The 10 Most Memorable Super Bowl Halftime Performances of All Time

Football fans around the world will tune in this Sunday for Super Bowl 50 when it kicks off in San Francisco. Millions of fans will celebrate the annual ritual of stuffing our faces full of artery-clogging goodness as we scream at the television in support of our would-be champions, marvel at the insanely expensive commercials and take in the over-the-top spectacle that is the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

This year, Coldplay will be the focal point of the Halftime Show, which is often more about spectacle than the performance itself. But the bland-poppers have their work cut out for them’ when it comes to entertaining tens of millions of people either on a beer run, a bathroom break or those less-than-patiently waiting for the game to get back in motion. As history shows, Super Bowl Halftime Show performances can be hit or miss – whether through the poorly-planned spectacle of Janet Jackson’s nipple exposure or the jaw-dropping perfection of Michael Jackson’s 1993 performance. 

To get into gear for yet another major halftime adventure on Game Day, Crave is recounting the 10 Most Memorable Super Bowl Halftime Performances, in order of excellence. Check it out!

Michael Jackson, 1993 

When we’re telling our grandkids about Michael Jackson in the future, we’ll reference a few video moments from his iconic run as the King of Pop: his first-ever moonwalk in 1983, his various legendary music videos, and quite possibly his 1993 Super Bowl Halftime performance. 

Appearing onstage at the Rose Bowl, Jackson stood motionless for a full 90 seconds while over 100,000 fans went absolutely apeshit with excitement. His high-octane medley of “Jam,” “Billie Jean” and “Black or White” utterly awed an unjaded, pre-internet America. Then MJ rocked a snippet of “We Are The World” as the crowd turned over cards revealing drawings by the children of Los Angeles, concluding with “Heal the World,” while surrounded by 3,500 youngsters, as a blow-up globe deployed on the 50 yard line.


Paul McCartney, 2005

After Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” nonsense of the previous year, producers wanted someone safe. They went with the beloved Paul McCartney, who got the home singalongs going with “Drive My Car,” following up with “Get Back,” before trading his guitar for a piano during a fireworks-packed take on the iconic classic “Live and Let Die.” This was all a pre-cursor, however, to the ultimate finale of “Hey Jude,” during which the 84,000 in attendance at Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium sang along to the iconic coda with deafening enthusiasm.


Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake, 2004


Nobody began watching the 2004 Super Bowl thinking we’d have a new pop-culture buzz term on our tongues, but that’s just what happened with the staged breast-exposing ”wardrobe malfunction”. As part of a duet performance (and what a killer performance it was), Justin Timberlake “accidentally” exposed Janet’s breast with a tearaway piece of fabric, and despite her nipple being covered with what looked like a medieval throwing star, the FCC and legions of world-Nerfing parents lost their ever-loving minds.


The Rolling Stones, 2006


It’s a no-brainer for The Rolling Stones to rock the Super Bowl Halftime Show, in part because they’re among the world’s most party-friendly iconic bands, but also because their kickoff-baiting jam “Start Me Up” is just perfect for the occasion. Naturally, Mick Jagger & Co. played the hit, on a stage built to look like the Stones’ iconic lips logo, followed by “Rough Justice” and the classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” 

However, in the censorship frenzy that followed Janet Jackson’s breast-exposing performance two years prior, the NFL implemented a five-second tape delay that enabled censors to mute parts of “Start Me Up” and “Rough Justice” deemed too sexually explicit. 


U2, 2002


Back before U2 ruined their legacy by forcing their new album on us all, the Dublin rockers delivered a poignantly powerful performance at the 2002 Super Bowl. It was less than five months after the tragedies of September 11, and the nation was still reeling. Atop a heart-shaped stage, Bono & company kicked off with “Beautiful Day,” leading into a 9/11 tribute as they played “Where the Streets Have No Name” – a scrolling backdrop featuring the names of all of the people who were lost in the attacks was shown behind the band. The moment was among the most memorable and goosebump-inducing of all Super Bowl performances, helping reinvigorate the undying spirit of America.


Beyoncé, 2013


How do you light a silhouette on fire? While our jaws hit the ground in wonderment, Beyonce emerged from a cloud of smoke to deliver “Love on Top” and “Crazy in Love” during her Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show performance, with an army of dancers surrounding her. Then Destiny’s Child reunited for the first time in years, with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams shooting up from under the stage to join Bey for “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women” and “Single Ladies.” 


Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2009


“Put the chicken fingers down!” Springsteen demanded, before rocking Tampa up and down the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Finally taking producers up on their offer after many requests, The Boss crushed a four-song set of iconic classics, throwing an unforgettable sliding crotch-shot at the cameraman during “10th Avenue Freeze Out”. It was hilarious, over the top and pure Jersey-boy goodness… in Florida.


Prince, 2007

King weirdo Prince arrived to a maniacally excited halftime audience in 2007 with his giant, purple, phallic symbol-shaped guitar and proceeded to kick the hell out of our expectations. The eclectic sex-rocker delivered a run of his own classics including ”1999″ and ”Let’s Go Crazy” before kicking up the intensity with covers of ”Proud Mary” and “All Along the Watchtower”. By the time he delivered the goods (and then some) on “Purple Rain,” the show may as well have ended there. Football? What football?


Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, 1995


Yes, this actually happened. The premise: The Vince Lombardi trophy was stolen and Indiana Jones was the only man who could recover it. While he did so, Tony Bennett and Patti Labelle performed songs in a fictitious “Club Disneyland”. A total pot-luck culture collision mess? You bet. It was also the single most embarrassing moment in Indiana Jones history – until Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released, of course. 


Aerosmith, ‘N Sync & Britney Spears, 2001


Generations of pop-smash idolatry became one as Aerosmith followed up ’N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” boy-bandisms with a trade-off of verses from various songs until Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly stepped in for a show-stopping rendition of “Walk This Way”. It was weird, it would never work in any capacity today, but at the time it was quite the celebrated spectacle.