Are You Ready For Some—: Ranking the Last 22 Years of Super Bowl Halftime Shows From Worst to Best
Lip-synching, unplugged instruments, and blatant product placements, oh my!
This Sunday, two teams from America’s Favorite Sport™ (sorry, baseball) will meet on the field in order to compete in the biggest tournament where the winner takes home a piece of jewelry—known best as the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots—deflated balls and all—will go up against the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks with millions watching (and eating). Beyond the actual gameplay, Super Bowl Sunday brings families and friends together to watch exorbitantly expensive commercials and judge famous musicians on their ability to wow viewers in only fifteen minutes (good luck, Katy Perry). That’s where we come in.
Here, we rank over two decades of Super Bowl halftime shows from the most cringe-worthy medleys to the power outage-inducing triumphs.
XLV: The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, and Slash, plus local high-school drill teams and dancers
Cowboys Stadium (2011)
The glittery space football “uniforms” are enough to make anyone cringe, but watching over ten minutes of The Black Eyed Peas perform reminds any viewer that their music is best when the volume is turned down…to zero.
XXVIII: Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, and The Judds
Georgia Dome (1994)
The theme of the 1994 Super Bowl halftime show—Rockin’ Country Sunday—kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
XXXV: Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly
Raymond James Stadium (2001)
While there are glimpses of hope in this MTV-produced performance—including a pretty funny intro video with Ben Stiller and a fresh-faced, curly-haired Justin Timberlake—the jumbled mess of a finale of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” is more than enough for anyone to volunteer to run out and pick up more ice.
XLVIII: Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers
MetLife Stadium (2014)
Last year’s halftime show featured the spunky Bruno Mars performing a few of his mega-hits, dancing up a storm, and even playing the drums. Nothing particularly awful, right? Just wait until RHCP shows up with their magical instruments that can play without being plugged in…
XLVI: Madonna, LMFAO, Cirque du Soleil, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., Cee Lo Green, Andy Lewis, Avon High School drumline, Center Grove High School drumline, Fishers High School drumline, Franklin Central High School drumline, the Southern University Dancing Dolls, and a 200-person choir consisting of Indianapolis locals
Lucas Oil Stadium (2012)
The production value for Madonna’s comeback Super Bowl halftime show is incredible. You could even say that it inspired some aspects of Beyoncé’s triumphant 2013 performance…but that’s about it. For so many performers (and so many clashing aesthetics), it really is amazing how boring this is. Bonus points if you can find when Madge almost falls off the stage.
XXXVII: Shania Twain, No Doubt, and Sting
Qualcomm Stadium (2003)
Oh, Shania, you are so obviously lip-synching. That blatant disregard for the need to create the illusion of a live performance practically sucks the whole life out of this halftime show. Thankfully, Gwen Stefani and Sting come together and kick their parts out of the park. They really saved your ass. Whoever chose all of your costumes, though: A-plus work.
XXXIV: Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, and an 80-person choir
Georgia Dome (2000)
What better way to ring in the new millennium than with an insane Super Bowl halftime show? This has everything—musical superstars, a full orchestra, giant puppets, strange dancers, and Edward James Olmos narrating (awesome)—but the musical component of the show is pretty lame. Phil Collins’s song from Tarzan? Multiple numbers from the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration soundtrack? Pass.
XXXI: The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, and Jim Belushi), ZZ Top, and James Brown
Louisiana Superdome (1997)
The 1997 Super Bowl halftime show starts off looking like a complete trainwreck. Have you ever seen so many people dressed up as the Blues Brothers? You probably never will ever again. Right as the poorly choreographed Blues Brothers medley looks like it’s going to completely run the show into the ground, they bring in the Godfather of Soul himself, dressed head-to-toe in fiery red. By the time the “Gimme Some Lovin” finale starts, you almost wish you were there. Almost.
