Regardless of whether the Panthers or the Broncos hoist the Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl 50, the real winner this Sunday is bound to be Coldplay. Chris Martin and Co. are rocking the halftime show, and word on the street is that they’re bringing an eclectic group of past headliners — including Beyonce, (possibly) Bruno Mars and perhaps some other special guests — along for the wild ride.
This isn’t the first time the Super Bowl has played host to unlikely musical pairings, and if past years are any indication, the blending of musical styles will make perfect sense (more or less) once the performers hit the 50-yard line. Here are six of the strangest musical pairings in Super Bowl history. On paper, they looked iffy — but they all scored major points on game day.
Super Bowl XLIX: Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz & Missy Elliott
In 2015, following in the footsteps of platinum pop divas Madonna (2012) and Beyonce (2014), Katy Perry brought a bit of girl power to Super Bowl Sunday with a larger-than-life show that was watched by more eyeballs than the game itself. In 2015, after belting her own monster hits like “Roar” and “Dark Horse,” Perry sang with rocker Lenny Kravitz on “I Kissed a Girl.” But the real showstopper came when Katy passed the mic to long-lost hip-hop visionary Missy Elliott, who re-emerged on the scene and outshone even Left Shark with a medley of “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It” and “Lose Control.”
Super Bowl XLVIII: Bruno Mars & Red Hot Chili Peppers
The connecting factor here was funk. Bruno Mars aspires to be a modern-day James Brown. The Red Hot Chili Peppers worship at the altar of Parliament-Funkadelic and even tapped George Clinton to produce their album Freaky Styley, which dropped in 1985 — the same year Mars was born. Following their performance of “Give It Away,” everyone who blasted the Chilis for miming along to a pre-recorded backing track totally missed the point. Our hats were off to the seasoned rockers just for keeping the pace with a showbiz dynamo more than two decades their junior.
Super Bowl XXXV: Aerosmith, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige & Nelly
One of the smartest things Aerosmith ever did was team up with Run-DMC for “Walk This Way,” the 1986 hit that proved rappers and rockers could party together. Fifteen years later, the song still had the power to unite “the bad boys from Boston” with unlikely collaborators from diverse genres, including rapper Nelly, R&B queen Mary J. Blige and a bunch of plucky kids for whom the collision of pop, rock and rap was the norm. Those wide-eyed youngsters were *NSYNC and Britney Spears, and the results of the head-scratching union gave both parents and their teenagers something to scream about between touchdowns.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Shania Twin, No Doubt & Sting
It’s lucky for Sting that Shania Twain headed to the locker room after performing her two songs — “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” and “Up.” The 2003 halftime show was all about the ladies, and the British rocker had his hands full just trying to keep up with No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani, who prowled the stage with the pep of a cheerleader and the swagger of a champion. No Doubt’s dominance might make Sting’s guest appearance seem anticlimactic, but once Gwen joined the former Police man on a cover of the group’s 1979 smash “Message In a Bottle,” the collaboration suddenly made sense. Here were two generations of new wave enthusiasts coming together to prove that rock and reggae went as well together as football and buffalo wings.
Super Bowl XLV: Black Eyed Peas, Usher & Slash
In 2011, Black Eyed Peas were unstoppable hip-pop cyborgs on a mission to melt all genres into one party-starting sound. They succeeded during halftime of Super Bowl XLV, flipping between their own hits (“I Gotta Feeling,” “Let’s Get It Started,” etc.) and team-ups with R&B superstar Usher (“OMG”) and, most surprisingly, Guns N’ Roses guitar god Slash (“Sweet Child o’ Mine”). It was a good night for anyone willing to swallow their cynicism along with their nachos and simply enjoy the show.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Puff Daddy, Nelly & Kid Rock
Believe it or not, there was more to the bizarre 2004 halftime spectacle than Janet Jackson’s bare breast. In addition to Ms. Jackson’s partner in “wardrobe malfunction” Justin Timberlake, also on the bill that fateful night were Puff Daddy, Nelly and Kid Rock — three rather distinct performers whose ability to blend in with pop icons like Janet and Justin was enough to make you feel good about colorblind, anything-goes 21st Century America. Too bad all the good vibes went away in the final seconds of the performance.