Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows

image from

In anticipation of Beyoncé’s 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, I’ve updated last year’s blog post of the top ten Super Bowl halftime shows. More than 50 lists have been aggregated to create this ranking. Not surprisingly, all of those on this list came from the last 20 years, when the Super Bowl shifted from marching bands and cheesy song-and-dance productions to shows dominated by one big-name performer.

  1. Michael Jackson (1993). As is so often the case with The King of Pop, this show served as a benchmark for other shows to follow. With only a 12-minute set, MJ introduced the Super Bowl to the astonishing concept that a big-name, internationally-recognized pop artist could wow an audience more than marching bands, cheesy song-and-dance numbers, and hoards of children flooding the field. Oh, wait. Michael still had the latter.

  2. U2 (2002). In the wake of 9/11, U2 was one of the biggest voices decrying the horrific attacks and eulogizing those lost. During a stirring performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name”, a banner behind the band listed the victims.

  3. Prince (2007). It wasn’t that surprising when Prince delivered a kick-ass show, but even viewers who were thrown by covers of “Proud Mary”, “All Along the Watchtower”, and the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” had to be mesmerized by Prince’s apparent power to summon rain at will when he closed with “Purple Rain.”

  4. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (2009). Personally, I’d be ecstatic to give The Boss the halftime show every year. He knows how to work crowds into frenzies, if not with his preacher-like introductions than with his adrenalin-fueled performances. That slide into the camera crotch-first could have ended things before they even got going, but Bruce powered on, seemingly unharmed.

  5. Paul McCartney (2005). In the wake of “Nipple Gate” (see #8), the powers-that-be behind the Super Bowl halftime shows opted to go with a safe, well-known classic rocker. There is arguably no bigger musician on the planet than this ex-Beatle and he provided a Beatle-centric set list completely free of any “wardrobe malfunctions.”

  6. The Rolling Stones (2006). The opening montage suggesting The Rolling Stones and the NFL had gone hand in hand over the years was a little odd. However, there was no arguing with picking what some have called the greatest rock and roll band of all time to keep viewers eyes peeled to the set for halftime, even if the band could long ago have applied for their AARP memberships in America. Besides, Jagger proved he could still prance about on stage like someone half his age.

  7. The Kings of Rock and Pop (2001). This was an odd mix of artists suggesting the halftime committee wasn’t convinced Aerosmith would have enough appeal on their own (they absolutely would have) so they added N Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly to the mix. Then again, the all-star version of “Walk This Way,” complete with Spears’ cleavage-baring Aerosmith T-shirt, was memorable. Also, the opening sketch with Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock was worth the price of admission.

  8. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, et al (2004). No one remembers now, but this was actually another overstuffed show with too many performers. Nelly, Kid Rock, and P. Diddy appeared as well as Janet and Justin. Of course, the latter two are remembered for the most infamous moment in Super Bowl halftime history. After claming he would have her naked by the end of the song “Rock Your Body,” Justin tore off part of Janet’s costume, exposing her breast.

  9. Diana Ross (1996). Doing a medley of her hits on a stage surrounded by hundreds of performers looked a little too much like some of the pre-Michael Jackson shows, but it was hard to deny her diva status when she departed in a helicopter.

  10. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (2008). Tom Petty isn’t exactly the go-to guy if you want to work an audience into a frenzy, but his workmanlike ethic to rock and roll made for a good fit with the average football fan.

