My ranking of the top 10 Super Bowl halftime shows


photo via National Football League

Since Super Bowl XXVII, the halftime show has no doubt become the largest performance of every year. In the first few decades of Super Bowls, the halftime performance would consist of a few college marching bands and maybe a D-list musician; however, this all changed when Michael Jackson lit up the stage in 1993 and transformed the show into a must-watch of every season. Since then, celebrities have enlisted larger than life props, flashy costumes and LED lights that illuminate the sky, making each performance nothing short of an extravaganza. 

Although each artist brings their own unique flair to their halftime show, some ideas get lost in translation while others truly leave the audience in awe. Here is my (possibly controversial) ranking of the top 10 best Super Bowl halftime shows since 1993. 

  1. The Weeknd (2021)

Although this show felt different with the lack of fans, The Weeknd still surprised viewers with his performance. Throughout the show he sang a myriad of greatest hits with background dancers all decked out in red sparkly jackets. While singing the popular song “Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd went underneath his set with an up-close camera as dancers ran around behind him with white bandages covering their heads. “The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrities and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated,” The Weeknd told Variety ahead of his big performance. His commentary on modern Hollywood made his show unique and powerful. 

  1. Diana Ross (1996) 

Diana Ross certainly had the most memorable exit from a Super Bowl halftime show. To start off, she was lowered to the stage on a crane made of sparklers and finished yelling “here comes my ride!” as she stepped into a helicopter. In between these crazy feats, Diana Ross sang a medley of her biggest hits such as “Baby Love” and “Stop in the Name of Love,” changing outfits for every single song. Following this, she rode three stories in the air with a golden cape flowing behind her as she sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It was nothing short of spectacular. 

  1. Katy Perry and Missy Elliott (2015)

Possibly rivaling Diana Ross and Lady Gaga’s entrances, Katy Perry rode into her performance on a prodigious puppet in the shape of a lion as she sang her hit “Roar.” Following this theme she continued the show soaring through the sky singing her other hit “Firework.” The performance included dancing palm trees, Left Shark and, of course, Missy Elliott. Her section began with a teaser of “Get Ur Freak On” and moments later Elliott arose, her first high-profile appearance in years. Katy Perry truly shared the stage, inviting Elliott to sing three of her own songs. It was an unexpected but unforgettable duo. 

  1. Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, Cee Lo Green (2012)

Madonna went all out with her performance. She kicked off the event riding in on ancient-Roman gladiator studs while singing “Vogue.” She sang new renditions of classic songs with cameos from LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and Cee Lo Green. There were numerous theme changes from Ancient Rome to a Gospel Choir to even sporting pom poms at one point. It was certainly entertaining but all over the place. It was glamorous, over-the-top and exactly what anyone would expect from a Madonna performance. 

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

2001 was the first year the Super Bowl allowed fans to surround the stage during the halftime show. Because of this, the energy throughout the performance was unmatched. Although there were no extravagant props or costume changes the crowd involvement made this show one of the greats. Many questioned the Aerosmit h and NSYNC combination but they honestly pulled it off with renditions of “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” The show was elevated even more when surprise guests Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly came out to sing “Walk This Way” with the two groups. It was a show for every generation. 

  1. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez (2020)

Because of the controversy over the Colin Kaepernick ban last year, the NFL had a hard time finding someone to perform but Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were in no way a settle. The whole performance was nothing short of an athletic feat. Shakira, wielding a crystal Gibson Firebird, played her song “Firebird.” Perhaps even more memorable, J. Lo’s daughter, Emme, made an appearance to sing “Let’s Get Loud” with her mom. Then Emme began singing “Born in the USA,” while her mom sported a feather cape with the American flag on one side and the Puerto Rican on the other, commenting on the immigration situation in the United States. 

  1. Lady Gaga (2017) 

Lady Gaga certainly brought the wow factor with this show. She started standing above the stadium with a tribute to America before leaping with a bungee cord onto the field. This energy only continued throughout her performance as she sang hits “Born This Way,” “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face” full with backup dancers, flashy lights and sparkly costumes. About halfway through, the show slowed and Lady Gaga sat solo at her piano, belting her new song “Million Reasons.” Shortly after, she returned to the ostentatious Lady Gaga we know and love to finish off strong. It was everything one would expect from a Lady Gaga halftime show. 

  1. U2 (2002)

Taking place only five months after the tragic attacks on Sept. 11, U2 managed to hype up a crowd, honor the lives lost and celebrate America all in just 10 short minutes. They kicked it off with “Beautiful Day” and then played “MLK” while the names of victims scrolled on a massive screen shooting up at the sky. They finished with “Where the Streets Have No Name” and lead singer, Bono, ripped open his jacket to reveal an American flag. It was emotional and joyful all at the same time, exactly what the United States needed at the time… commemorating all of the lives tragically lost while bringing together a broken nation. 

  1. Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child (2013)

This show was nothing but breathtaking. Beyoncé started off strong singing and dancing to her song “Crazy in Love.” The stage was made to look like two of her profiles facing each other with another image of the queen burned above it. After a few minutes of more dancing and singing, Beyoncé was joined by her former Destiny’s Child band mates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle William, to continue the performance with her song “Single Ladies.” Beyoncé was left solo on stage to finish out the show with a whisper-to-scream rendition of “Halo.” Also, it was the only Super Bowl performance to solely include women; talk about a power move. 

  1. Prince (2007)

This show was truly a moment of divine providence. In all 55 Super Bowls, it has rained once and it just happened to be in 2007 during Prince’s spectacular performance. Not only did this seem perfect for his most popular song “Purple Rain” but Prince handled the downpour better than any artist would have. As panic arose hours before the show, Prince simply responded to all of the doubts with “can you make it rain harder?” Despite the slick stage, dancers in eight-inch heels, four different electric guitars and the pouring rain, the show went off without a hitch. Prince stood on an illuminated stage, belting “Purple Rain” as Mother Nature let down a thunderstorm.