I decided, for some reason, to rank every available super bowl half-time show. Because home recording of games before 1980 was rare, we'll be looking at those from 1980 on.
After several days – and much drinking – I've settled on a definitive ranked list. As of time of last update, this post covers 41 shows, in 4,616 words. Incredible.
Sit down, raise a glass, and remember some shows!
#41: Super Bowl XXV, 1991 – The All Children Super Bowl Show
This production is awful.
I hate children, I always hated children, and forever will.
Gotta Be Football Hero is the worst song ever composed, and to have it performed by children is bad. Walt Disney decided to introduce adult actors and adult vocalists not more than 2 minutes into the programming, betraying the entire conceit of the production.
When The Chipmunks broke out Can't Touch This I died. The rest of this piece has been written by my vengeful ghost.
What makes this the worst super bowl half time show is not that it featured children. It wasn't the full throated worship of the US Military-Industrial Complex. It wasn't a surprise appearance by boy band The New Kids On The Block. All of this together joined to make this the definitive Worst Super Bowl Halftime Show.
#40: Super Bowl XV, 1981 – Southern University Marching Band with Helen O'Connell
I hate parades. I hate children. I hate children who like parades. Super Bowl 15 inexplicably featured a parade, earning it our definitive bottom ranked spot. This is the absolute worst half-time show. Nobody should subject themselves to it.
The show kicked off with the parade queen "gliding" in on zipline that sagged and got stuck, forcing a marching band member to grab her feet and slide her the rest of the way. Unhitching from the hideous contraption held up the show, which consisted of a marching band spelling out the score (cool!) followed by a three float parade (BOOOO!) all with infuriating marching band music accompanying the entirely too long affair. I aged ten years in just ten minutes of this very bad and very dumb production. This is rock bottom for the american institution.
h/t Netwon Minnowowski, who found and uploaded the ancient VCR tapes
#39: Super Bowl XIV, 1980 – Up With People
This show turned me into a full blown raging communist.
There is nothing that boils my blood like inexplicable nostalgia and the bare worship of quintessential 50s Pax Americana. I lost count of on-field participants at the 350 mark.
This exhibition of American music features an almost entirely white field team, doing the Greatest Shits and Dances, climaxing in a ouroborus conga line snake train.
Wikipedia's page on Up With People claims that Up With People is a non-profit, apolitical organization. I say it's because any fool dumb enough to book these mooks would lose all profits – and because literally everybody subjected to this performance hates them.
#38: Super Bowl XVI, 1982 – Up With People
430 people were involved in this half-time show and every single one of them is an incredibly gigantic dork.
Not one person:
430 Dorks: ♫ Do The Twist ♫
On one hand, the amount of co-ordination and choreography required is impressive. On the other hand, it is sincerely boring and bad. If the 1960s Rolling Stones had had a time machine and visited 1980 only to hear this, they would return to 1960 and erase every single record store and label.
The very loud rendition of Michael Row The Boat Ashore quite nearly destroyed my headphones.
At least this time UWP (oops) had more Black vocalists. Some slight progress, I guess.
All I need is not sunshine, what I need is a tall glass of vodka.
#37: Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004 – "Choose To Vote"
Jessica Simpson can't sing or dance worth a damn, and she was joined in this clowncar of a show by Kid Rock, Nelly, Ocean of Soul, Spirit of Houston, P. Diddy, and Justin Timberlake.
The caterwauling of Kid Rock, who is neither a kid, nor performs rock, over generic riffs proclaiming himself a Cowboooooooyyyy is an image that will haunt me forever.
Even Janet Jackson wasn't enough to save this halftime show with her impressive dancing. Then came Justin Timberlake's legendarily terrible white boy dancing, capped with that moment.
All the money in the league couldn't buy this terrible half-time show competence. the NFL's timid pursuit of the trailer trash "cowboy" demographic was baffling – NFL, you ALREADY had their money and attention.
#36: Super Bowl XXI, 1987 – World of Hollywood presented by Walt Disney
Come with me, and you'll see, a world of pure imagination.
I did not expect to see Mr George Burns say "Pretty girl, a little too old for me" as Snow White drifted away (timestamp: 0:55). While smoking a cigar.
Big ostentatious marching band fever infected Disney's production again in this baffling salute to the film industry, replete with balloon arches and huge clouds of balloons filling the sky. Even an appearance by The Lone Ranger couldn't save the show. The rendition of Ghost Riders In The Sky was truly haunting.
Then Alvin and The Chipmunks showed up with Goofy. And broke out Footloose.
Just baffling, the professionalism and massive production, but paired with an absolute awful opening segment. Take me away, Mickey Rooney, I cannot bear this halftime show any longer.
#35: Super Bowl XVII, 1983 – KaleidoSUPERscope
No video was accessible. Good.
