Some people watch the Super Bowl for only the football, some watch it for only the commercials and some watch it only for the halftime show.
As someone who once wondered why there was a football going on in the middle of a Lady Gaga concert a few years ago, you can probably guess why I tune in to watch the Super Bowl.
The halftime shows have evolved over the years, going from a minimal musical performance to full out stadium concert productions. We used to have marching bands perform at the Super Bowl, and now we have the likes of Rihanna, The Weeknd and Bruno Mars, just to name a few.
So because I love to rank things, I thought I’d be fun to rank the Super Bowl halftime shows of the last 20 years. I would have included some from the late ‘90s, but the halftime show was so different back then, so we’re only going to focus on the most modern halftime shows.
23. Black Eyed Peas (2011)
The Black Eyed Peas were so cool when they first hit the scene in the early 2000s, but by the time they performed at the Super Bowl in 2011, their schtick had kind of run dry, especially since the Super Bowl performances before them were mostly legendary rock stars. I kid you not, the four of them do not move for the first three and a half minutes of the performance. Then, Slash suddenly shows up and Fergie sings “Sweet Child Of Mine.” The entire thing was a hot mess and is without a doubt the worst Super Bowl halftime show ever.
22. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake (2003)
I don’t think it will take too much guessing to figure out why this is one of the worst Super Bowl performances of all time. Janet Jackson’s career was basically ruined after “the incident,” while Justin Timberlake went on to have more and more success. Besides the terrible optics, the show was in general a snooze fest. It had way too many performers, and it was all so random. Justice for Janet.
21. Justin Timberlake (2018)
I mean, do I even have to explain when it comes to this one? The fact that Justin Timberlake was given another shot at performing at the Super Bowl while Janet Jackson has never been asked back speaks for itself, but his performance in general was lame and boring. I remember watching this one with friends and we were all ready for it to be over as soon as possible.
20. Maroon 5 (2019)
I don’t know, but there is something about Maroon 5 performing with Big Boi and Travis Scott that just didn’t mesh well in this 2019 halftime show. After having so many pop divas absolutely kill it in the years leading up to this Super Bowl, Maroon 5 was kind of a letdown.
19. The Weeknd (2021)
I kinda feel bad for The Weeknd, because he had to perform at the first Super Bowl after COVID-19 took over the world. Not only was the stadium at a reduced capacity, but the way The Weeknd had to perform was also constricted due to COVID-19 regulations. So it’s not really his fault his halftime show was so lame, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
18. Shania Twain, No Doubt (2003)
Was Shania Twain lip syncing during her performance? 100%. Was her crystal bra she was wearing iconic? Yes. Did No Doubt save the show? Kinda. Was the inclusion of Sting random and weird? Absolutely. This halftime show was kind of a hot mess, but it definitely incapsulates the year 2003 when it happened. The whole thing is so random and feels like we watched two different halftime shows. No Doubt and Sting’s performance of “Message In A Bottle” saved this from being a disaster.
17. The Who (2010)
My only issue with The Who performing at the Super Bowl is that they really didn’t have enough hits to fill an entire halftime show up with. Like sure, if you’re of a certain age you know “Pinball Wizard,” but I was 18 when this happened in 2010, and I only knew some of their songs because they were theme songs for “CSI” shows. They did perform them well, so there’s that at least.
16. Bruno Mars (2014)
At lot of these picks just come down to my personal taste, and to be honest, I’m not the biggest Bruno Mars fan. He for sure put on a good show, but again, they paired him with the Red Hot Chili Peppers to perform, and these two acts could not be any more different. It felt like you were watching two different shows.
15. Coldplay, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars (2016)
First of all, I’m not sure how Bruno Mars managed to perform twice at the Super Bowl in the matter of two years, but hats off to him, I guess. Honestly, this halftime show would be closer to the end of the list had Beyoncé not showed up and saved the show. Her performance of “Formation” was iconic, and everyone basically lost their minds that she payed homage to the Black Panthers. It was great. Other than that, it was kind of a snooze fest. Coldplay was just fine.
14. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2008)
Tom Petty was a little bit too chill for the Super Bowl halftime show, but he definitely gave an amazing performance. From “American Girl” to “I Won’t Back Down” to “Free Falling,” he has some hits that you can’t help but singing along to. He’s also not with us anymore, so it’s great he got to do this before it was too late.
13. Usher (2024)
After the 2023 Super Bowl basically being a Rihanna concert, there was some big shoes to fill. Usher seemed like an odd choice at first, but when you look at the R&B star’s discography, it’s clear that he has a ton of hits -- which is exactly what we saw during his performance. It started a little slow, but once Alicia Keys surprised the audience to perform “If I Ain’t Got You” and “My Boo,” the show really got going. Things really picked up when Usher closed out the show with “Yeah,” in which Lil Jon and Ludacris surprised everyone, and every millennial was taken back to an awkward middle school dance. It was incredible.
12 Jennifer Lopez, Shakira (2020)
Looking back and watching this halftime performance, it’s wild to think that none of us knew that the world was going too shut down just a month or so later. Regardless of all that, this was such a fun halftime show. Not only did it show that Jennifer Lopez is a performer, but also that Shakira has a deep catalogue of hits. Jennifer Lopez, too! There was, of course, Shakria’s tongue trill that was also turned into a hilarious meme. It was such simpler times back then, wasn’t it?
