Most memorable Super Bowl halftime performances

To celebrate Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021, is revisiting the most memorable halftime performances in recent years, starting with 2020’s Jennifer Lopez and Shakira extravaganza. The show was the epitome of sexy and energetic. The most viral moment came when Jen’s then-11-year-old daughter, Emme, came on stage and belted out the chorus to “Born In The U.S.A.” Girl. Freaking. Power. “Some people said it was the best halftime performance ever,” J.Lo said on a yacht afterward. She and Shakira set a high, high bar. Keep reading to see who else had memorable halftime performances…

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Madonna in 2012

Less than two months before she would release her “MDNA” album in 2012, Madonna slayed on the football field with a 12-minute extravaganza featuring guest stars and a visual and audio feast. Madge hit the gridiron carried by muscled, shirtless Roman soldiers. While perched on a gilded chair, she belted out “Vogue” — and sounded like the Madonna of old. While performing the dance-friendly “Music,” she was joined by LMFAO for a “Party Rock Anthem”/”Sexy And I Know It” mashup. And just when you thought it was over, rappers M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj joined her — dressed as cheerleaders. M.I.A. even snuck a middle finger past the censors. Madge finished off with “Like A Prayer,” aided by Cee Lo Green. Pretty, pretty awesome.

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Beyonce in 2013

People had been dreaming of this moment for years. The 2013 Super Bowl halftime show started with a silhouette of Beyonce on fire — and then Queen Bey emerged. She ran through hit after hit until the moment of truth: a long-rumored Destiny’s Child reunion (our hearts be still!). Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland burst onto the stage to join Bey, leaving fans in awe as they launched into “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women” and “Single Ladies.” There were dancers, a crazy horn section and stunning costumes too — but what else would you expect from Beyonce, except the very best?

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Michael Jackson in 1993

Oddly, it was the late Michael Jackson — someone not remotely associated with football — who changed the way we see Super Bowl halftime shows. Up until 1993, the NFL didn’t really put a lot of thought into the midway point of its biggest game, and people often tuned out during the lull. Eager to keep eyes on the screen, the NFL snagged MJ, billing it as the Biggest Freaking Halftime Show Ever. As expected, the King of Pop delivered, as he furiously sang (well, lip-synced) a medley of his hits. Then, in the defining moment of the performance, “We Are The World” played and the crowd turned over cards revealing drawings made by children. MJ ended with “Heal the World” as thousands of kids and a blow-up globe surrounded him.

Beyonce, Coldplay and Bruno Mars in 2016

Everyone was pumped when it was announced that Coldplay was bringing along musical guests Beyonce and Bruno Mars to make the band’s 2016 halftime show performance even better. Coldplay’s frontman, Chris Martin, started off their show with a little help from fans seated in the stadium — they held up blue, yellow and orange cards to form an image of a giant sunset — and launched into the high-energy hit “Viva La Vida.” The rest of Coldplay’s performance featured a slew of the band’s greatest hits and more and more color taking over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. But things quickly transitioned to Mark Ronson playing DJ as Bruno Mars came out to perform “Uptown Funk.” Then, from another part of the field, Beyonce and a slew of backup dancers took the field singing “Formation.” Then all three acts merged together to close out the halftime show with a big collaboration — which was awesome to see!

Katy Perry in 2015

It was the halftime performance that made us ask, “Which one was better — right shark or left shark?” During her Super Bowl halftime show spectacle in 2015, Katy Perry brought her own brand of quirky sexiness to viewers worldwide. She came in riding a giant — and we do mean giant — metallic lion. Donning a bodysuit featuring flames, she busted out “Roar.” She was later joined by Lenny Kravitz for a rock-infused performance of “I Kissed a Girl.” Next thing you know, there’s Katy in a beach ball bustier, joined by two people dressed in shark costumes, dancing their hearts out. (We always liked left shark better.) Missy Elliott also joined the pop star on the field, and she crushed it too. It was the most watched Super Bowl halftime show in history at the time with 118.5 million people tuning in.

Bruno Mars in 2014

It wasn’t that Bruno Mars wasn’t well-known when he took the Super Bowl halftime show stage in 2014. It’s just that he wasn’t thought of as a superstar… yet. Bruno sang and danced and brought out the Red Hot Chili Peppers. By the end of his highly entertaining performance — which was far more interesting than the 43-8 shellacking the Seahawks gave the Broncos that year — people were clamoring to see more of him. The day after the game, tickets nearly sold out for a string of concert he had planned at Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake in 2004

Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performance changed everything — and added the term “wardrobe malfunction” to our lexicon. The show was everything it was supposed to be (we think… who actually remembers that show?!). Then, at the end, Justin ripped off part of Janet’s bodice and exposed her bare breast, which was accessorized with a metallic piece of sun-shaped jewelry. Debate raged as to whether it was an accident or intentional. The FCC is still haunted by this moment, as more than half a million people filed complaints about what would later be dubbed “Nipplegate.” The FCC tried to fine Janet, Justin, MTV, CBS and Pepsi, but many of those fines were thrown out. Justin’s people called it a “wardrobe malfunction” and the term became a part of pop culture. Does anyone even remember the game that year… any of it… at all?

