Quick quiz: What was the first Super Bowl halftime performance? Trumpeter Al Hirt and the marching bands from Arizona State and Grambling.
We’ve come a long way.
In terms of what we think of with the halftime show now, it really started in 1993 with Michael Jackson. Since then, the performances have become more elaborate and over the top. Which of them are the best? Well, since you asked…
Best Super Bowl Halftime Show No. 5: Diana Ross – SB XXX (1996)
Sometimes a diva and the big stage just don’t mix when things don’t go perfectly (we see you Mariah Carey in New Year’s Rockin’ Eve). But when it goes right, it can be amazing. Ross dazzled us with a medley of her old Supremes hits and some of her solo stuff, had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand, and then delivers the line “oh my, here comes my ride”…and leaves in A FREAKIN’ HELICOPTER!! Take a note wannabes, THAT is how you diva.
Best Super Bowl Halftime Show No. 4: Bruce Springsteen – SB XLIII (2009)
Springsteen’s performance was part of the resurgence of the halftime show following nipplegate. It had been long enough to get some edge back to the show, as demonstrated by The Boss’ sliding crotch-first into the camera during Tenth Avenue Freezeout (after knee replacement surgergy!), but this show had more beyond the edge. It was a rock concert. There were lights, there was dance and spectacle, but this was a full on rock concert and Bruce was at his finest.
Best Super Bowl Halftime Show No. 3: Michael Jackson – SB XXVII (1993)
The one that started the halftime show in its modern form. NBC knew it needed to do something to keep fans eyes on their broadcast (and more specifically, their ads) during halftime as the counterprogramming that was being displayed on other networks was gaining more and more steam. The year prior to Jackson’s performance, a Fox special broadcast of “In Living Color” drew massive numbers.
NBC reacted, deciding it needed a big name to keep people. Enter the King of Pop. Fun Fact: the NFL doesn’t pay appearance fees for Super Bowl halftime acts, however, in order to secure Jackson’s performance, the league and Frito-Lay made a donation to his Heal the World Foundation.
Best Super Bowl Halftime Show No. 2: U2 – SB XXXVI (2002)
Does any band do activism quite like U2? There were some who questioned using an Irish band to perform in the biggest American sporting event for a country that was still recovering from the 9/11 attacks. As soon as Bono opened his jacket and showed off the Stars and Stripes liner, we knew the right choice had been made and were in for something special.
The show is legendary, both for their exquisite performance, but also for the list of scrolling names that none of us who watched it will ever forget and still, to this day, tear up at the memory.
Honorable mentions before we get to our top performance: Beyonce and the surprise Destiny’s Child reunion, SB XLVII (2013); Tribute to Motown, SB XXXII (1998); Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, SB XLII (2008).
SIDE NOTE: The petition starts now…RICK ASTLEY FOR SB LXV!!!
The Best Super Bowl Halftime Show of All-Time: Prince – SB XLI (2007)
In the couple years following the Justin Timberlake Janet Jackson halftime, the NFL went with big, safe names for the halftime show. Paul McCartney. The Rolling Stones. Great for the older generation, but there was just something that was lacking from the performances. They were just kind of, well blah. Knowing they needed to ramp it back up a bit or lose viewers to counterprogramming, Prince was called on to appeal to both a younger and older audience and breathe some life back into halftime.
Except the show almost didn’t happen. On the morning of the game, Miami experienced the worst weather yet seen for a Super Bowl. Prince was scheduled to use four separate electric guitars, perform on a slick tile surface, and his dancers were wearing eight inch heels. When the producers called to let him know it was raining and see if he’d be ok with going on, he simply responded “can you make it rain harder?” Through all the nerves and worry, that should have been the first hint it would be an epic show.
Let’s Go Crazy was a solid opening, but then something magical happened. He didn’t promote himself. He played other artists songs. He used the rain to his advantage, almost as if it was a planned prop. He played All Along the Watchtower from Jimi Hendrix. The Best by the Foo Fighters and all with the guitar only Prince could play. Then came Purple Rain. The silhouette of him behind the flowing drape. The Florida A&M Marching 100 decked out in neon trim. An iconic performance by one of the world’s best performers. Ever.