Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ranked: Rob Sheffield’s Worst, Best – Rolling Stone
Home Culture Culture Lists

Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ranked: From Worst to Best

Pop spectacles, Janet’s nipple, Springsteen’s marathon, Left Shark and loads of soul revues – we’ve seen ’em all

There is no gig in music like the Super Bowl halftime show. You have 12 minutes to justify your legend. You have 150 million people watching, most of whom are distracted by the nachos platter, how much beer is left in the fridge or how much of the rent they bet on the Eagles. Chances are it’s the biggest worldwide audience of your life, and getting it right means rising to the hugeness of the moment. Getting it wrong can crush a career. Good luck, Justin Timberlake, and try not to undress anybody this year.

And with Super Bowl 52 set for this Sunday, what better time to rank the Big Game’s halftime shows from worst to best. Here’s a subjective, personal, irresponsible and indefensible breakdown of the winners and losers. The Bonos and Beyoncés and Bruces and Britneys. The Janets and Justins. The Michaels and Maccas and Madonnas. Plus the year they trapped poor Gloria Estefan in a Minnesota “Winter Magic” pageant with a bunch of figure skaters and inflatable snowmen. Believe it or not, all these Super Bowl halftime shows really happened. Some were transcendent. Some sucked. Pass those bacon fritters and enjoy the show. Getting it wrong can crush a career. Good luck, Maroon 5.

Prince Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. Heritage Auctions is selling one of the late artist's "yellow cloud" electric guitars beginning June 24 with an opening bid of $30,000. The guitar was one of several custom guitars Prince used in the 1980s and 1990sPrince-Autopsy-Q&A, Miami, USA

Prince Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. Heritage Auctions is selling one of the late artist's "yellow cloud" electric guitars beginning June 24 with an opening bid of $30,000. The guitar was one of several custom guitars Prince used in the 1980s and 1990s Prince-Autopsy-Q&A, Miami, USA

Chris O'Meara/AP/REX/Shutterstock

2

Prince (2007)

Everybody knew Prince would make this a freakfest for the ages. But he exceeded all expectations, in the middle of a Miami thunderstorm. A Foo Fighters cover? “We Will Rock You” into “Let’s Go Crazy”? “All Along the Watchtower”? An epic guitar-hero jam on “Purple Rain”? There was a feeling that nobody knew what surprise this sexy MF would bust out next – at a high-profile event like the Super Bowl, it was a historic blast of rock & roll arrogance. Total mastery. Total cool.

U2 performs during the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, February 3, 2002. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Theo Wargo/WireImage

1

U2 (2002)

U2 created one of the truly great live-TV rock & roll moments of all time, up there with “Bad” at Live Aid. Just a few months after 9/11, U2 made this a tribute to the victims. After kicking off with “Beautiful Day,” they played the elegiac “MLK” while scrolling the names of the dead on a giant screen, an unforgettable sight, building up to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” At the end, Bono ripped open his jacket to reveal the American flag sewn inside. It was a pained tribute to America that still felt profoundly anti-war and anti-violence, quite a feat at the time. Only U2 could have made this so grandiose, yet so emotionally direct. Grown men wept buckets. Every daft ambition U2 ever had, every lofty claim they ever made, they earned tonight.

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.