Like the commercials that play between drives and touchdowns, the Super Bowl halftime show often overshadows the game. Unlike the most crucial game of the American football season, the grandeur of a massive, extremely well-funded mini-concert is exciting for all people, sports fans or not. Of course, the quality of those mini-concerts varies greatly; some are incredible, while others are barely memorable, and then there are the full-on disasters. Over the last thirty years, we’ve seen all three.
1. Prince (2007)
Whether you want to call him Prince, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or the love symbol, there’s no denying that his 2007 halftime show remains the greatest of the last three decades and maybe of all Super Bowl history. The artist didn’t get purple rain for the show. Still, the pouring rain added drama to the already stunning performance of his hits, including “Purple Rain,” touches of stadium classics like “We Will Rock You,” and covers of beloved songs like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Proud Mary.”
2. Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child (2013)
Beyoncé has always been an incredible performer; her 2013 halftime show proved that once again. The addition of her former Destiny’s Child groupmates Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland, who exploded onto the stage from below, made the already perfect performance near transcendent.
3. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar (2022)
The 2022 show wowed with a group of artists whose names alone offer a look back at the history of hip-hop. Add in energetic and crowd-involving performances of some classic songs, from “Still D.R.E.” and “Family Affair” to “Lose Yourself” and “In Da Club,” and newer songs on their way to becoming classics like “Alright,” and you’ve got one of the most jaw-dropping halftime shows of all time.
4. Aerosmith, NSYNC, Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears, and Nelly (2001)
Twenty-one years before the 2022 performance, Mary J. Blige surprised and delighted fans by appearing with Britney Spears and Nelly to perform Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” That finale remains the show’s high point, but the combination of Aerosmith’s rock and roll power and NSYNC’s pop superstardom made the whole show a joy for adults and their kids. It was also the first time fans were allowed onto the field, establishing the concert feeling integral to all future shows.
5. Madonna, Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, Cee Lo Green, and M.I.A. (2012)
Madonna knows how to create a spectacle. The Queen of Pop arrived in a goddess outfit carried by Spartan soldiers, gave us new versions of some of her older songs, and brought out stars of the moment, such as LMFAO, M.I.A., and Nicki Minaj. And to show that she’s not just a phenomenal showwoman but also a skilled musician, she did some harmonies with Cee Lo Green.
6. Diana Ross (1996)
While Madonna may be the Queen of Pop, no one out-divas Diana Ross. The former Supreme sang a medley of the girl groups’ songs while dancers, pyrotechnics, and a stunning series of costume changes kept things visually exciting. Her carefree exit in a helicopter makes this halftime show unforgettable.
7. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez (2020)
The 2020 halftime show was a glorious burst of Latina pop superstardom. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira took the stage in almost blinding outfits and delivered one of the most energetic halftime shows ever. Adding to that energy was J Lo’s daughter Emme and other tweens who joined the stars on stage to turn a football halftime show into a celebration of mothers and daughters.
8. Katy Perry, Missy Elliott, and Lenny Kravitz (2015)
“Left Shark” will be forever remembered for the memes it birthed. But Katy Perry’s over-the-top show, which included the pop star riding in on a giant metallic lion for “Roar” and flying around the stadium on a shining star for “Firework,” makes this one of the most visually striking halftime shows of recent years. Perry surprised audiences by bringing out Missy Elliott to perform three of her songs, including “Get Ur Freak On.”
9. Rihanna (2023)
The glimmering floating platforms and Rihanna’s always incredible voice already made this year’s halftime show one for the ages. But the fact that RiRi used the Super Bowl as her moment to announce a pregnancy made it a defining pop culture moment of 2023, if not the decade.
10. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Kid Rock, Diddy, Jessica Simpson, and Nelly (2004)
So, yes, this is the wardrobe malfunction year, and that’s a lot of what anyone talks about, but we shouldn’t forget the show surrounding the mishap. Diddy and Nelly gave us incredible performances of “Bad Boy for Life” and “Hot in Here,” Janet Jackson performed at the height of her abilities, delivering a thrilling show alongside Kid Rock. If Jackson’s wardrobe hadn’t malfunctioned, this would still be one of the most famous halftime shows. Sadly, it’s the most famous for all the wrong reasons.
11. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009)
The Boss proved that age can’t stop the power of rock. His 2009 halftime show gave us big, cheer-worthy performances of classics like “Glory Days” and “Born to Run” and a somehow still smooth knee slide into a camera.
12. Lady Gaga (2017)
Lady Gaga turned the halftime show into the Lady Gaga show with brilliant results when she performed in 2017. From her leap into the stadium from its roof to her fantastically futuristic costumes and stage, Gaga’s halftime show may have been the most any star ever made the show their own, and we love her for that.
13. Beyoncé, Coldplay, and Bruno Mars (2016)
Coldplay and Bruno Mars were solidly entertaining, but the 2016 show belongs entirely to Beyoncé. Her performance of the brand new “Formation,” with a stage show drawing on Black Panther imagery, made this an iconic halftime show with a single song.
14. The Rolling Stones (2006)
The Rolling Stones didn’t slow down in their fifth decade as a band. Their performance, atop a stage in the shape of their iconic lips logo, brought the energy and managed to wow fans with just three songs: “Start Me Up,” “Satisfaction,” and the admittedly disappointing new single “Rough Justice.”
15. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2008)
Another iconic rocker who brought his best to the halftime show, Tom Petty’s 2008 show may not have been all that flashy. But when you’ve got songs like “Free Fallin,’” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “American Girl,” the performance speaks for itself.
