8 Unforgettable Super Bowl Halftime Shows (+1 Great National Anthem)

RealClear Staff


Super Bowl halftime shows used to be marching bands, Up With People and Disney characters. Now they're gargantuan mini-concerts that sometime generate more passionate response than the games themselves.

Here's our coutdown of the best:

8. Katy Perry (2015, Phoenix)

Have Super Bowl halftime shows literally jumped the shark? Katy Perry's fine performance at Super Bowl XLIX (with help from Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott) was overshadowed by a backup dancer in a shark costume who was decidedly out of sync -- making for a LOL roasting on social media. 

7. Prince (2007, Miami)

Nobody knew what to expect from Prince -- "Nipplegate" (see below) was still on the mond, and some thought hima risky choice. No worries! Prince powered through his own classics ("1999," "Let's Go Crazy") and the classics of others ("Proud Mary," "All Along the Watchtower"). But the explosive coda was "Purple Rain," which had the stadium full of testosterone-pumped football fanatics waving their arms and howling in falsetto! Awesome.

6. Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake (2004, Houston)

The moment that made "wardrobe malfunction" a cultural term, Justin Timberlake's ripping back of Janet Jackson's costume to reveal her breast was all anyone was talking about the day afterward -- Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' second Super Bowl title was secondary. Both Jackson and Timberlake denied it was intentional, attributing it to a "wardrobe malfunction," and the fallout was swift: CBS was fined by the FCC, and Jackson has been banned by CBS (and why not Timberlake? Seems unfair). Too bad, because the halftime show itself, which included P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock, was pretty darn awesome.

The whole show is great, but the part you want to see is at the 10:20 mark.

5. Paul McCartney (2005, Jacksonville)

The year after 'Nipplegate," the NFL went with a safe, legendary rocker who could deliver big. And let's face it: Paul McCartney was a great choice -- he killed it. Beginning with "Drive My Car" and "Get Back," he climaxed with  a fireworks show backing "Live and Let Die" and finished with "Hey Jude," with lovely and poetic audience participation.

4. Beyonce (2013, New Orleans)

For sheer power and awesomeness, Beyonce and Destiny's Child killed it. Beginning with "Run The World (Girls)" -- featuring a Vince Lombardi "Excellence" speech! -- Beyonce powered through a set that climaxed with "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and ended with "Halo." Beyonce is to Super Bowl halftime shows what the '85 Bears Monsters of the Midway defense and the 49ers' West Coast Offense is to Super Bowl games: dominant.

3. Michael Jackson (1993, Pasadena)

Michael Jackson's halftime show at the Rose Bowl is the most historic halftime show ever, because it changed everything. Before MJ, halftime shows had themes (the previous year: Winter Magic, A Salute to 1992 Winter Olympics with Gloria Estefan with Olympic Figure skaters Brian Boitano & Dorothy Hamill), marching bands and acts such as Up With People. Michael Jackson's halftime performance was one of the most watched events in American television history, and afterward the NFL switched to star-driven halftime shows. The highlight: "We Are The World" as the crowd turned over cards revealing drawings by the children of Los Angeles; and "Heal the World," while surrounded by 3,500 youngsters, as a blow-up globe deployed on the 50-yard line.


2. Whitney Houston's National Anthem (1991, Tampa)

The only national anthem on our list for a couple of reasons. Although later it was revealed to be lip-synced (and really, we have no problem with that; it was her voice after all), Whitney Houston's version of the Star-Spangled Banner was so stirringly emotional (during a time of war) that it became a Top 40 hit. By the way, the airing of the actual halftime show of that Super Bowl, with New Kids on the Block, was delayed until after the conclusion of the game due to ABC News coverage of Operation Desert Storm.

1. U2 (2002, New Orleans)

The nation was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks and was at war in Afghanistan when U2 took the stage at the Louisiana Superdome. Would they just try and entertain us and have a good time? No, they helped us grieve and celebrate in an emotion-filled tribute to those killed in the 9/11 attacks. Performing on a heart-shaped stage, the band kicked off with "Beautiful Day," then wowed the nation with "Where the Streets Have No Name," in front of a scrolling backdrop that featured the names of all of the victims who perished in the attacks. Lead singer Bono finished the song by opening his jacket to reveal the stars and stripes in its lining. This halftime show is the GOAT.




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