Our Favorite Super Bowl Halftime Shows (& A Couple Not So Favorites)

Every piece of history is laced with roots. The 1960’s emergence of the Super Bowl Halftime is certainly no exception. The halftime show has quite a remarkable, yet humble beginning. It was not always the pyrotechnic laden and star studded mega show that it is now.

First off, the National Football League’s annual championship game actually created a ‘halftime show’ in order to fill up time and to keep the fans entertained. Since the NFL was still maturing, press coverage was pretty much non-existent. So, like all the great legacies, they started small. This meant that half time entertainment consisted of marching bands or drill teams from the local high schools.

Then on January 12, 1967 things started to get a lot more exciting. The city of Los Angeles was still recovering from the tragedy of the Watts Riots of 1965, and there was some racial tension among the people. The NFL wanted to give a message of solidarity and unity to the fans. Two college bands were brought on: The University of Arizona Band and the African American Grambling Band. During their performance they stood in formations to create the shape of the Liberty Bell. Oh, and there were jet packs! The trailblazing Grambling band reached icon status, that day, and instilled hope to African American children around the world.  

Even as the Superbowl began to transcend beyond a regular sports event, marching bands would remain a fixture in the championship game performances for decades to come.

The Rise of Star Power

As the NFL games climbed up in popularity, they  started to spend more money on mega stages and all the fun extras of show biz. So the pressure was on to try and step things up. The 1972 halftime show featured the NFL’s very first A Lister, Ella Fitzgerald. She treated the audience to a special tribute to Louis Armstrong, who had passed away the previous year.

By 1991, the love  for America’s beloved football players reached an all-time high. More and more people began to tune in and look forward to seeing a live show. Cue the very first merge of America’s deep love for sports with modern pop culture, and the shows began to feature live music acts like The New Kids on the Block and Gloria Estefan. Gloria’s performance featured ice skaters and unfortunately fell flat, and the event broadcast ratings dropped 10%.

Finally, 1993 brought fans exactly what they wanted. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson’s performance ultimately changed the way halftime shows would go, forever. Some say he set the bar pretty high, and from that point onward, celebrity performers would continue to try to  ‘one up’ the performance every year. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes the performances crashed and burned into the Hall of Shame. Let’s take a look back at some of the Nation’s favorites, and then revisit some of the worst performances of all time.

XXVII,1993: Michael Jackson

The legendary MIchael Jackson took to the stage with those incredible dance moves he’s know for… and perfect live vocals. Michael Jackson moonwalked across the stage in an impressive  military style outfit. His set list included ‘Billie Jean’ , ‘Black or White’ ‘We are the World’ and ‘Heal the World.’ Fans were treated to his use of body doubles to make it appear he ‘teleported’ around the arena. To this day, it  is said that Michael set the very standard for every half time show that followed.


XXXVI, 2002: U2

Irish rock band U2’s halftime show debuted just as America was still reeling from the tragic event of 9/11. They used their time on stage to reach out to America and offer healing through their music. Performed at the Superdome in New Orleans, the group wanted to make sure the audience and millions tuning in knew that they were not alone.  As Bono and The Edge did their thing on stage, a stories high screen rose behind the stage, with the names of the 9/11 victims appearing on it. At the end of their set, Bono gives the ultimate gesture, as he opens his jacket to reveal the American Flag sewn to it’s inside. 

XLI, 2007: Prince

Super Bowl 2007 brought down torrents of rain and wind upon the stadium. True to form, Prince showcased his unparalleled musical genius, as he harnessed the inclement weather to suit his performance. Fans fondly recall his performance of ‘Purple Rain’, just as the rain began to pour down over him on stage. It was almost as if nature was showing off just for Prince! Coupled with flawless vocals during ‘Proud Mary’ ,’ Baby I’m a Star’, ‘All Along the Watchtower’,  and ‘Best of You’ the pop powerhouse delivered a magical performance that will forever be a highlight in Super Bowl History. Missed it? You can see this stunning performance for yourself below. 


L, 2016: Coldplay

If their song lyrics tell us anything, it’s that these guys are known for their love of…well… love. The stadium that year was awash in bright colors and Chris Martin’s intimate performance with fans as he walked in and out of the crowd during ‘Viva la Vida’ and ‘Yellow.’  There were streamers, there were colorful fireworks and there were flags! The band invited Bruno Mars and then Beyonce to the stage to each do their thing as the fans held up placards that spelled out ‘Believe in Love.’ The energy of the arena reached electrifying heights as a montage of past performances were honored on screen while the band finished out with ‘Clocks’. 


LI, 2017: Lady Gaga

It goes without question that Miss Gaga can put on a jaw dropping show, wherever she goes. 2017’s halftime show was no exception. Dressed in tailored football gear, she appeared to jump off the roof of a building and landed center field. She began with ‘ God Bless America’ then she gifted the viewers with a medley of her songs: ‘Poker Face’ , ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Telephone’, ‘Just Dance’ and tied it off with the emotional ballad ‘Million Reasons.’ The estimated viewer statistics reveal that there were over 117.5 million viewers. Not bad Gaga, not bad at all! See what all the buzz was about! 

Next up we are reviewing some of the most controversial and halftime shows that fell short of fans expectations.  

XXXVIII, 2004: Janet Jackson

First on our list, this show is still being talked about fourteen years later!  During her set, the diva performed a medley of her hits like ‘All For You’ and ‘Rhythm Nation’ followed by a surprise duet of ‘Rock Your Body’ with Justin Timberlake. Which is where the problems began. This incident is sometimes referred to as Nipplegate. Timberlake exposes Janet’s breast in front of 143 million viewers at the end of their performance. There are split opinions as to where this was a true wardrobe failure moment or a planned publicity stunt. Either way. CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC and poor Janet’s singles were blacklisted from the radio for quite some time. View the incident here

XLIV, 2010: The Who

This halftime show wasn’t really terrible, but it wasn’t really great either. Living legends, The Who are known to deliver top notch classic rock fueled performances. So it makes diehard Who fans wonder just what happened that they lacked their signature energy on the halftime stage that year? The show was described as ‘feeble’ and featured an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction for the guitarist,  leaving the overall set feeling, well, sloppy. We guess you can’t win every time, right? We will let you be the judge of this one.

XLVI, 2012: MIA

Madonna collaborated the show with songstress MIA. Since Madonna actually headlined the show, MIA was supposed to behave herself and not upstage the Queen of Pop. Well, we guess she just couldn’t help herself as the teenage MIA decided to give the middle finger to the camera and for all the nation to see during ‘Give Me all Your Luvin’. Madonna was pretty disappointed, as she stated during an interview post show, with Ryan Seacrest. She states she was ‘shocked’ and felt music was about ‘love and good energy, not negativity’. The NFL ended up filing an arbitration against MIA for the amount of $16.6 million, stating a ‘breach of contract’. You can see what happened here.

The yearly tradition of the Super Bowl Halftime show,  currently boasts a span of over five decades… and is isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Every year as we wind down from the holidays, we wait in anticipation for the set list to be revealed for the season. Millions tune in as artists try to ‘one up’ their predecessors. Although artists do not get paid a dime for their time and effort, they do get reimbursed by the NFL for their expenses. So it’s safe to say, the show is a labor of love for each performer, hoping to snag a spot in halftime history. Who are your hopefuls for the shows to come? Let us know below in the comment section!

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