XXXIII: Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Savion Glover
Pro Player Stadium (1999)
Stevie Wonder was driven onto the field in a fancy old-timey convertible. Wearing a top hat. Singing “Sir Duke.” Right from the get-go, you know that this is going to be one fun halftime show. Unlike a lot of the previous performances mentioned on this list, both Wonder and Gloria Estefan seem like they are having a really good time. Maybe it’s the dance beats or the neon-clad dancers, but it’s hard not to get into the groove with this performance.
XXIX: Patti Labelle, Indiana Jones & Marion Ravenwood, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, and Miami Sound Machine
Joe Robbie Stadium (1995)
This halftime show is based off of a ride at Disneyland. There is something despicable about the amount of advertising that is present within this eleven-minute performance, but at least it’s for an awesome ride. How else did you expect them to get whips into the Super Bowl?
XXXVIII: Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Jessica Simpson, Kid Rock, and Justin Timberlake
Reliant Stadium (2004)
Yes, the infamous Janet Jackson halftime show. While we will never forget the shock and awe ending, make sure to remember that there were some great songs performed that night also including “All for You,” “Rock Your Body,” and the mega-hit “Hot in Herre.”
XL: The Rolling Stones
Ford Field (2006)
While the setlist was great, and Mick commanded the stage as he has for the last forty years, the show’s sound just was not up to snuff, which is a real bummer.
XXXII: Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Queen Latifah, and Grambling State University Band
Qualcomm Stadium (1998)
A solid tribute to the fortieth anniversary of Motown that included some dynamite performances by Queen Latifah, Smokey Robinson, and Boyz II Men, and ended with a bunch of inflatable guys from car lots.
XLII: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
University of Phoenix Stadium (2008)
Oh yeah, the band was great, but the real reason this halftime show solidified its spot in our top 10 is the light-show-turned-stage in the opening minutes. Absolutely brilliant.
XLIV: The Who
Sun Life Stadium (2010)
Questionable outfits aside (you don’t need that fedora, Pete) The Who’s Super Bowl halftime performance was one for the ages. Beyond getting the crowd to sing every single word back to them on every track they played, you might notice that they actually have their instruments plugged in, a refreshing change of pace for the mid-game spectacle.
XXX: Diana Ross
Sun Devil Stadium (1996)
SHE ENDED HER PERFORMANCE HANGING ON THE SIDE OF A HELICOPTER AS SHE WAS AIRLIFTED OUT OF THERE.
XXXIX: Paul McCartney
EverBank Field (2005)
How do you wash the taste of a national scandal like “Nipplegate” out of your mouth? With a living musical legend like Paul McCartney, of course. Memories and fireworks a-plenty.
XXVVII: Michael Jackson
The Rose Bowl (1993)
The King of Pop does not sing a single note for two minutes and twenty-six seconds. He stands there, as a sold-out stadium screams for him, basking in his glory. Then, of course, he went on to play a stellar medley including “Billie Jean” and “Black or White.” NBD.
Louisiana Superdome (2002)
In the middle of their Super Bowl halftime show, U2 projects the names of every single person killed in the September 11 attacks onto a massive screen surrounding a heart-shaped stage. It’s a beautiful gesture that turns the performance from the silly promotional tool into an impactful message of love and peace. Well, kind of.
XLVII: Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (2013)
This performance was so (Sasha) fierce that it raised Destiny’s Child from the dead and blew out the Superdome’s power for thirty-four minutes. Bow down.
XLIII: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band
Raymond James Stadium (2009)
“Ladies and gentlemen, for the next twelve minutes we’re going to bring the righteous and mighty power of The E Street Band into your beautiful home. I want you to step back from the guacamole dip, I want you to put the chicken fingers down, and turn your television all the way up!” This is how the Boss starts his Super Bowl sermon, and then he crotch dives into a cameraman. Pure perfection.
XLI: Prince and the Florida A & M University Marching 100 Band
Sun Life Stadium (2007)
Glowing dancers, a stage shaped as the symbol of “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince,” and the endless charisma and talent of the Purple One. There is nothing better. There’s a reason he’s royalty. FL