#34: Super Bowl XVIII, 1984 – Disney Half Time Show
Wild fireworks and confetti punctuated this Walt Disney production that I somehow enjoyed more than earlier entries. I hate it, but still. Gotta give the performers credit for singing in character.
#33: Super Bowl XIV, 1985 – The US Air Force presents World of Children's Dreams
... bad songs, with vocalists who sound like that off-key lady at church. At least they had floats! And dancing! and fireworks! We Are The Pirates is no kidding, a bop.
Rising platforms! A flying astronaut! Pyrotechnics!
... but it has a circus segment with clowns. That endangered the health of its performers on rickety platforms. And it was presented by and performed by the US Air Force. And the show caps with the unfurling of a huge flag as the band wails away This Is My Country.
#32: Super Bowl XX, 1986 – Up With People
600 dorks involved in this one. They figured out how to make the stage flash different colors in this one, and the image of 600 people running out of the stage is absolutely iconic, like the stampede from the time I busted a fart in a crowded elevator.
The Beat Of The Future, indeed.
It's bad, but not quite as bad as their first appearances, mainly because they ditched the terrible 60s themes.
Unfortunately, they broke out Born In The USA and mixed it into The Power of Love. The show never quite recovered from it, going from one 80s jam to another, even dredging up Footloose. And followed it with Jammin'.
The milquetoast dedication to MLK only made this cavalcade of 80s white hits cringier, in an era where the US was still engaging in redlining, ghettoization, and destroying historical black communities, and widespread police brutality against Black people was the open rule.
#31: Super Bowl XXVI, 1992 – Winter Magic by Disney
Bowl 26 marked the last of the marching band field shows. It assaulted the ears with really bad rap in a desperate attempt to appeal to youths, "showcased" the US Olympic Winter Olympic medallists on tiny stages topped with a tiny bit of ice, to the tune of One Moment In Time. It's a wonder nobody died.
Then there's the massacre of Don't Stop Me Now. Champions? My ass.
But at least it had a rising Old Frost rising statue and a rising hydraulic platform, so all's good, I guess?
Gloria Estefan showed up for two abbreviated songs.
#30: Super Bowl XXXI, 1997 – Blues Brothers Bash
I hate Illinois Nazis. I lowkey hate this performance, which makes the film worse.
Everybody Needs Somebody croons Jim Belushi as the trio rasped, danced, and hummed through this weird set. Soul Man was peppered with pelvic thrusts, marking the beginning of the Sexy Singers era of the Super Bowl.
James Brown and ZZ Top turned in the expected performances: competent, but not exciting, ZZ Top looking for all the world like a Duck Dynasty dork.
#29: Super Bowl XXIII, 1989 – Elvis Presto
An Elvis voice impersonator who does magic tricks is one of the weirdest shticks you can come up with, and paired with the largest field-filling ensemble yet, is a complete audio and visual assault on your senses, including cards under the thousands of seats.
The ol' sawing-a-woman-in-half trick appears with a twist, as does the ol' classic teleportation trick. But the greatest trick? Making twelve minutes just disappear.
I couldn't stop watching this absolutely strange show even as my eyeballs and eardrums melted.
#28: Superbowl XXII, 1988 – The Rockettes
44 dancers, 88 grand pianos, and 400 member swing band.
You know how your dad had that annoying friend who would come over and jam? Well, imagine that, but louder. So very loud.
I couldn't find anything specific to like or hate about this performance. It's just.... something that happened, I guess?
#27: Super Bowl XXIV, 1990 – Peanuts and Irena
This trainwreck of tie-ins and merchandising features way too much Dixie nostalgia for a series born in St Paul, Minnesota. This was the second worst of the 90s Super Bowl productions, and we're counting the "all-children" one.
The terrible costumes given to the Peanuts characters was just.... bad. Poor Lucy fared the worst, with a visage that screamed for the sweet mercies of the elder gods to release her mortal soul. An animated overlayed Woodstock was murdered by a trombone. Schroeder limply bashed away at his mini piano while Irena Thomas called for bowl-goers to gather on the other side. Linus flailed for help with a blanket while the stage was transformed into a steam-powered riverboat that kept transforming into a multi-decked monstrosity, complete with moving paddlewheels and mechanical moving rails.
Country music is bad, y'all.
I had initially pegged this in the bottom 10 but after viewing all the Super Bowl half-time shows, it really isn't the worst yet.
#26: Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000 – Disney Millennium Celebration
Phil Collins goes ham on live vocals while the orchestra reprises a pre-recorded performance in this short, cyberhopeful production. It's a well-lit, and narrated audiovisual
#25: Super Bowl XXXII, 1998 – Motown 40th Celebration
Boyz II Men, Queen Latifah, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, AND The Temptations put in an appearance with slow jams. Despite all the effort, the crowd was mostly dead silent, the crowd only coming alive for the grande finale – a hella sweet rendition of Dancing In The Street that's now my ringtone, I'm ashamed to report.
Boring stage design, slow bops, and lack of flash date this production. One can't help but imagine what might have been if these performers had access to 2020 technology.
