The Super Bowl halftime show has come a long way over the years, growing from a quaint marching band-centric affair to a blockbuster concert that draws the biggest names in music — not to mention millions of eyeballs.
When it debuted in 1967, the halftime show featured — among other things — the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band performing “The Sound of Music” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” As the years went on, it expanded, but it wasn’t quite A-list: mid-game breaks featured everything from an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician (Elvis Presto, obviously) to the New Mouseketeers.
But when Michael Jackson headlined the halftime show in 1993, everything changed. Audiences grew accustomed to the idea of seeing the biggest pop star in the world performing at the biggest game in America, and before long, the modern halftime show took hold.
From MJ’s game-changer to Beyonce’s 2013 show-stopper, here are the 11 best Super Bowl halftime show performances of all time.
Agree with our picks? Disagree? Tweet us at @Billboard with your comments.
11. Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars, 2016
When they debuted as an alt-rock act in 2000 with “Yellow,” it was unthinkable that Coldplay would eventually ascend to Super Bowl status. Well, over the years Coldplay took over the planet with their introspective soft rock, and before headlining Super Bowl 50, they added some dance grooves to their music and colors to their palette with the A Head Full of Dreams LP. The booty-shaking, Technicolor Coldplay was on full display at Super Bowl 50, but more importantly, they brought out two artists with PhDs in dance to make things iconic. Bruno Mars and Beyonce brought then-new hits “Uptown Funk!” and “Formation,” respectively, and the ensuing showdown between their dance troupes was irresistible. Major kudos to Coldplay for letting two other artists steal their own halftime show.
10. Michael Jackson, 1993
Eager to keep viewers glued to their televisions, the NFL whipped up the Biggest Freaking Halftime Show Ever, starring Michael Jackson. The late King of Pop whipped viewers into a frenzy with a lip-synched medley of “Jam,” “Billie Jean” and “Black or White.” MJ then cued up a snippet of “We Are The World” as the crowd turned over cards revealing drawings by the children of Los Angeles. And just in case viewers missed his message of harmony, MJ concluded with “Heal the World,” while surrounded by 3,500 youngsters, as a blow-up globe deployed on the 50 yard line.
9. Paul McCartney, 2005
A purported “safe choice” by the NFL following the previous year’s “Nipplegate” controversy featuring Timberlake and Janet Jackson, McCartney signaled the transition from contemporary pop acts to classic rock legends performing at halftime. Atop an X-shaped stage made of video projectors, the ex-Beatle first warmed up with “Drive My Car.” He then followed up with “Get Back,” before trading his guitar for a piano during a fireworks-laden rendition of Wings’ James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die.” Saving his best for last, McCartney signed off with “Hey Jude,” during which the 84,000 in attendance at Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium all joined in for the iconic coda.
8. Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake, 2004
It was the day that the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” entered the American vernacular. Debate about whether Justin Timberlake “accidentally” exposed Janet’s nipple while ripping off a portion of her costume has raged since that Houston halftime. FCC fines have been assessed, thrown out and appealed in court, but the court of popular opinion is still out over why Jackson appeared to bear the brunt of the backlash and career impact while Timberlake seemed to walk away fairly scot-free. But bedazzled breast or not, you have to admit that J&J put on a pretty kick-ass show. It’s a shame that what most people remember is just the last two seconds.
7. Dr. Dre & Friends, 2022
Hip-hop finally got its halftime show spotlight in 2022 when Dr. Dre and his cohorts took over the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Previously announced performers Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem were joined by surprise guests 50 Cent (rapping “In Da Club” upside down) and Anderson .Paak, who banged away at the drums during Slim Shady’s “Lose Yourself.” From Dre sitting at the piano to play “Still D.R.E.” while Snoop rapped to Blige’s booty-shaking “Family Affair” to Kendrick’s modern classic “Alright,” it demonstrated that hip-hop is more than ready for its moment – and many more to come, we hope — at the Super Bowl halftime show.
6. Lady Gaga, 2017
Opening with Lady Gaga singing a medley of “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land” from the roof of the Super Bowl stadium, the New York City pop star then launched herself from the heavens down onto the stage, singing dance-pop favorites “Poker Face,” “Born This Way,” “Bad Romance” and more. It was certainly one of the most visually stunning and vocally impressive halftime shows in Super Bowl history, and her stage exit is probably the best the show has ever seen: She mic dropped, caught a football toss and hopped off a staircase into nothingness. Forgot taking a bow or flashing a smile — that’s how you end a show.
5. Beyonce, 2013
After her silhouette was lit on fire, Beyoncé emerged from a cloud of smoke with an inspired display of hits (including “Love on Top” and “Crazy in Love”) and multimedia indulgence during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show performance. And that was all before Destiny’s Child‘s long-rumored reunion commenced when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams shot out from under the stage like pistons to join Bey for “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women” and “Single Ladies.” During Beyonce’s reign on the halftime stage, she was also backed by dozens of female dancers and band members (including a killer horn section), and innovative animation screens with duplicate Bey’s running wild.
4. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2009
In 2009, the Boss beckoned viewers to step away from the guac and “put the chicken fingers down” before proceeding to rock Tampa for the next 12 minutes. Though Bruce turned down several prior invitations to perform at the big game, Springsteen’s set was proof that good things come to those that wait. The E Street Band rocked through a four-song set of crowd favorites, but the biggest hit came when Jersey’s finest slammed into a TV camera with his crotch during “10th Avenue Freeze Out.”
3. Madonna, 2012
Riding a huge buzz for her then-forthcoming album MDNA, Madonna charged into her Super Bowl XLVI halftime performance as the quasi-gladiatorial captain of a cheerleading squad that included LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., and CeeLo Green. Amid Roman soldiers, Madge entered the field on a golden throne to belt out longtime favorite “Vogue” before being joined by LMFAO for a “Party Rock Anthem”/”Sexy And I Know It” infused take on her 2000 hit “Music.” Sure, the Material Girl slipped a bit while dancing in those thigh-high heeled boots, but her Super Bowl gig’s most talked about moment came when M.I.A. and Minaj joined her for fresh single “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” It happened fast, but everyone watching at home certainly saw M.I.A.’s mischievous middle finger, which sparked its own mini-“Nipplegate”-esque controversy. However, Madge’s epic “Like A Prayer” finale, aided by CeeLo and a huge robed choir, ensured that the 12-minute spectacle ended with the focus right back on the music.
2. U2, 2002
Less than five months after the tragedies of September 11, 2001, U2 brought the heart-shaped stage from their Elevation tour to the gridiron. The band kicked off with “Beautiful Day,” but it was their 9/11 tribute that captured the most attention. As they played “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a scrolling backdrop featured the names of all of the victims who perished in the attacks and Bono finished the song by opening his jacket to reveal the stars and stripes in its lining.
1. Prince, 2007
Long known for erotically-charged performances, Prince was a curious halftime choice only three years post-Nipplegate. While he did wield that purple, unpronounceable-symbol-shaped guitar in an unabashedly phallic way behind a screen, the ecstatic genius of Prince’s performance was the way he actually played the instrument. The rocker powered through his own classics (“1999,” “Let’s Go Crazy”) and the classics of others (“Proud Mary,” “All Along the Watchtower”). But the explosive coda was “Purple Rain,” which had the stadium full of testosterone-pumped football fanatics waving their arms and howling in falsetto as, yes, an actual downpour swamped Miami’s Dolphin Stadium.