There have been televised halftime shows as long as there have been Super Bowls – longer in fact. The first playoff game between the AFL and NFL was in 1967, and it was not yet called the Super Bowl, but was nicknamed “Supergame” by some. There were 51 million viewers, compared with today’s numbers, which are well over 100 million. Taking into account that for the first couple of decades at least, people in America did not have much of a choice of programming on Super Bowl Sunday, today’s numbers indicate huge growth. With cable TV, Netflix, satellite TV and so on, contemporary viewers have a much wider range of shows to select from, and still, multitudes watch in what has become a phenomenal US tradition.
Halftime shows originally consisted of a couple of college marching bands and a solo instrumentalist. Since the 1990s or so, this changed, with a wider range of stars in both genre and level of fame. Instead of being something to pass time while the game was on hiatus, the show evolved into a television marketing wonder. People are much less likely to wander off during halftime to switch over the laundry or make popcorn now. Lately, halftime shows have been known to increase viewership.
This year’s star performer is Bruno Mars, a less time-tested celebrity than those of the last decade. How did this diminutive, Hawaiian-born Pop star get the gig? The NFL seems to be keeping things fresh, but Mars has come up quickly in the last four years, garnering platinum record sales and winning Grammys. The singer will not give any hint of what he has planned, but he has included a band influential to him, and popular: The Red Hot Chili Peppers. There is also bound to be a spectacular display of some sort, as Mars is known for being a fabulous performer in every respect, able to sell out shows at huge venues. Still, this will be his biggest audience ever. Read on to see what star-studded history he has to contend with, as we present the best ever halftime performances.
10 Michael Jackson, 1993
This superstar made history by being the first ever single feature act during halftime. Super Bowl XXVII was played between the Cowboys and the Bills (Dallas won). Network officials and the NFL decided to up their game by hiring the Pop icon, starting a trend that has continued since. The previously sagging halftime attendance skyrocketed that year – in fact, it was the first time that there were more television viewers during halftime than during the game. Jackson began by being catapulted onto the stage where he held one of his famous poses. He performed: “Jam,” “Billie Jean,” “Black or White” (these in a medley), and finally “Heal the World,” as thousands of children sang along and a giant globe inflated on the 50-yard line.
9 Aerosmith, with ’N Sync, 2001
What a combination! Although no one band or performer got the stage, officials made sure to have a star-studded halftime cast for Super Bowl XXXV, when the Ravens defeated the Giants. MTV produced the show, which involved a collective medley of two Aerosmith songs (“Jaded” and “I don’t Want to Miss a Thing”) and two ’N Sync songs (“Bye bye bye” and “It’s Gonna Be Me”). Finally, Aerosmith and ’N Sync sang the former band’s cult classic “Walk This Way,” along with additional performers Britney Spears, Nelly and Mary J. Blige. Comics Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller were also part of the show.
8 Paul McCartney, 2005
On February 6, 2005, the New England Patriots played the Philadelphia Eagles at Super Bowl XXXIX, with the Patriots winning 24-21. Sir Paul McCartney was the halftime act. He, plus his material, was carefully selected in light of the previous year’s controversial “wardrobe malfunction” (Janet Jackson). The former Beatle played three tunes from his time with the Pop band, and one Wings tune as well. Titles were: “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Hey Jude.” The set was a replica of the host city’s Main Street Bridge, representing the theme “Building Bridges.” To this end, former Presidents Clinton and Bush, Jr. made a bipartisan aid-appeal for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami just months prior.
7 Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake, 2004
If Paul McCartney had known his “safe” appearance would be beat out by Janet Jackson’s nipple during Super Bowl XXXVIII, perhaps he would have shown us some. “Nipplegate” happened ten years ago, now; there was much speculation over whether Jackson's nipslip was intentional but if the malfunction was indeed orchestrated, it worked! As the saying goes, “No publicity is bad publicity” – even bad buzz is loud. Jackson gave a strong performance despite the debacle, singing: “All for You,” and “Rhythm Nation.” Other performers included P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock. Timberlake came on at the end, singing his, “Rock Your Body,” while Jackson followed him around until the big reveal that ended in abrupt, TV-Land darkness. Oh – and the Patriots defeated the Panthers 32-29.
