The Super Bowl is one of the most watched sporting events annually, but it’s not just the football people tune in for.
Each year, A-list performers put on the show of their lives to the NFL halftime crowd, bringing a bunch of memorable – and shocking – moments with them.
Global pop superstar and self-proclaimed ‘bad gal’ Rihanna has got the job for Super Bowl LVII, taking place in sunny Arizona in February 2023.
This got us thinking about some of the most iconic halftime shows over the years. One thing is for sure, they’re never dull.
Read our 10 most memorable Super Bowl halftime shows and get ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
10. Michael Jackson – Super Bowl XXVII
The standards are high when it comes to memorable Super Bowl halftime shows. That’s why the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, only makes it to number 10 on our list.
This performance stands out because for the first 90 seconds Jackson stood utterly still, staring out into the frenzied crowd. At first, it was cool, but after the first minute, many viewers began to wonder if this MJ was actually a waxwork after all.
Luckily, he eventually started his act and treated his adoring fans to classics including “Billie Jean” and “Black or White” before a finale of “Heal the World.”
He was joined by a choir of 3,500 children from LA – yep, this doesn’t age well…
It was certainly a memorable close to the show that took place less than a year after the 1992 LA riots.
9. Paul McCartney – Super Bowl XXXIX
Paul McCartney has done almost everything a musician could do. He had the call up for the Super Bowl back in 2005, cementing his now five-decade reign at the top.
The NFL wanted a controversy-free halftime show after the scandal in 2004 (more on this later), and Macca didn’t disappoint. He tore through the classics “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” and “Live and Let Die” before closing with “Hey Jude.”
This Beatle took the crowd along for an epic show, and one we’ll never forget.
8. Madonna – Super Bowl XLVI
Unsurprisingly, this list is full of huge names, and Madonna can hang with the best of them.
The Queen of Pop has had many memorable TV moments over the years, including kissing Britney Spears at the 2003 VMAs and falling on stage at the 2015 Brit awards.
Still, it was actually one of her guests that caused a big stir at the Super Bowl in 2012.
Madonna was joined on stage by Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, Cee Lo Green and M.I.A., with the latter causing controversy for sticking her middle finger up to the camera during the song “Give Me All Your Luvin’.”
Despite M.I.A. grabbing a lot of the headlines and making the performance particularly memorable, Madonna still broke viewing figures as the most-viewed Super Bowl halftime show at that point.
7. Aerosmith, Britney Spears, ‘NSync, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige – Super Bowl XXXV
If you didn’t see this halftime show, you could be forgiven for thinking there was a typo here.
Yes, Aerosmith, Britney, ‘NSync, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly (just for good measure) really did perform together.
Oh, and Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock got in on the act, too, as part of a pre-recorded sketch before the performance.
The cross-section of fans who love all these artists must have been pretty small, but somehow, they made it work. Or at least they made it memorable.
After ‘NSync kicked off the performance, rock legends Aerosmith took over and delivered a great rendition of their unforgettable ballad “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.”
A short while later, things started getting pretty strange.
In a group performance of Aerosmith’s classic “Walk This Way,” ‘NSync, Britney, Mary J Blige, and Nelly paced around the stage and took turns strutting, screaming and shouting into the mic with varying levels of skill.
There was also a bizarre but thankfully short dance-off between Steven Tyler and Justin Timberlake.
I need to lie down just writing about it.
6. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band – Super Bowl XLIII
What do you get when you combine an American rock legend with a packed stadium and massive TV audience? An unforgettable show for everyone, that’s what.
In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, but the Boss wanted to ensure everyone at home was just as involved.
As the band started playing the intro to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (including obligatory fireworks), Bruce grabbed the mic and told the TV audience, “I want you to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put those chicken fingers down! And turn your television all the way up!”
If the American public were going to listen to anyone, it would be the Boss.
The chicken fingers were promptly discarded, and people were rocking in their living rooms from Washington to Florida.
