Super Bowl halftime performances are a popular spectacle in American society. If an artist clinches the halftime show, it essentially means they’ve made it. They’re representing what’s popular in the country at the time. It’s a big honor. The biggest artists have been part of this event.
For the sake of context for those unfamiliar with this event, I wanted to give a little history. The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the National Football League. It has served as the final game of every NFL season since 1966, replacing the NFL Championship Game. The game almost always takes place on a Sunday in February. Adding a show at halftime serves as the event’s fundamental link to pop culture. This facet of the event helps broaden the television audience and nationwide interest. Originally, the halftime show didn’t feature pop artists, but traditional university marching bands, drill teams, and other performance ensembles.
Fun fact: The Grambling State University Marching Band has performed at the most Super Bowl halftime shows, featuring in six shows including at least one per decade from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Starting in 1991, the halftime show began to feature pop music acts such as New Kids on the Block and Gloria Estefan. Adding pop music performances helped increase the viewership and it became a hyped-up show that people looked forward to tuning in for every year. Some people (including me) tune into the Super Bowl just to watch the Halftime Show. Another interesting fact is that the most-watched halftime show on network broadcast was The Super Bowl XLIX halftime show starring Katy Perry with a TV audience of 118.5 million in 2015. Her show may not have made my list, but it’s interesting to know that hers was the most viewed (The J.Lo, Shakira show holds the most YouTube views).
This year’s Super Bowl is special for us personally because after 33 years, our hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals, are headed to the Super Bowl, and we couldn’t be happier for them! As we edge closer to the historical 2022 Super Bowl, I wanted to look back on some of my favorite Super Bowl halftime shows. Will this year’s measure up? We’ll have to wait and see!
Super Bowl Halftime Show 2001
This is such an interesting one to look back on because of the variety of big artists they threw together. The theme this year was “The Kings of Rock and Pop.” The 2001 halftime show featured ‘N Sync, Nelly, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, and Mary J Blige. The performance first began going back and forth between ‘N Sync and Aerosmith. Each group alternated, performing two songs on their own before they came together to sing “Walk This Way” which is where the other artists came in for guest appearances. First, Britney Spears sang with Stephen Tyler while Mary J. Blige appeared with ‘N Sync. I think this one is amazing because of the time these artists came together. Both ‘N Sync and Spears were at the top of their game in 2001, and to bring them together with a classic artist like Aerosmith...genius. I love it, even if it is a little chaotic at times.
Super Bowl Halftime Show 2007
There are some artists that cannot be touched, who go down in history as one of the greats. Prince is most certainly one of those greats. This performance is simply incredible. From the way he commands the stage, to the incredible guitar solos, to the way he commands the audience with untouchable charisma and confidence, his halftime show was unforgettable. Other halftime shows used multiple artists to draw viewers in, but Prince was big enough on his own to command the attention of everyone in that stadium. It rained on this Super Bowl, and as the game neared closer, workers setting up the halftime show were worried that Prince wouldn’t want to perform in the rain. But to their surprise, he looked up at the sky and wondered aloud, “Do you think you can get it to rain harder?” Despite the rain making the stage slippery, Prince and his backup performers made it look dry as can be as they maintained their choreography with precision. There’s nothing like seeing Prince perform “Purple Rain” in the rain.
Super Bowl Halftime Show 1993
It would be criminal to include a list of favorites and not include the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. In fact, without Jackson, we wouldn’t have the way we know Super Bowl halftime shows today. Although Michael Jackson wasn’t the first pop artist to perform a halftime show, he was the first one to bring in such a huge viewership. They scheduled him to perform the halftime show, in hopes that it would help ratings, and it absolutely paid off. It was from this show forward that the Super Bowl became more than just a performance but a whole show. When Jackson walked onto the stage, he stood there for two minutes, waiting as the crowd went into a frenzy at the sight of him. It’s hard to find an artist that drove the crowd as wild as Jackson.
