The Super Bowl halftime show was originally no different from the halftime of a regular season game. Up until 1988 when Chubby Checker and The Rockettes performed, the show consisted primarily of marching bands and other performance groups. New Kids on the Block performed in Tampa three years later, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the halftime show became a spectacle.
Of course, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in Super Bowl XLV and another chapter will be filed in the legacy of the game’s halftime show. The Black Eyed Peas are slated to perform and be backed up by the Prairie View A&M University marching band and it remains to be seen just exactly how it’ll stack up. Here’s hoping they shy away from material off of The Beginning—and here’s to the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers.
Starting with the performance that changed everything, here’s a look back at some of the memorable musical halftime performances in Super Bowl history:
Super Bowl XXVII – January 31, 1993
Dallas Cowboys (52) d. Buffalo Bills (17)
When Michael Jackson took the midfield stage at Pasadena’s renowned Rose Bowl, it changed the course of halftime history. No longer was it acceptable to use the time slot simply to get to the second half of football. With his knockout medley of “Billie Jean,” “Black or White,” and “Jam,” the biggest superstar in the world morphed the big game’s halftime show into a must-see event.
Perhaps even more memorable than Jackson’s performance is the sheer energy on display before it. Before launching into “Billie Jean,” Jackson stood like a monument on the stage while the stadium hung on literally every movement. At one point he jolts his head from right to left and gawking screams immediately pour onto the field. Never before had a halftime performer controlled a crowd in this manner. And frankly, it hasn’t happened since.
Super Bowl XXX – January 28, 1996
Dallas Cowboys (27) d. Pittsburgh Steelers (17)
Not that Jackson’s performance could have been properly followed anyway, but Super Bowls XXVIII and XXIX went by without much of an impact, settling on Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, and Travis Tritt in 1994 and an Indiana Jones theme in 1995. But when Diana Ross took the stage in 1996, the show garnered back some of its star power. Ross was (and still is) one of the biggest names in Motown history, after all.
Ross performed the token hits: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I Will Survive,” and “Take Me Higher.” The bottom line here is pretty simple: you absolutely can’t go wrong with Diana Ross and The Supremes. She may have sped through some of the songs, but that just speaks to the volume of her catalog and the tight time crunch between halves.
Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton
Super Bowl XXXIV – January 30, 2000
St. Louis Rams (23) d. Tennesee Titans (16)
Okay, so maybe this is one case where the game was significantly better than the music at the half. But let’s be honest: when St. Louis’ Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson a yard shy of the goal line on the final play of the game, this one went down in lore as potentially the best Super Bowl ever played. The halftime show, meanwhile, took on a Disney theme and featured Christina Aguilera, her popularity still ascending, along with Enrique Iglesias and Toni Braxton backed up by a massive choir. Oh, and Phil Collins lent a hand too.
This performance also featured an interlude from Edward James Olmos where—and I’m not positive about this—he called for some sort of revolution. There was talk of the future, the new millenium, and at one point Olmos states “we are not alone on this earth,” which frankly is a little bit weird. Or maybe it was just setting the scene for the pageantry on stage. Your mileage may vary.
Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly
Super Bowl XXXV – January 28, 2001
Baltimore Ravens (34) d. New York Giants (7)
The halftime show for Super Bowl XXXV, which wound up being a dud of a game, kicked off with a skit featuring Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler before launching into an elaborate performance headlined by the odd pairing of Aerosmith alongside ‘N Sync and Britney Spears.
At the time, N’ Sync and Spears were two of music’s most dominant forces, piling up number one tracks and covering every open airwave of radio. And let’s all be honest with each other here: as bad as this era might have been, “Bye Bye Bye” is a catchy little diddy. The main attraction on this night was “Walk This Way,” which substituted out Run DMC in favor of the boy band, Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly. Sure, it was strange to see all those acts occupying the same stage. But where else would such a thing ever happen?
Super Bowl XXXVI – February 2, 2002
New England Patriots (20) d. St. Louis Rams (17)
When U2 performed at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI, it was as cathartic and emotionally riveting as any that had come before it and, more than likely, any that will come after it. As the world renowned band performed, the names of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks scrolled on a gigantic screen adjoined to the stage. They performed “Beautiful Day,” “MLK,” and a startlingly good rendition of “Where The Streets Have No Name.” Its strange that it took an Irish band to do it, but U2’s performance was—as almost everything was around this time—both unifying and inspirational.
At the end of the performance, Bono famously holds open his coat to reveal the lining is decorated in stars and stripes. Yep, the crowd goes wild—appropriately.
Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, and Justin Timberlake
Super Bowl XXXVI – February 1, 2004
New England Patriots (32) d. Carolina Panthers (29)
Ah yes, the wardrobe malfunction. The halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVI is the most famous of them all, even in spite of the fact that the game itself was pretty damn good (and a big piece of what we look back at now and call a dynasty). The show had plenty of star power in P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, and Justin Timberlake, but in the end it was all about Janet Jackson’s anatomy.
Of course, we all know the story. Janet’s boob fell out, a photographer snapped a photo at the exact moment the incident caught Timberlake’s eye, and we all had a bunch of good laughs. Lost in all the nonsense is that this was actually a great performance from top to bottom (though for my money, Kid Rock could have been left off the stage). The funniest part of the whole show, which no one realized at the time, is that Nelly performs “Hot in Herre,” featuring the prophetic “its getting hot in here/so take off all your clothes” lyric. Well, huh. What are the chances?
Super Bowl XXXIX – February 6, 2005
New England Patriots (24) d. Philadelphia Eagles (21)
This was the year that the NFL decided maybe they should take a more traditional route with their programming. But rather than tone things down and completely suck the interest out of the event, they booked a musical legend: Paul McCartney.
McCartney performed three Beatles songs and one of his old Wings tunes—”Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude”—to remarkable effect. Maybe its just that it was Paul fucking McCartney on the stage, but even trying to look at this objectively leads to the conclusion that this was one of the better halftime events ever. Looking back, its actually kind of a shame that it took Janet’s wardrobe malfunction and all the ridiculous backlash following it to spur the league to bring top-notch artists into the mix on a regular basis.
The Rolling Stones
Super Bowl XL – February 5, 2006
Pittsburgh Steelers (21) d. Seattle Seahawks (10)
Honestly, this wasn’t a particularly remarkable year for either the game or the halftime entertainment. But hey, its The Rolling Stones, and omitting them could potentially lead to a mutiny.
Personal preference aside, The Stones are actually a great fit for the Super Bowl. They’ve got hits, they’ve got attitude, and they have cross-generational appeal. The performance was a little bit flat, but for a band so far beyond their prime, it wasn’t bad. It just doesn’t have the same gusto that some other classic performances do.
Super Bowl XLI – February 4, 2007
Indianapolis Colts (29) d. Chicago Bears (17)
On the same night that Peyton Manning won his first (and maybe only) Lombardi Trophy, Prince put on one of the best halftime shows to date. He led in with the Queen hit “We Will Rock You,” then went on to further demolish the stage with “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Baby I’m a Star,” “Proud Mary,” “All Along the Watchtower,” the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You,” and naturally (and appropriately, since it was indeed raining), “Purple Rain.”
The thing about Prince is that regardless of whether you like his music or not, its impossible not to admire and respect his musicianship. On this night, he was as sharp as he’s ever been, putting on a theatrical, riff-fueled performance that nearly made the audience forget a football game was about to resume. His stage presence was impeccable, but man, that guitar work is something else altogether.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Super Bowl XLII – February 3, 2008
New York Giants (17) d. New England Patriots (14)
The New England Patriots were unbeaten heading into this game and seemed destined to become just the second undefeated team in NFL history. But then they ran into Eli Manning, David Tyree (and his helmet), and the New York Giants. The Patriots succumbing on such a big stage and more or less choking away the greatest season of any team in league history was a pretty big deal. It still is, really. But the game’s outcome totally overshadowed a decent, if unassuming, performance from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
Of course, Petty and his band didn’t exactly surprise anyone. If you walked up to some middle aged dude on the street and said, “hey, middle aged dude on the street, can you name four songs by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers?” He’d probably think for about a second and then reel off “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Shocker: that’s exactly what Petty played in Glendale, Arizona.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Super Bowl XLIII – February 1, 2009
Pittsburgh Steelers (27) d. Arizona Cardinals (23)
Following Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band just makes sense. Hell, there’s probably an entire generation of kids that won’t be able to distinguish the difference between the two. But if they watch the two performances, it’ll become a little clearer.
In true Bruce fashion, Springsteen took control of the crowd right out of the gate and never relented. Again, the setlist was pretty straightforward: “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born to Run,” “Working on a Dream,” and “Glory Days.” But the E Street Band more or less killed it, and they did so with an energy that made Petty’s performance pale by comparison. This performance also suggested that Bruce is, in fact, unaffected by the human aging process.
Super Bowl XLIV – February 3, 2010
New Orleans Saints (31) d. Indianapolis Colts (17)
The Who is one of the most remarkable bands to ever step on a stage, but something about this halftime performance has always seemed just a tad off. They performed all their signature tracks—”Pinball Wizard,” the ever-recognizable “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”—but it felt like the chemistry and timing was awry. Perhaps all the intrigue had been sucked into a Drew Brees-Peyton Manning vortex of sorts, but the English outfit just seemed a little bit off their game. Still, c’mon—its The Who.