6 The Rolling Stones, 2006
Super Bowl XL – the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10, and the décor included giant lips. No, I don’t mean Mick Jagger’s. Having learned their lesson from Janet Jackson’s performance, halftime shows are now delayed by 5 seconds for the censoring of inappropriate material, including lyrics. The legendary Rock band didn’t disappoint, as lead singer Jagger used explicit language to keep editors busy. Songs performed were: “Start Me Up,” “Rough Justice,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
5 Beyonce, 2013
The Washington Redskins beat out the Miami Dolphins 27-17 at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The year before, Madonna had performed during halftime – a big act for Beyonce to follow. One cannot say she “beat out” Madonna, but she certainly made a touchdown with the crowd, rising from center-stage amidst a spectacular display of fire, ice and smoke. She performed a medley of: “Love on Top,” “Crazy in Love,” “End of Time” and “Baby Boy.” Next, Destiny’s Child former bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams joined her for the group’s: “Bootylicious” and “Independent Woman,” followed by Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” After they left the stage, Beyonce ended her high-energy performance with “Halo.”
4 Bruce Springsteen & the E Street band, 2009
The Boss rocked Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in halftime on February 1, 2009, when the Steelers defeated the Cardinals 27-23. What was so great about Springsteen’s performance that it earns #4 on our list? Besides the fact that he is always amazing, he performed with the E Street band, a horn ensemble and a gospel choir, doing favorites: “Born to Run” and “Glory Days,” as well as: “10th Avenue Freeze-out” and “Working on a Dream.” Although a verse per song had to be removed in order to respect the 12-minute time limit, the Boss still gave a stellar performance, jumping on the piano during the opening song to pump up the crowd.
3 Madonna, 2012
Madonna is the victor against Beyonce in this rating, taking #3 for best halftime show ever. It’s not surprising – this pre-Lady-Gaga female icon has always been cutting edge. The Giants beat the Patriots 21-17 – Madonna also proved herself a giant, setting a world record for most-watched Super Bowl halftime show in history, with 112 million viewers. She also set a record for being the most tweeted about subject. The performer opened with: “Vogue,” followed by songs with LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. After all this, the Pop diva sang “Open Your Heart” and “Express Yourself” with several school choirs and Cee Lo Green, and ended with “Like a Prayer,” once more featuring Cee Lo, and a local choir of 200.
2 U2, 2002
Super Bowl XXXVI resulted in New England’s first Super Bowl win, as well as a win for U2, who take second place on our list. This particular halftime show has been first on various lists at different times, and no wonder. The band had recently finished their “Elevation” tour. They opened with: “Beautiful Day” and “MLK.” As the September 11th attacks had happened less than six months before, it was considered an appropriate tribute to everyone that died in New York that day when the band ended with: “Where the Streets Have No Name,” projecting the names of the fallen onto a large sheet behind the stage. The effect was surreal, and was cemented when Bono opened his jacket to reveal the Star-Spangled Banner printed on the inner lining.
1 Prince, 2007
“Nothing Compares” to this Minnesotan-born Pop idol’s performance. No matter what you think of his appearance, Prince is indisputably a spectacular musician and performer, filled with energy and projecting a voice that astonishes, considering the size of his small frame. He electrified on this night, when the Colts beat the Bears 29-17. The opening halftime number was a shortened version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” followed by “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Baby I’m a Star,” cover versions of “Proud Mary” (CCR), “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan), and “Best of You” (Foo Fighters). As a drizzle came down on Miami’s Dolphin Stadium, Prince went with the flow, bringing the house down to “Purple Rain.” The performance went out to 140 million TV viewers.