16. Patti Labelle, Tony Bennett, Teddy Pendergrass, Arturo Sandoval, and Miami Sound Machine (1995)
This Indiana Jones-inspired show to promote Disneyland’s new attraction was unsurprisingly a mess. But it was such a fun mess! Indiana Jones (not performed by Harrison Ford) parachuting into the stadium, a villain set on fire, a Benny Hill-style chaotic battle for the Super Bowl trophy, Patti Labelle and Tony Bennett performing their hearts out, and more. What’s not to love?
17. Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers (2014)
Two years before opening for Beyoncé, Bruno Mars proved that he could handle the halftime stage with a powerful drum solo and lively performances of several of his songs. But the halftime show may never have seen more joyous excitement from those on stage and those watching than when he brought out the Red Hot Chili Peppers to play “Give It Away.”
18. U2 (2002)
Performing just months after the attacks on 9/11, the Irish band U2 gave us one of the most touchingly American moments with their halftime show. More than a concert, the show was a tribute to the victims and resilience of the survivors. It wasn’t fun, but it was beautiful.
19. Paul McCartney (2005)
Paul McCartney started the trend of the elder statesmen of rock delivering the halftime show. McCartney didn’t do anything too big or exciting, but he played a nice mix of Beatles and Wings songs and got a stadium to sing along to “Hey Jude.” The show didn’t revolutionize anything, but it makes sense that the NFL stayed on this trend for nearly half a decade.
20. Boys II Men, Smokey Robinson, Queen Latifah, Martha Reeves, and The Temptations (1998)
In 1998, Boys II Men served as guides for the show’s official “Tribute to Motown’s 40th Anniversary,” which offered performances from some of the greats. Sadly, their performance of their most recent single, “A Song for Mama,” didn’t play as well as the classics. Queen Latifah’s performance and fantastic crowd work showed the younger generation could keep up.
21. Michael Jackson (1993)
One might think that the King of Pop’s halftime show would have blown the roof off the stadium. Unfortunately, it never met the highs it could and should have. The show started with a lengthy silence before MJ finally began performing, and the show ended with saccharine and lackluster performances of “We Are the World” and “Heal The World.”
22. Shania Twain, No Doubt, and Sting (2003)
In the same way Coldplay and Bruno Mars were openers for Beyoncé in 2016, Shania Twain served as an opener for No Doubt. Unlike Coldplay and Mars, Shania’s disappointing performance didn’t even hit the low standard for an acceptable halftime show. Thankfully, No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” brought the energy back, and a somewhat confusing but rousing duet with Sting on “Message in a Bottle” made the show’s back half a success.
23. Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (1999)
The name Big Bad Voodoo Daddy may not have the same widespread recognition as the other performers on this list. In the late 1990s, they were at the top of a swing revival and made their way to the halftime stage. They were fine and forgettable. What was unforgettable was Gloria Estefan lighting up the stage in her native Miami with a performance of “Turn the Beat Around.” Stevie Wonder’s mid-section of the show wasn’t quite as brilliant as the finale he performed with Estefan, but it worked as a segue.
24. The Weeknd (2021)
To be fair to The Weeknd, he was saddled with a difficult task: creating a spectacle during a pandemic. To be fair to viewers, it was a disappointing halftime show. The talented singer failed to make much of an impression as he sang alone to a half-full stadium. His one more exciting visual choice, to run through brightly lit corridors under the stage, is memorable for the memes, but certainly not the halftime show hall of fame.
25. Black Eyed Peas, Usher, and Slash (2011)
The Black Eyed Peas may be the target of many snarky jokes about what passed for popular music in the 2000s, and their halftime show certainly didn’t convert anyone. It did successfully shift the halftime show from classic rock to pop. The show may not have been great, but it laid the groundwork for Madonna and Beyoncé in the years right after, and it looked pretty good even if it didn’t sound all that great.
26. The Who (2010)
It’s easy to see why The Who’s 2010 halftime show ended the series of 60s and 70s rockers. Their performance lacked energy, and while their catalog may be significant for classic rock fans, by 2010, most viewers were more familiar with their songs as the opening songs for TV shows than stadium rock anthems.
27. Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and The Judds (1994)
Country music is a niche. While the rockers and pop stars that populate this list are known by most, almost none of the 1994 artists are or were known outside their world. It didn’t help that the show lacked the visual punch of others, with dancers in cowboy and cowgirl outfits on that dark field that were hard to see.
28. Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, James Brown, John Goodman, and ZZ Top (1997)
Having The Blues Brothers continue after the death of John Belushi was a questionable choice to begin with. Having the new group that brought James Belushi and John Goodman into the band with Dan Aykroyd perform at the Super Bowl was just a bad call. While James Brown and ZZ Top gave the show their all, it couldn’t be saved from James Belushi singing “Soul Man.”
29. Maroon 5, Travis Scott, and Big Boi (2019)
In the aftermath of the NFL blacklisting Colin Kaepernick, few artists were interested in performing on the league’s largest stage, which is how we ended up with Adam Levine performing for what felt like an audience of himself with not at all cohesively integrated appearances by Travis Scott and Big Boi. Scott and Big Boi added something to the show, but not nearly enough to save it.
30. Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, and Enrique Iglesias (2000)
A collection of performers who could have delivered one of the most exciting and eclectic halftime shows ever instead gave us a very disappointing helping of “meh” in 2000 because the show had to serve as a commercial for the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration. Instead of performing any of their iconic hits, the group played original songs from the millennium celebration event, leaving audiences bored and confused.
31. Justin Timberlake (2018)
Boring is the worst thing a Super Bowl halftime show can be, so Justin Timberlake’s return to the halftime show fourteen years after his infamous show with Janet Jackson lands at the bottom of our list. Timberlake is a talented performer, but he didn’t bring any energy, excitement, or guests to his 2018 show, making it the worst of the last thirty years.