing off her knack for staying current with her then-new release ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’’, augmented by appearances from Nicki Minaj and one controversial M.I.A. A colourful collision of ideas, sounds and styles (let’s not forget the EDM dance break with LMFAO), it was a strong tribute to the maximalism of pop.
6Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (2009)
Bruce Springsteen’s own gigs usually last as long as an American football game feels so how would the king of extravaganzas squeeze all that energy into a 15-minute segment? The Boss delivered, though, from his opening instructions to those watching at home to “step back from the guacamole dip” and “put those chicken fingers down”, to jumping on top of his piano and sliding across the floor to the cameras for a masterclass in showmanship. The setlist was the stuff of brilliance too, moving from ‘Tenth Avenue Freezeout’ to ‘Born To Run’ to a spectacular ‘Glory Days’.
5Lady Gaga (2017)
Just how each Super Bowl performer will make a memorable entrance is one of the most exciting parts of the Halftime Show – along with potential special guests, the setlist and surprise tricks and treats. Lady Gaga definitely made an impression in 2017 when she dove off the top Houston’s NRG Stadium and onto the pitch after performing ‘God Bless America’. Although it opened with patriotic tones – drones lit up the sky in the shape of an American flag behind her – Gaga returned to a more expected tone for the main performance, bringing out glitzy pop gems like ‘Born This Way’ and ‘Poker Face’ for an empowering, infectious set.
4Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent (2022)
Last year, some of hip-hop’s greatest took the spotlight for a collaborative performance showcasing some of the best of Dr. Dre’s impressive canon of productions. 50 Cent surprised everyone by showing off his bat-like abilities by appearing hanging upside down for ‘In Da Club’, Kendrick commanded attention with a compelling turn, and Eminem finished off ‘Lose Yourself’ by taking the knee. Throughout it all, Dre served as the backbone – as he has for much of modern music – conducting the superstars around him with expected aplomb.
“Excellence must be pursued, it must be wooed with all of one’s might and every bit of effort that we had,” a voiceover of NFL coaching great Vince Lombardi declared before Beyoncé took to the Super Bowl stage in 2013. It was the perfect introduction for a flawless performance that showcased exactly why Bey is the Queen – full of passion, charisma and confidence. As well as a great run-through of her own solo hits, the star also reunited with her Destiny’s Child bandmates for a nostalgic nod to the first part of her career that helped her get to one of the biggest stages in the world.
2Michael Jackson (1993)
The opening graphics for Michael Jackson’s 1993 Super Bowl Halftime Show certainly look dated now – all retrofuturistic sci-fi fare – but his performance certainly hasn’t lost any of its magic in the intervening decades. To kick things off, Jacko stood stock still for 90 seconds as the crowd roared around him, before finally breaking his silence with iconic versions of ‘Billie Jean’ (complete with moonwalk) and ‘Black Or White’. Not even ‘Heal The World’ featuring on the setlist could completely bring down pop perfection in a time before stadium razzle dazzle was as in-your-face as it is now.
In 2007, Prince brought the purple rain to Miami – almost literally. His grand moment at the Dolphin Stadium coincided with a huge downpour, but that couldn’t dampen one of music’s greatest as he tore through an impeccable party-starting set. Performing from a stage shaped like his infamous symbol, the Purple One did everything from shredding on his guitar, stepped out from behind the mic stand to show off his dance moves, and shared some unpredictable covers (a gravelly, raw take on Foo Fighters’ ‘Best Of You’, anyone?). Although Prince didn’t let the performance be uploaded online during his lifetime, anyone who witnessed it in the moment could tell you just how legendary the whole thing was. A true icon.