Apparently, Springsteen had previously turned the show down, so fans worldwide were ecstatic he finally came to his senses. His performance at Super Bowl XLIII will live long in the memory.
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5. Beyonce – Super Bowl XLVII
Who runs the world?
Well, it was undoubtedly Queen B on Super Bowl Sunday back in 2013. The pop superstar took to the stage in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome New Orleans, racing through hits including “Love on Top,” “Crazy in Love” and “Baby Boy.”
She was then joined on stage by former Destiny’s Child members Kelly Roland and Michelle Williams to sing classics “Bootylicious” and “Independent Women.”
Finally, Kelly and Michelle left the stage and let Beyonce have the limelight again. She closed the show with her heartfelt anthem “Halo” which left fans in the stadium and at home reeling.
How can one person have that amount of energy, talent, and charisma? Who knows, but God, it’s fun to watch.
4. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, Kid Rock, Jessica Simpson, and Nelly – Super Bowl XXXVIII
You were promised there would be the good, the bad, and the ugly in this list – and here you have it.
This Super Bowl halftime performance by Janet Jackson is arguably the most infamous of all time. The fallout from an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction was extremely ugly and frankly ridiculous.
At the end of an otherwise regular halftime show, Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson’s outfit as he sang the rather fitting lyric “better have you naked by the end of this song” from his 2002 hit “Rock Your Body.”
Whether intentional or not, this resulted in Janet Jackson’s nipple being revealed (for half a second) to the TV audience. Yes, 500 whole milliseconds.
Times were different in 2004, and this probably accidental reveal caused an epic fallout.
Jackson’s music was shockingly barred on several platforms, NASCAR, and the NFL tightened indecency rules.
CBS, the parent company of the production, was fined a record $550,000 for indecency, and just months later, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the maximum fine for indecency.
Many commentators also suggested that “nipplegate,” as it became known, even influenced the 2004 Democratic Party primaries. Jackson herself said the incident was used by George W Bush as a distraction technique.
With hindsight, the whole debacle was blown way out of proportion, but it was definitely memorable.
3. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, and Anderson Paak – Super Bowl LVI
Recency bias? Maybe. Hip-Hop fan? Definitely.
But those issues aside, this iconic Super Bowl halftime performance was memorable for the sheer amount of talent on stage, if nothing else. Some halftime shows have one fantastic artist. This show had seven.
It was also a perfect celebration of Los Angeles, where the Super Bowl was being held. The LA Rams completed the party when they closed out a 23-20 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dr. Dre was the headline act here, but the supporting cast and outstanding visuals were what really stood out and made the performance unforgettable.
2. U2 – Super Bowl XXXVI
America and the rest of the world were still in shock when U2 took to the stage at the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
Less than six months after the September 11 attacks, the Irish rock superstars delivered one of the most memorable live music performances ever.
In a moment of pure beauty, U2 performed their hit “Where the Streets Have No Name” while the names of the victims were projected behind them.
In the song’s climax, lead singer Bono revealed the inside of his jacket adorned with the star-spangled banner.
A truly memorable performance and an amazing tribute to the victims of 9/11.
1. Prince – Super Bowl XLI
What could be more memorable than the iconic and incomparable Prince performing an epic version of his classic “Purple Rain” as the actual rain hammered down onto adoring fans in Miami?
Well, in terms of Super Bowl halftime shows, nothing.
Widely regarded as the best Super Bowl halftime performance from one of the greatest performers ever, there was really only going to be one winner on this list.
Prince’s set included covers of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You.”
But the magic moment came at the end of his set when he played his most famous track, “Purple Rain.”
As the unrelenting rain came down, Prince did his thing on the guitar then whipped the crowd up into a sing-along crescendo that will live long in the memories of NFL and music fans alike.
The legend is gone but not forgotten.
Lead image: Twitter/PigsAndPlans