11. Katy Perry (2015)
LEFT. SHARK. I mean, was there anything more funny than Left Shark during Katy Perry’s halftime show? Katy Perry’s performance truly had everything. From the singer riding in on a giant lion to Missy Elliott surprising the crowd and absolutely stealing the show, it was an extravagant and over-the-top halftime show that perfectly incapsulates Katy Perry’s entire vibe. This halftime show was straight up fun, and how can you argue with that?
10. U2 (2002)
Again, I’m not the biggest U2 fan, so this halftime show probably would have been lower on the list had it not been the emotional tribute to 9/11 during this show. The fact that a bunch of Irishmen made such a beautiful tribute to America just says it all. You also just can’t get goosebumps without seeing the names of the victims that were displayed. This was always going to be a tough show to perform, but U2 did it with class.
9. Rihanna (2023)
When it was announced that Rihanna would be performing at the halftime of the Super Bowl, fans almost lost their minds. Rihanna hasn’t performed live in five years, and we are all just patiently waiting for a new album. While some people took to social media to say her performance was boring, I could not get enough of it. First of all, her performance shows just how deep her catalogue of hits are. It had been so long since I’d listen to some of them that I even forgot they were Rihanna songs. Rihanna didn’t give us full choreography with stunts, and that’s mostly because you could tell she was visibly pregnant. However, the spectacle of those floating islands with Rihanna high above the field was iconic. It was masterfully shot, produced well and full of banger songs. What more could you want?
8. Lady Gaga (2017)
It’s almost surprising that Lady Gaga hadn’t performed at the Super Bowl sooner in her career since she’s such a megastar, but this performance came at the perfect time in her career. Not only did Lady Gaga give us signature Mother Monster (remember when she jumped off the roof of the stadium?), she also sang LGBTQ+ anthems in the middle of a football game. It doesn’t get any more iconic than that.
7. The Rolling Stones (2006)
While it may have made more sense on paper to have a Motown tribute halftime show when Detroit hosted the game in 2006, having the Rolling Stones perform was perfect. Mick Jagger has said how much Motown inspired the sound of the Rolling Stones, so what better city for these legends to play in than Detroit? The Rolling Stones were in their prime, Mick Jagger was having the time of his life and the stage was shaped like their giant lips logo. What more could you want?
6. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent (2022)
For a Super Bowl halftime performance with a bunch of different headliners, this was one of the most fun halftimes in a very long time. It may have been because it was full of nostalgia for older millennials, but it was just so much fun to watch. Plus, it was perfect for the Super Bowl being in LA. This was more than just a halftime show, it was also an education in rap and hip hop. No notes, just so fantastic.
5. Paul McCartney (2005)
Sir Paul McCartney kicked off the string of rock and roll legends playing the halftime show, and thank goodness he did. You could technically say U2 and Aerosmith did a few years earlier, but Paul McCartney set the blueprint for future legends. He did an amazing job of blending Beatles tunes alongside his other band, Wings. Plus, how amazing was it when he had an entire stadium of football fans singing “Hey Jude” together? It doesn’t get much better than that.
4. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009)
Not only was Bruce Springsteen on fire the night he performed at the Super Bowl, but so was the iconic E Street Band. Bruce Springsteen played all the classics, from “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” “Born To Run” and “Glory Days,” it was an instantly classic halftime show. No one was having more fun than night that Bruce Springsteen and his band, and it absolutely showed. Bruce and Stevie Van Zandt having fun on the microphone together will never get old.
3. Beyoncé (2013)
Queen Bey was already a legend by the time she was tasked with performing at the Super Bowl, but she truly cemented her status as one of the all time greats when she took to the stage and shut things down. Not only did she give us hit after hit, she also had a reunion with her former group, Destiny’s Child, that blew the roof off the stadium. Beyoncé's commitment to giving everything she has more on full display. To the vocals, choreography, special effects and song choices, it was the perfect halftime show for her. Long live Queen Bey!
2. Madonna (2012)
Just like Madonna has had to do her entire career, she paved the way for pop stars to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show. Sure, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and a few others had little performances at past Super Bowls, but Madonna was the first pop star to headline the entire show, and man did she deliver.
Just like any Madonna concert, she gives you the hits but in a fun and new reimagined way. From the moment she entered the stadium on a literal throne, Madonna served an all-time great halftime show. She also proved that the other pop girls could also headline the show. Just like everything in Madonna’s career, we wouldn’t have gotten a Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, and now, Rihanna halftime show, if Madonna hadn’t hit it out of the park before them.
1. Prince (2007)
The easiest part of assembling this list was deciding who was going to be No. 1. There was no contest, debate or even a second thought. It was always going to be Prince, and it will always be Prince. When it comes to the halftime show, no one will ever top his performance.
First of all, how do you not love Prince? It totally made sense for him to perform at the halftime show. He played all his hits, from “Let’s Go Crazy” to “Baby, I’m A Star.” Besides that it made sense on paper to have Prince perform, it all really came down to the show itself. The stadium where the Super Bowl was at didn’t have a roof, and a torrential rainstorm was happening during his performance. Everyone was drenched and the stage was slick and slippery, but it just added to the drama and spectacle that is Prince.
Of course, it was beyond perfect that it was raining while Prince gave his best performance of “Purple Rain.” He shredded on his guitar while delivering flawless vocals, and the while getting everyone at the stadium (and at home) to sing along. It was the perfect culmination of so many things that made it the most iconic and best Super Bowl halftime show ever. It’s not even an argument, it just is. Long live, Prince!
Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments below!