Best Super Bowl Halftime Performances (And Why Super Bowl 2007 Is No. 1)

The Super Bowl is undoubtedly one of the biggest nights in television. Each year, millions of football fans and those just looking for some good snacks gather around to witness the yearly event. It goes without saying that preparing for this day takes months to perfect. Brands pay top dollar to secure a spot in commercial space with just enough time for their marketing team to get to work on their ad campaigns. Meanwhile, the football teams are working hard to get ready for the big night. However, many can agree that whether you're a football fan or not, the biggest event of the evening goes to the half-time performance.

This coveted spot is a highly sought-after opportunity for some of the biggest names in music. Musicians lucky enough to be offered a deal to perform at the Super Bowl tend to consider this one of the highest honors of their career. As such, there's a mountain of pressure for this yearly performance to draw in big numbers with show-stopping hits, elaborate set designs, and top-dollar costumes, leaving us all in awe of the perfect performance.

Grab yourself a Pepsi and settle in as we take a look back at some of the best Super Bowl performances in history.

Beyoncé (2013)

At Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, mega superstar Beyoncé reigned over the stage. She emerged in a silhouette to the sounds of ear-piercing screams from the stadium and living rooms alike. Performing hits such as "Love on Top" and "Crazy in Love", Beyoncé gave the audience an unforgettable performance along a stage of innovative set design and complex dance moves, complete with female dancers in harmony and a marching band with superior brass.

The absolute cherry on top was the confirmation of the long-awaited and rumored stage reunion of Destiny's Child. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams joined the artist on stage to perform some of their well-known classics, such as "Independent Women."

This high-energy performance of extravagance came right before a historic 33-minute blackout in the Superdome, USA Today reported. The power outage had no correlation with the performance; however, the performance was such a blowout, it might as well have!

Madonna (2012)

In the theme of her then-upcoming studio album "MDNA," Madonna entered the stadium on a golden throne during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show. She helmed an eclectic cheerleading squad, which included other big-name performers such as the music duo LMFAO, rap queens Nicki Minaj and M.I.A, as well as CeeLo Green. Madonna performed the classic favorite "Vogue" before LMFAO joined in for a "Party Rock Anthem"/"Sexy And I Know It" spin set to her 2000 hit "Music."

One of the highlights of this high-energy performance came when M.I.A. and Minaj joined her for their collaborated single titled "Give Me All Your Luvin'." Among the most talked-about moments included Madonna nearly slipping on stage with her high-heeled boots as well as M.I.A flashing a swift middle finger (for which the FCC later sued her). The performance concluded with Madonna's hit "Like a Prayer" backed by CeeLo Green and a choir.

Aerosmith, Britney Spears, *NSYNC, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige (2001)

Every artist who performed at the 2001 Super Bowl XXXV halftime show arguably deserved their own headliner show, and some have since then been invited back to perform onstage again. Boy-band craze was at its peak when *NSYNC ran through the field and onto the stage to perform their hit "Bye, Bye, Bye" with screaming fangirls following their trail. The hits kept coming, as Aerosmith's lead singer Steven Tyler took center stage to perform "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" with the famed rock band in tow.

Things really kicked into gear as the band rocked out to "Walk This Way," while pop princess Britney Spears joined in to sing a verse. Soon after, Mary J. Blige entered the stage to contribute a verse, and Nelly next joined in to bring it home. Some would argue it was a sort of eclectic mess, but in hindsight, it was a brilliant mesh of American music at the time.

Janet Jackson (2004)

In 2004, music icon Janet Jackson headlined the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show with a dazzling performance and killer moves that can only come from a member of the Jackson family. Pop darling Jessica Simpson introduced the show as the University of Houston marching band opened to the tune of OutKast's "The Way You Move", right before Jackson took center stage to perform her hit "All For You". P Diddy soon joined the stage to rap a few lines right before Nelly joined the stage to perform "Hot in Herre." The performance continued to turn up the heat with Kid Rock making an appearance. Jackson then returned to center stage to perform her iconic "Rhythm Nation" with the University of Houston's drumline bringing the beat home.

Unfortunately, the performance took an abrupt turn when *NSYNC member turned solo artist Justin Timberlake joined Jackson onstage to perform "Rock Your Body." A miscalculated gesture in which Timberlake pulled off a piece of Jackson's top — that infamously became known as a "wardrobe malfunction" — led the FCC to re-examine some of their rules regarding indecency.

Lady Gaga (2017)

Lady Gaga's Super Bowl LI halftime performance in 2017 was without a doubt one of the most highly anticipated and highly successful halftime shows in more recent years, with 117.5 million viewers tuning in to watch. The pop singer opened her 13-minute set by jumping from the roof of the NRG Stadium, located in Houston, Texas. On stage, she performed an array of hits from her successful career, such as "Bad Romance," "Poker Face," and "Just Dance."

