Prior to the 1990s, Super Bowl halftime shows looked a lot like a high school football halftime shows–picture marching bands, twirlers, and the like. Then, some marketing genius realized they could get all of the people who don’t care about football watching the event by creating halftime spectacles featuring pop stars and legends. Since that revelation, halftime shows have been successfully awesome about fifty percent of the time. The other fifty percent, well, give those of us who couldn’t even tell you who played in the game something to talk about the next day (other than the commercials). In anticipation of this year’s halftime event featuring Coldplay, Beyonce, and others–which we assume will actually be one of the winners because, Bey–here is a retrospective of the Super Bowl’s biggest hits and misses at halftime.
It would be difficult to be disappointed by Prince, but his halftime show didn’t just live up to expectations, it exceeded them. He jammed out on “Purple Rain,” covered the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You,” Bob Dylan's “All Along the Watchtower,” and Queen's “We Will Rock You,” and brought more electricity to the stage than the thunderstorm going on around him. Watch the full performance here.
The Black Eyed Peas & Slash, 2011
For those who don’t remember, there was a time when Slash was basically like your guitar-playing dad--he’d show up for any gig to which he’d been invited. It was in this way that he ended up alongside Fergie in an epic fail of a performance featuring a rendition of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” that was only mildly better than one you’d hear at your local karaoke bar. Usher was in the mix at this halftime show, too (though we’re guessing he’s since blocked it through a series of hypnotherapy sessions), and no one will ever be sure why the theme song from Dirty Dancing got dragged into the whole debacle, but just… no. Watch the full performance here.
Rolling Stones, 2006
Aside from a few moments of censorship in which racy lyrics were muted--this was after the infamous nip slip, after all, so the network wasn’t taking any chances--the Stones’ 12-minute set went off without a hitch. They played hits like “Start Me Up” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on top of a stage shaped like their iconic lips logo. See the classic performance here and here.
New Kids on the Block, 1991
Instead of playing their uptempo hits, NKOTB were forced to sing things like “This One’s for the Children” next to a choir since the Gulf War had just begun and America was feeling sentimental. The show didn’t even air during the game as it was bumped for a war report, which saved a lot of people from being subjected to its mediocrity. Watch the performance here, but only if you want “It’s a Small World” to play on repeat in your head for the rest of the day.
Michael Jackson, 1993
A couple of years later, those in charge of the halftime show attempted similar sentimentality, but under much, much, much more capable hands. MJ crushed it with a medley that included “Black and White,” “We are the World,” and “Heal the World” as well as lighter hits like “Billie Jean.” Watch the full performance here.
Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton and Tina Turner, 2000
For some reason, none of these amazing performers were allowed to do songs the audience actually knew or liked, so the whole shebang was a big flop despite its marquee talent. The theme song from Tarzan doesn’t belong at the Super Bowl, people. But “In the Air Tonight” definitely would have, so this one was a real head-scratcher. Watch it here.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2009
Bruce was born to play the Super Bowl halftime show, and his 14-minute set hit all the right notes. The band did “Born to Run,” “Glory Days,” and “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” but the most memorable moment came when Bruce slammed his crotch into a camera, a bold move in the post-nip-slip era. Watch the performance here.
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, 2004
The show itself was not bad--aside from a forgettable performance by Jessica Simpson--but the hullabaloo that followed Janet’s wardrobe malfunction lands this halftime show in our ‘worst’ column. Janet Jackson, an incredible performer by any account, more or less lost her career to the weird, only-in-America slut-shaming that followed the show’s nip slip. Watch the tragic and now notorious performance here.
U2 performed in the aftermath of September 11, and no act could have done a better job of paying tribute to the lives lost that day. While the band played “MLK” into “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the names of the victims scrolled on a giant screen. At the end of the performance, Bono ripped his jacket open to reveal an American flag sewn inside. It was epic, poignant, and perfectly fitting to the events of the day. Watch the performance here.
Aerosmith, Britney Spears, and ‘N Sync, 2001
We still don’t know how to feel about this performance. The show’s rendition of “Walk this Way” included Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly, who rapped over the guitar solo. It was part awesome, part ‘wtf is this world coming to?’ Judge for yourself by watching the full performance here.
Duh. There’s a reason Queen Bey is a) called Queen Bey and b) invited back to perform just three years later. This show took place before her record-breaking, surprise-release album Beyonce, which is now astonishing because it was so insanely good even without all of those insanely good songs. She even resurrected Destiny’s Child for this performance, bringing Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland onstage to perform hits like “Independent Women” and “Single Ladies.” Bey’s solo rendition of “Halo” closed down the show and brought down the house, and we’re so excited to see how she plans to top that iconic moment this year. Watch the 2013 performance here.