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Photograph: Shutterstock/YES Market MediaMigos performing at Vewtopia X Superfest Miami in honor of Super Bowl 2020

The best Super Bowl halftime shows, ranked

These are the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time, from U2 to Prince to Rihanna

Written by
Andrew Frisicano
Virginia Gil
Jeremy Winograd
Anna Rahmanan

The “most-watched musical performance of the year” comes to us courtesy of the Super Bowl halftime show. It’s a time-honored tradition that’s featured some of the country’s biggest stars, from Madonna to Prince to Janet Jackson. Every year brings a thrilling 20 or so minutes of fireworks, splashy entrances, unexpected cameos and more surprises to keep you glued to the TV set. And this year was no different as Grammy-winning singer, fashion icon and all-around superstar Rihanna headlined the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show.

Not surprisingly, not every performance in the Super Bowl’s 57-year history has been a success. We’ve seen our share of flops (and wardrobe malfunctions!) but we’ve also seen plenty of hits amid the misses. So while we get our snacks ready, and place our bets on which song Rihanna will sing first, it’s time for a look back at some of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

RECOMMENDED: How to watch the Super Bowl halftime show

Best Super Bowl halftime shows

1. Prince (2007)

The Purple One kicked all kinds of ass with a medley of classic-rock covers and his own hits, but the weather-fueled spectacle created by this rain-soaked Miami game was equally enthralling. Standing in a literal downpour, the Artist tore it up on “Purple Rain.” Pop shows don’t get much better than that.

2. Shakira + Jennifer Lopez (2020)

The first Latina duo to headline a Super Bowl halftime show was quite the spectacle. Shakira introduced the world to champeta and mapalé, two traditional Colombian dances, while Jennifer Lopez shocked the crowd with a suggestive pole dance. The two joined forces to close out the 14-minute performance, signing off with a duet of "Let's Get Loud"/"Born in the USA."


3. U2 (2002)

In the wake of 9/11, Bono and his cohorts performed this moving tribute, playing “Where the Streets Have No Name” on a heart-shaped stage as the names of those lost in the attacks were projected onto a giant screen. Paul McCartney appeared during the pregame show to perform his own memorial, the anthemic “Freedom.”

4. Michael Jackson (1993)

After the previous year’s disastrously snoozy Winter Magic pageant, Michael Jackson ushers in the age of megawatt halftime shows with an insane spectacle of gyrating hips, a giant inflatable globe and a chorus of kids from around the world.


5. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg + Eminem + Mary J. Blige + Kendrick Lamar

A history-making performance.

6. Rihanna (2023)

Rihanna made history as the first billionaire (!) and pregnant person (!!) to headline a Super Bowl halftime show. It was also the first time Apple Music sponsored the coveted performance slot. Her white-clad army of dancers was giving Squid Game while Rihanna's red, designer ensemble gave us Elmo. We stan for the superstar but something about her performance fell flat—no wardrobe changes, no surprise guests, no prop umbrella! The highlight? The cheeky plug of her makeup brand, Fenty—pun intended. 


7. Lady Gaga (2017)

This was everything you'd expect from Lady Gaga, including starting the show by singing on the roof of NRG Stadium in Houston, jumping off and descending to a stage suspended by just two cables. Spoiler alert: the stunt was prerecorded but it was still pretty epic.

8. Janet Jackson + Justin Timberlake (2004)

The unforgettable event that cemented the phrase wardrobe malfunction in the popular lexicon provided a valuable lesson: The half-second appearance of a nipple on national television is enough to destroy the moral fabric of the nation. As a result of Nipplegate, halftime shows in the years that followed played it safe with a string of old-dude rockers sporting far less edgy outfits.


9. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009)

The most memorable thing about this set wasn’t the Boss imploring viewers to “put the chicken fingers down.” This was the night that (thanks to an awkward camera angle) we were introduced, intimately, to Springsteen’s crotch—and we’ve never quite gotten over it.

10. Coldplay + Bruno Bars + Beyoncé (2016)

Although Beyoncé’s number—which drew an avalanche of comments given the Black Panthers-inspired outfits worn by her backup dancers—immediately overshadowed Coldplay’s and Bruno Mars’ just okay performances, we certainly enjoyed the video montage of past Super Bowl shows playing in the background while the artists sang “Up & Up.”


11. The Blues Brothers Bash (1997)

Tragedy arose in advance of this show: During rehearsal, a stuntwoman plunged to her death while practicing a bungee jump. But the blowout itself, which also featured James Brown and ZZ Top, was one to remember—John Goodman displayed some sick dance moves during “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” that impressed even the Godfather of Soul himself.

12. The Rolling Stones (2006)

As Mick cheekily pointed out before launching into “Satisfaction,” the Stones could’ve played Super Bowl I, but it took them four decades to get the nod. They tore up the stage, even though ABC decided to bleep out the more risqué lyrics in “Start Me Up” and “Rough Justice”—which, hilariously, caused many media outlets to employ the phrase synonym for rooster in their postshow reports.


13. Katy Perry (2015)

Katy Perry, amid a horde of Plushies, launches a thousand memes.

14. Tony Bennett + Patti LaBelle (1995)

As far as bizarre commercial tie-ins go, this Indiana Jones–themed performance, with appearances by Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle and a stage fight between Indy and some goons, may never be topped.


15. Madonna with M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, LMFAO + Cee Lo Green (2012)

In between Madge entering the field in an outfit straight out of the Book of Exodus and Cee Lo stealing the show with his “Like a Prayer” cameo, M.I.A. stirred up controversy by flipping the bird right at the camera. The gesture earned her a gargantuan $1.5 million lawsuit from the NFL that she continues to fight publicly.

16. Winter Magic (1992)

Dancing snowflakes! An R&B “Frosty the Snowman”! Olympic ice-skaters! Gloria Estefan! Would it shock you to learn that this gala caused CBS to lose millions of viewers, who switched over to Fox to watch In Living Color? This bold and successful counterprogramming strategy convinced networks to recruit megastars for subsequent halftime shows.


17. ’N Sync + Aerosmith with Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige + Nelly (2001)

Have you ever listened to “Walk This Way” and thought, You know what this song could use? Steven Tyler and Justin Timberlake performing dueling chicken dances. Thankfully somebody did have that notion, and also realized that “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” sounds way better played back-to-back with “Bye Bye Bye.”

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