Lady Gaga in 2017

With acrobatics, killer keytar playing and fire and pyro everywhere, Lady Gaga delivered one of the most high-energy and spectacular Super Bowl halftime show performances in recent years. The Mother Monster didn’t get too political — but did place an emphasis on unity with songs like “God Bless America” and “Born This Way.” The real crux of the performance came at the end when Gaga crooned “Bad Romance” with fireworks shooting off over the stadium. Plus, props always go to Lady Gaga for her creative costumes!

Aerosmith and *NSYNC in 2001

Aerosmith and *NSYNC were both huge names in 2001, but not exactly two acts you’d expect to see on the same stage. The boy band opened the halftime show with “Bye, Bye, Bye” and the younger generation went bananas. Enter Aerosmith: They slowed it down with “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” The two groups traded hits back and forth before Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly all burst onto the stage to join *NSYNC and Aerosmith in a rousing rendition of the rock band’s hit “Walk This Way.”

U2 in 2002

America was still hurting when U2 took the stage in 2002. Just four months removed from 9/11, U2 brought a heart-shaped stage to the field and belted out their hit “Beautiful Day.” Most people have forgotten that part because what happened next is forever etched in Super Bowl lore in a tug-at-your-heartstrings kind of way: As they played “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a scrolling backdrop featured the names of all of the victims who died in the terror attacks. After that was over and tears were shed, Bono — who’s from Ireland, mind you — opened his jacket to reveal America’s stars and stripes in the lining. It still makes people emotional to this day.

Paul McCartney in 2004

The NFL had been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2004, thanks to the halftime show debacle the previous year (see: Janet and Justin), so it went for a safe — but still amazing choice — in 2005: Paul McCartney. How can you argue with a Beatle?! He was good, too, playing songs from the Beatles and Wings catalogs. Sir Paul capped off his performance by belting out “Hey Jude,” which had the 84,000-strong crowd and everyone at home singing along to one of the greatest songs ever written. Paul was the first in a string of older, popular acts that the NFL began to employ for its Super Bowl halftime shows.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 2009

The Boss never mails it in, does he. In the middle of one of the all-time great Super Bowl games (Pittsburgh beat Arizona with an incredible tip-toe catch in the end zone), Bruce Springsteen, along with the E Street Band, showed the world why he’s the boss. Bruce began his performance by looking at the cameras and talking to the at-home audience, telling them, “I want you to step away from the guacamole dip. I want you to put the chicken fingers down.” Then he rocked through four songs, running all over the stage and even slamming his crotch into a camera. You got that free of charge, America, and you’re welcome. Bruce had been invited to perform several times before, but had always turned them down. He was well worth the wait. Bruuuuuuucce!!!

Prince in 2007

Prince seemed like an odd choice for the halftime show for several reasons. First, he didn’t exactly fit the NFL brand. Second, his stage shows can be sexually charged, and we were only three years removed from “Nipplegate” (See Justin and Janet, again). But he was amazing when he hit the Super Bowl field in 2007. “The symbol” came to the stage with his curiously shaped guitar (purple, of course) and unleashed hit after hit. He powered through cover songs as well as his own tunes, busting out his famous falsetto and all. By the end, even the most macho of football fans was singing and loving the Diminutive One’s set.

Diana Ross in 1996

Diana Ross brought the house down when she performed during Super Bowl XXX in Arizona in 1996. The Motown star descended from the roof on a sparkling platform before performing some of her biggest hits including “Baby Love” and “Stop in the Name of Love.” Diana impressively changed her outfit for every single song and rocked a giant gold cape that eventually enveloped the entire stage as she rose in the air singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” In true diva fashion, Diana finished her performance, waved goodbye to the crowd and flew off in a helicopter that had landed in the middle of the field minutes before.

The Rolling Stones in 2006

The Rolling Stones’ massive lips logo was on the field when Mick Jagger launched right into “Start Me Up” during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2006. His hips were thrusting, but censors, on high alert following “Nipplegate,” were more concerned with Mick’s lyrics. They had the Stones on a five-second delay. It didn’t matter. The legends performed for 12 minutes and proved to the world why they still ruled. Mick might have been more than twice the age of most of the men playing in the game, but he had just as much — if not more — energy.

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