Greatest hits: The best Super Bowl halftime show performances
By: David Ho
February 15, 2023
After Rihanna turned the Super Bowl into both her comeback vehicle and baby shower, we just had to look back on some of the best halftime show performances
The Super Bowl has long been a cultural landmark in the US. Besides the game itself, there are always memorable ads that make for watercooler discussions (airtime during the event costs up to US$7 million for thirty seconds) and of course, the epic halftime performances.
It’s hard to imagine now but the halftime used to be performed by university marching bands. In 1993, Michael Jackson was brought in to headline the show and thus began a string of high-octane, arena-style pop performances.
Rihanna’s halftime show earlier this month averaged 118.7 million viewers, according to statistics gathered from both Nielsen Fast National data and Adobe Analytics. This makes it the second-most watched halftime show of all time. But Katy Perry’s 2015 performance still holds the record for being the most viewed, with 121 million viewers tuning in.
They say you should always start a show strong, and Katy Perry certainly did so by coming in atop a golden mechanical lion for her opening song “Roar”. She sailed through a number of #1 hits, had Lenny Kravitz come in for a guitar solo, and even gave her collaborator Missy Elliot props by letting her take over the third quarter of the act.
Even one of her backup dancers, dressed as a shark, found fame by going viral for his offbeat dance moves.
The Queen of Pop came in like true royalty in 2012, being carried in by a procession on a throne and in a Cleopatra getup. She turned in an admirable performance with a mix of her hits, despite a hamstring injury before the big event. Despite usually being the controversial one in the room, the only scandal from the performance was rapper MIA flipping the bird during her guest verse.
Madge ended her Cirque du Soleil-produced set with her classic hit, “Like A Prayer”, assisted by CeeLo Green and a 200-strong choir.
Ten years ago, Beyoncé gave one of the most acclaimed performances in Super Bowl history. After tearing through her solo hits, she brought out her Destiny’s Child groupmates for a couple of the group’s hits before segueing into a joint version of Single Ladies (“Put A Ring On It”). Beyoncé then fittingly closed the show with her arena crowd-pleaser, “Halo”.
Queen Bey would return to the Super Bowl three years later in a guest slot during Cold Play’s turn at the Super Bowl which some would refer to as “the night’s true event”.
After a medley of patriotic songs, Gaga iconically jumped from the rooftop to begin her set in earnest, immediately inspiring a flurry of memes.
At the time, Gaga was transitioning from her outrageous outfits to her more stripped back “Joanne” era. The performance balanced the fun and glamour of her past personas while giving a glimpse into her more raw, future direction.
The 2020 Super Bowl was held in Miami. As a tribute to the Latino community in the host city, two of the biggest Latina divas shared the stage for the 2020 halftime show.
Shakira did the first half of the set while Jennifer Lopez came in for the latter. The two would unite for the finale, a medley of their crowd-pleaser hits.
Without a doubt, the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show had the biggest cultural impact.
The exposure of headliner Janet Jackson’s breast, after a “wardrobe malfunction” thanks to guest performer Justin Timberlake, seems tame now in an era of OnlyFans. But the fallout saw Jackson’s career overshadowed by the incident for many years and her music blackballed by the industry. Many, including Jackson herself, believe that the heightened hysteria was used as a diversion from the Iraq War going on at the time.
The incident also inspired the start of a little video-sharing platform – YouTube. It began as a result of founder Jawed Karim finding it difficult to search for video clip of the incident.
The reverberations are still being felt today. Documentaries on Jackson and even Britney Spears have prompted a reexamination of the incident and further discourse on race and gender issues. Thankfully, Jackson’s legacy is now being appreciated in a new light.