Super Bowl Halftime Show 2013
Beyoncé’s halftime show is the most memorable one for me, partly because of how great it was, but also because of the insane controversy that surrounded the show afterward. Unlike some other former headliners for the halftime show, Beyoncé did not lip sync and maintained perfect rhythm on all the dance sequences. You could tell throughout the performance that she was putting her all into the performance. This must have been exhausting. So, naturally, her face wasn’t going to look “camera-ready” the entire time. This among other effects of her show caused conspiracy theorists to believe that her entire performance was a satanic ritual to help her sing and dance as well as she did. It sounds insane. I can’t believe people truly believed that this woman didn’t just showcase her own pure talent.
But getting back on track, Beyoncé’s halftime show was iconic. From the amazing costumes to the impressive dance sequences to the unfiltered vocals, this performance was just incredible. The best part for me was when she brought Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams out to perform “Bootylicious” with her. For those not versed in Beyoncé’s career, before she went solo, she was in the girl group Destiny’s Child with Kelly and Michelle. This was the first time the group had been reunited on stage since they disbanded in 2006. It was iconic. It was everything longtime fans wanted.
Beyoncé is a great performer, and I really enjoyed this halftime show.
WATCH IT: Beyoncé - Super Bowl [4K Quality 2160p]
Super Bowl Halftime Show 2014
I see Bruno Mars as the Michael Jackson or Prince of the new generation, and his halftime show is a perfect example of why I feel that way. From Mars’ incredible stage presence to his smooth dance moves to his stunning vocals, viewers were enthralled. I definitely was. I also loved his ensemble. I felt like they truly elevated the performance and kept things interesting. As if Bruno Mars’ catchy hits weren’t enough to hype up the crowd, they managed to bring in a classic rock artist into the show. When the transition came for The Red Hot Chili Peppers to come on, I thought it was really smooth. But then, the singer Anthony Kiedis came out shirtless in just shorts with leggings that had a funky design underneath. That took me out of the performance a little bit, but that one jarring moment didn’t last for long until the two artists came together to sing RHCP’s song “Give It Away” and it worked really well. I think this is one of my favorites because it’s a combination that wouldn’t seem to work on paper, but I liked it a lot. It made for an unforgettable halftime show.
Super Bowl Halftime Show 2017
It’s Lady Gaga’s halftime show from 2017 that made me want to create this post in the first place. There have been plenty of impressive and lively performances over the years, but very few hold a candle to Lady Gaga’s halftime show. It was clear from the jump that Gaga had a vision, and it was mesmerizing seeing it come to life in front of the entire country. The show begins with Gaga on top of the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. I’m not being hyperbolic. She was literally standing on the very top, above the rows of seats. Behind her was a light show of red, white, and blue that formed the American flag as she sang a compilation of patriotic songs including, “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.” Just as the flag of lights form, she jumps from the top of the stadium on bungie strings and remains in the air for the first part of her performance. It was shocking. It was iconic.
As she played some of her most popular songs, she stuck every choreographed move and sang perfectly despite swinging around and flipping on strings. It was clear from the beginning that Gaga had no intention of lip-syncing or autotuning. She sang from the heart. She also showed off her dancing and playing chops, at one point playing a keytar while a backup dancer held the mic up to her so she could still sing as she played. It was little details like that which made me feel this show was something incredible. I also love that her final outfit looks like football gear. She ends the show by catching a football being thrown to her. I mean, you can’t get more iconic than that.
So, there you have it! These are some of my favorite halftime shows. It’s crazy to think that the idea of a halftime show has only existed for about 30 years. So many incredible artists have played The Super Bowl over the years. Did I include your favorite? If not, which one should I have given a special shoutout to?
Perhaps for next year’s football season, we’ll do a post covering the most overrated Super Bowl halftime shows. There’s definitely a good chunk that immediately comes to mind. What about you? Would you like to read that? Sound off in the comments and give us a Who-Dey too while you’re at it!
Special thanks to the following sources for helping me write the post.