Styled in custom Versace which included a Swarovski crystal-laden jumpsuit and a bedazzled jacket, one would not have known that this mega star lives with chronic physical pain as she moved across the stage with the powerful and enigmatic energy that casts her far above her peers, complete with stunning vocals. She also took time to slow down to perform her piano ballad "Million Reasons" before amping the energy back up.

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira (2020)

Latina powerhouses Jennifer Lopez and Shakira got loud for the crowd in Miami, Florida, during their 2020 performance at the Super Bowl LIV halftime show. The performance followed on the heels of NFL controversy and right before the world changed forever due to a pandemic. One could say this was the perfect send-off before the world went into lockdown.

Lopez and Shakira's 15-minute set garnered an astounding 103 million total viewers on Fox, which Variety noted was up 4% (or about 3 million) from the previous year's halftime performance by Maroon 5. Lopez and Shakira proudly displayed their culture for the stage and world to see during a confusing political and socio-economic time. They celebrated their Latin roots and American pride through song and dance.

"Getting to [perform] with Shakira ... was a beautiful thing," Lopez told Apple Music, "because it was like [we're] both moms and both Latinas, like not exactly what you would expect at the Super Bowl halftime show."

Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar (2022)

After the previous year of a socially-distanced performance, the Pepsi Halftime show kicked it back into full gear in 2022. The Super Bowl LVI halftime show, which took place at the SoFi Stadium in California, made history when rap and hip-hop reigned as the main event. Dr. Dre performed west coast-representing hits, with Snoop Dogg joining in for the iconic "California Love." Meanwhile, hip-hip legend Mary J. Blige said hello to the Super Bowl stage once again, this time performing her hit "Family Affair." Kendrick performed his hit "Alright" to the sounds of cheering fans and audience members. 

While controversy is nearly impossible to dodge, rap god Eminem made sure that everyone — NFL, FCC, and the audience — knew that he wasn't afraid of controversy. At the end of his single "Lose Yourself", he took a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, which could very well be translated as a gesture of justice and defiance.

This performance was so iconic, in fact, that it was the first Super Bowl halftime show to win an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special.

Michael Jackson (1993)

Over a decade before his sister took the Super Bowl halftime stage, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, changed the show for good. Before his iconic Super Bowl XXVIII halftime performance in 1993, the Super Bowl halftime show was kind of a bust. The halftime show as we know today could not have been possible without Jackson's game-changing performance.

At the absolute height of his career, Jackson agreed to perform live hits such as "Billie Jean," "Black or White," "We Are The World," and "Heal The World." The iconic performance opened with Jackson standing at attention for two minutes straight, donning a military-like jacket and stance. When Beyoncé headlined her own halftime show performance 20 years after Jackson, she channeled his iconic military-esque ensemble (via BBC News). 

The 2023 Super Bowl marks 30 years since this performance, and it's clear that the NFL made the correct decision in booking top-performing artists to perform.

U2 (2002)

In tragedy, there is an even greater need for community and belonging. The iconic band U2 knew that they had both the privilege and responsibility to perform in the first Super Bowl just a few months after the national tragedy of September 11, 2001, and they carried it out as a loving and moving tribute to the nation and the victims.

The Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show started off with U2's upbeat and positive hit "Beautiful Day." They continued their performance with "MLK," set alongside a giant screen with the names of victims. The tribute continued with their song "Where the Streets Have No Name."

The audience was moved to tears as lead singer Bono lifted his jacket to reveal the American flag sewn inside. This peaceful, positive, and heartwarming performance sent a message of healing across the nation among the shadows of a brewing war in the near future.

Prince (2007)

It should come as no surprise that we saved the best for last.

Three short years after the controversy that surrounded the 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance, audience members wondered if the NFL was going to choose another "safe bet" for a live performance. However, it was a pleasant surprise to all when Prince was chosen to headline Super Bowl XLI. 

With his sensual movements and suave voice, audience members couldn't help but fall in love with Prince, as he wielded his guitar to his will and hit vocal high notes with such ease and precision. He performed hits such as "1999" and "Let's Go Crazy." He also lent his voice to other iconic songs such as "Proud Mary" and "All Along the Watchtower."

His ability to transition seamlessly from genre to genre and artist to artist while still keeping his signature guitar groove and sensuality is one of several reasons why he tops halftime performances time and time again. To the delight of fans across the nation, Prince also performed his hit "Purple Rain," which turned the audience into putty.