The halftime show at the Super Bowl is second only to the commercials as the most talked about event that is not the actual game. In this post, we remember the iconic halftime show that started it all and then count down the five best and worst of the past decade.
The Super Bowl halftime show really became a major focal point in 1993, when Michael Jackson performed at the Rose Bowl for Super Bowl XXVII. His appearance drew in many viewers that otherwise would not have watched the game. (I know, it is hard to believe that people actually watch something else on when the Super Bowl is on.)
MJ’s performance led to the halftime show being an event to feature top musical acts. This year, Madonna will provide the halftime entertainment, a choice that has be criticized by many, and surely will be watched by hundreds of millions, good or bad.
This countdown of the best and worst Super Bowl halftime shows focuses specifically on the performances of the last decade, when the halftime show became the highly discussed and analyzed spectacle it is today, and it begins in 2002 with Super Bowl XXXVI.
Top Five Super Bowl Halftime Shows
5. Super Bowl XXXIX (2005): Paul McCartney
The game itself saw the New England Patriots defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in a three-point game. McCartney was chosen for the halftime show a year after the infamous “wardrobe malfunction”, which will appear later in the post. He was a very safe choice for the performance and played some of his hits from his time in the Beatles.
His setlist included: “Drive My Car”, “Get Back”, “Live and Let Die”, and “Hey Jude”. Below is a video of his performance of “Hey Jude”.
4. Super Bowl XL (2006): The Rolling Stones
A year after McCartney’s performance, the halftime show featured another not-so-modern act. Well, the Rolling Stones are timeless and Mick Jagger is clearly immortal, so I may be wrong.
They performed on a stage that featured the giant tongue logo that is associated with the band, andthey even had some of their lyrics censored. (Too bad this whole censoring idea came into play after the reason for the censoring occurred in the first place.)
The setlist included their popular hits “Start Me Up”, “Rough Justice”, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.
3. Super Bowl XLI (2007): Prince
The first three in this list are all in chronological order, and all come after the show that MTV sponsored in 2005. Prince was another classic act invited to play the halftime show, and he did not disappoint.
He braved the bad weather in Miami and put on a great show. Prince came out to “We Will Rock You” before he began playing “Let’s Go Crazy”. He finished with the song everyone was waiting to hear, “Purple Rain.”
“Purple Rain” being played in the rain provided one of the greatest songs ever played in a Super Bowl halftime show.
2. Super Bowl XLIII (2009): Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
“The Boss” decided to show up at halftime for Super Bowl XLIII, and it was a great performance. He never disappoints when called upon to perform, and the E Street Band was there to play a great show as well.
The setlist included “Born to Run” and “Glory Days”, and featured the late Clarence Clemons, who played great, as always, on the saxophone.
1. Super Bowl XXXVI (2002): U2
Only a truly great band could upstage Bruce Springsteen, and U2 is that band. They had the honor of playing the halftime during the NFL season that continued on following the 9/11 attacks.
It is tough not to get goosebumps when Bono walks through the crowd to the stage singing “Beautiful Day”. The goosebumps become much more noticeable during the performance of “Where The Streets Have No Name“, as the names of the victims of 9/11 are displayed on a screen above the stage.
For such a honorable event, U2 was the perfect band to perform. (Greatest band of all-time?…)
Bottom 5 Super Bowl Halftime Shows
5. Super Bowl XXXVII (2003): Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting
Following up U2’s performance the year before was not an easy task for Shania Twain, No Doubt, and Sting. It was not that they played a bad show, it was that the song “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain just does not fit the context of the performance. The NFL viewing crowd is predominantly male, and cannot relate to feeling like a woman.
Sting was brought in to balance out the musical interests of the viewing audience, and his rendition of “Message in a Bottle” ended the performance.
4. Super Bowl XLII (2008): Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers are one of the bands that have stood the test of time. It is not that they had a poor performance, it’s just that they did nothing to overshadow the performances above. It is tough to put “Free Fallin'” above “Hey Jude” or “Purple Rain”.
3. Super Bowl XLIV (2010): The Who
The only reason “The Who” did not finish last is because the last two performances were just that bad.
The Who played some of their classics in “Baba O’Riley”, “Who Are You”, and “Pinball Wizard”, but they are far past their prime as a band. I will even go as far to say that they are past their second prime, or even third if it exists.
“The Who” was another safe choice to perform, but they are just not even close to the same band they were during their heyday.
2. Super Bowl XLV (2011): Black Eyed Peas feat. Slash and Usher
If there was any disagreement about my choices above, everyone should be in agreement about the next two on the list. The second worst of the past decade, and maybe of all-time, came just a year ago. The Black Eyed Peas were invited to perform, perhaps as a way to attract a younger audience, but their show was not impressive at all.
They came out to “I Gotta Feeling” and then had their first guest come out in…Slash! This sounds exciting, but Fergie sang “Sweet Child O’ Mine, which ruined the song and the moment. Usher then came out and sang “OMG” with will.i.am, but it was just another mediocre performance.
1. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004): Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, and Justin Timberlake
This was the obvious choice for the worst performance of the last decade, and of all-time. MTV was allowed to produce the halftime show for some reason, and now they are banned from producing the halftime show. Wonder why?
The show featured Diddy performing “Diddy” (a self-titled song) to the tune of “Mickey” by Toni Basil. Nelly followed that up with a family-friendly rendition of “Hot in Herre”. Kid Rock then came out and “sang” his hit “Bawitdaba”. This already sounds like a train wreck of a show, but, as we all know, it only got worse.
Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson were performing his song “Rock Your Body”, and it came to the lyric where he says “he will have her naked by the end of the song.” He was only partially lying, as he ripped off a piece of her “shirt” that resulted in it being referred to as “Nipplegate.” The most popular response was to call it a “wardrobe malfunction,” and the cameras quickly zoomed out from the stage.
MTV is no longer allowed to produce a halftime show, and there is now a five-second delay during the performance and when it airs. The best result was that every guy who watched claimed that they caught a glimpse of a half-topless Janet Jackson before the cameras zoomed out.
*The end of this video features the “wardrobe malfunction”, so viewers beware.