The Super Bowl halftime show is almost as big as the big game itself, but it wasn’t always that way. During the first two decades of the Super Bowl, college marching bands, drill teams, and the traveling troupe Up with People were the featured halftime entertainment. Carol Channing, Andy Williams, and Mickey Rooney later provided some star power, but it wasn’t until 1991, when popular boy band New Kids on the Block performed during the Super Bowl game at Tampa Stadium, that big-name acts began to populate the performance list.
Since then, everyone from Paul McCartney to Madonna has headlined the Super Bowl halftime show. And while there have been some misfires along the way — in 2004, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson landed in hot water after the former *NSYNC singer ripped open Miss Jackson’s top — the halftime shows seem to be getting more and more ambitious.
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 will headline the Super Bowl LIII halftime show in 2019. The group will be joined by rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi. As we wait to see if this year’s show makes history, here’s a look back at five of the top Super Bowl halftime shows to date.
There’s no denying the late “Purple Rain” singer will forever reign as a halftime show legend. On February 4, 2007, Prince endured strong winds and heavy rain as he performed during Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Florida. Prince performed a medley of familiar hits such as “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Baby I’m a Star,” and, by the time he got to “Purple Rain,” there was a downpour. The singer also, surprisingly, performed the Foo Fighters song “Best of You.” When asked why he worked their song into his Super Bowl set, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins told MTV that he had no idea.
“Dude, I have no idea why he did it, but I’d love to find out,” Hawkins said at the time. “I was watching the game at our producer Nick Raskulinecz’s house… and someone sticks their head outside and goes, ‘Uh, dude, Prince is doing your song.’ It was pretty amazing to have a guy like Prince covering one of our songs — and actually doing it better than we did.”
Just five months after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, U2 delivered the most poignant halftime show in Super Bowl history. Led by singer Bono, the Irish rock band’s three-song set was performed on a heart-shaped stage in New Orleans’ Superdome. U2 kicked off their performance with the songs “Beautiful Day” and “MLK,” but as the band performed their final song, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a large screen behind them began to scroll the names of all of the people who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Beyhive was buzzing about a Destiny’s Child reunion ahead of Beyonce’s February 3, 2013, Super Bowl XLVII performance at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Beyonce delivered a solo and group — with her girls, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams — set list that included “Love on Top,” “Crazy in Love,” “End of Time,” “Baby Boy,” “Independent Women Part 1,” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” which kicked off with a voice-over of Vince Lombardi’s “Excellence” speech.
The performance was so electric that some viewers blamed Beyonce when the stadium’s lights went out after her epic halftime performance. It was later determined that Beyonce did not cause the Super Bowl blackout. The Superdome manager told USA Today that Beyonce’s halftime show was run strictly on “generated power,” and the stadium’s main power was “metered down” during the show since the house lights were turned off. The power outage was the result of a problem in a feeder line that powered the stadium from an external substation.
Aerosmith, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly (2001)
There was something for everyone when MTV produced its first Super Bowl halftime show back in 2001. Legendary rockers Aerosmith collided with *NSYNC to form Aero-Sync, and, as a surprise, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly crashed their finale. According to Vulture, this performance was the first time Super Bowl fans were allowed on the field surrounding the stage. The set list included *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” but all of the artists came together for a memorable version of “Walk this Way” as the finale.
Michael Jackson (1993)
Michael Jackson may have single-handedly saved the Super Bowl halftime show. After an embarrassingly bad show the year before, the NFL turned to the biggest pop star on the planet to turn things around in 1993.
According to Rolling Stone, Jackson initially wanted to perform his ballad “Heal the World” for the entirety of the 12-minute performance, but halftime show producers nixed the idea. Instead, Jackson performed a medley of his hits that included “Billie Jean,” “We Are the World,” and “Black or White,” as well as a shorter version of “Heal the World.” James Earl Jones introduced the King of Pop’s “unprecedented Super Bowl spectacular” ahead of the performance, which ultimately became one of the most watched events in TV history. Jackson’s high-rated performance got the attention of the NFL, who, from that point on, made it a mission to attract top performers for the Super Bowl halftime show.