  11. Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting (2003)
  12. Madonna with LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A, and Cee-Lo Green (2012)
  13. The Who (2010)
  14. Salute to Motown’s 40th Anniversary: Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Queen Latifah, Grambling State University Band; 1998)
  15. Celebration of Soul, Salsa and Swing: Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Chaka Khan, KISS, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Savion Glover (1999)
  16. The Blues Brothers Bash: The Blues Brothers, ZZ Top, James Brown, Catherine Crier (1997)
  17. Rockin’ Country Sunday: Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, The Judds (1994)
  18. University of Arizona, Grambling State University, & University of Michigan Marching Bands (1967)
  19. Grambling State University Marching Band (1968)
  20. Salute to Louis Armstrong: Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Channing, Al Hirt, & USMC Drill Team (1972)

  21. Salute to New Orleans & 40th Anniversary of Peanuts: Pete Fountain, Doug Kershaw, Irma Thomas, Nicholls State University Marching Band, Southern University Marching Band, USL Marching Band (1990)
  22. From Paris to Paris of America: Tyler Apache Belles Drill Team, Apache Band, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt (1984)
  23. Salute to Superstars of Silver Screen: University of Florida and Florida State University Marching Bands (1984)
  24. KaleidoSUPERscope: Los Angeles Drill Team (1983)
  25. Mardi Gras Festival: Southern University Marching Band, Helen O’Connell (1981)
  26. Salute to Caribbean: Ken Hamilton, various Caribbean bands (1979)
  27. Tribute to Duke Ellington: Mercer Ellington, Grambling State University Marching Band (1975)
  28. Southeast Missouri State Marching Band (1971)
  29. America Thanks: Florida A&M University (1969)
  30. Something Grand: Chubby Checker, The Rockettes, 88 grand pianos, the Mighty CSUN Matador Wall of Sound (1988)

  31. Salute to Hollywood’s 100th Anniversary: George Burns, Mickey Rooney, Grambling State University Marching Band, Disney characters, Southern California-area High School drill teams with dancers (1987)
  32. Happiness Is: University of Michigan Marching Band, Woody Herman, Andy Williams (1974)
  33. A Musical America: University of Texas Marching Band, Judy Mallett – Miss Texas 1973 (1974)
  34. World of Children’s Dreams: Tops in Blue (1985)
  35. Its’a Small World: Los Angeles Unified All-City Band & audience card stunt (1977)
  36. A Salute to the Big Band Area: Up with People, Grambling State University Marching Bands (1980)
  37. Tribute to Mardi Gras: Carol Channing, Southern University Marching Band (1970)
  38. Black Eyed Peas with Usher and Slash (2011)
  39. 200 Years and Just a Baby – A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial: Up with People (1976)
  40. Tapestry of Nations: Phil Collins Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, 80-person choir, Edward James Olmos (2000)

  41. Salute to the 1960s and Motown: Up with People (1980)
  42. Beat of the Future: Up with People (1986)
  43. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye: Pattil LaBelle, Indiana Jones & Marion Ravenwood, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, Miami Sound Machine (1995)
  44. Winter Magic and Salute to 1992 Winter Olympics: Gloria Estefan, Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill (1992)
  45. Small World Tribute to 25 Years of the Super Bowl: New Kids on the Block, Disney characters, Warren Moon, 2000 local children, audience card stunt (1991)
  46. Be-Bop Bamboozled in 3-D: Elvis Presto, South Florida-area dancers and performers with 3-D effects (1989)

Resources and Related Links:
Best-of Lists:


  1. Thank you for this list.

  2. Found your link on UCR - Do you have a favorite(s) ?

    1. My favorite is Springsteen. As I say in my comments, I'd be ecstatic if he did the halftime show every year. I also thought Prince and U2 did awesome jobs. Michael Jackson's show set a new standard, but when I watch it again, it has a certain cheesiness to it. Also, as much as I'm a fan of classic rock, I thought The Who was weak and The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were both underwhelming. Thanks for asking!

      BTW, you said you found my link on UCR. What is that?

  3. UCR >

    Dave Whitaker · Kansas City, Missouri
    This list and 30 others have been aggregated into a list of the top 10 Super Bowl halftime shows at the blog:
    Reply · Like · Follow Post · February 5, 2012 at 11:54am

    Ha, it was from a year ago,

    I read comments there, your list is way more complete, Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback! That's funny about UCR - I'd posted my link there a year ago, I guess. I forgot all about it!

      I updated the list this year to show the ranking for all the halftime shows. Last year I just did the top ten.