#24: Superbowl XXXVII, 2003 – Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting
A strong duet performance by Sting and No Doubt of Sending Out An SOS was haunting, but the solo performances preceding it were much weaker. Mercifully, this show was short, and simple.
#23: Super Bowl LIII, 2019 – Maroon 5
Love has indeed taken its toll, and I have no love for the what-a-maroons five, having heard their torturous tunes at work every single day for three years in a row. Travis Scott and Big Boi spent more time getting blanked to conform with FCC standards than performing.
Yet this musical mess is still better than a solid half of all Super Bowl performances.
The large shadow looming over the show is the legacy of Kaepernick, who was blackballed by all 32 team owners for daring to quietly and respectfully protest the "patriotic" display and celebrations of the military-industrial engine. Fifty one years after MLK was assassinated, America remains as divided and unjust as ever.
All the money of the NFL couldn't buy it a dignified performance. And that's the story of how the unlikely spawn of sentient mayonnaise and a bootleg RHCP cassette performed at the Super Bowl.
#22: Super Bowl XXX, 1996 – Diana Ross
Diana has a magnificent set of pipes and incredible sense of style, all of which came off poorly in this medley of her best selling songs. With the then-largest release of balloons at a concert, an enormous stage, pyrotechnics, and really good camera work, it's a shame that the queen was so badly done by.
The Half-Time show was still addicted to massive on-field flexes of dancers and marchers even in 1996. I give this performance four peppers. Ms Ross finally encountered a mountain high enough – the Super Bowl Half Time Show.
The sole saving grace of this concert is I Will Survive, which is raised to amazing heights with frentic camerawork and Diana going full ham on vocals.
#21: Super Bowl XXIX,1995 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
Transforming stages! High production values! Headliners!
Maybe the most expensive live-action ad from Disney, this entire themed performance promoted the new Indiana Jones Adventure opening later that year.
Parachuting performers punctuated this performance to start the Indy Temple Raider segment, which was topped with lighting a performer on fire.
But then they dragged out poor Tony Bennett to howl Desert Caravan. Another segment of the Indy show, and a final round of songs finished the half-time show. This weird cross-promotion could easily slip into today's cultural juggernaut Fortnite. It was good, I guess.
#20: Super Bowl XXVIII, 1994 – Travis Tritt, Clink Black, Tanya Tucker, Wynonna and Naomi Judd
One of the first night shows at the Super Bowl, this performance featured actual headlining country stars. And filled the field with dancers. High production values, smoke machines would have elevated this to a top tier performance... if it wasn't country.
#19: Super Bowl XXVII, 1993 – Michael Jackson
The King of Pop (and, according to Leaving Neverland, kiddie diddling) put on the first modern Super bowl concert with panache, kicking off with Billie Jean, and following up with Black or White.
... Heal The World comes off a bit weird in retrospect. The huge co-ordinated wave across the entire stadium as nearly everybody raised a designated placard above their head to form old-school JPEGs.
The co-ordination of music to pyrotechnics began in earnest here.
#18: Super Bowl XXXIII, 1999 – Daddy Voodoo, Stevie Wonder, and Gloria Estafan
Go, Daddy-O is a jam that's hard to not enjoy, with fireworks to bookend it. Stevie Wonder's appearance hypes this concert to new levels. Top-notch costuming (well, for the 90s) is an exclamation point on this banger.
At one point, Stevie gets up to tap-dance, to the delight of the audience.
Gloria Estafan redeemed herself with a glorious performance on a moving stage, channeling her latina roots before ascending to the main stage for Turn It Upside Down.
It's a tightly choregraphed tour-de-force and remains one of the absolute best performances in Super Bowl history.
#17: Super Bowl XLV, 2011 – The Black Eyed Peas
A massive, seizure-inducing production, with a decent performance ruined by the world's most incompetent sound technician, this production has achieved a massive level of internet notoriety in recent years.
I absolutely loathe this band but it's hard to fault their performance, especially after the brain damage sustained from watching 40 years of halftime shows.
Imagine being the dork-ass sound technician and having this follow you for the rest of your professional career. This performance pretty much bookended the career of The Black Eyed Peas. And even though this was the worst performance of the 2010s, it was still better than the 80s and 90s.
#16: Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005 – Paul McCartney
"Live and let die" implored Paul as the stage changed colors around him in one his most competent performances of his career. Watching the elder Beatle work the crowd is a masterclass; the entire stadium erupts into song during Hey Jude as he falls silent, crescendoing into a firework finale with him playing the hell out of the piano.
It was a simple, straightforward showcase of the venerable artist's repertoire, with the excess of the previous bowls wiped away, and only the faintest of hints that it was the era of Windows Media Player and AOL.
#15: Super Bowl XXXV, 2001 – Aerosmith/NSYNC, with Britney Spears
A Steve Tyler past his prime channeled massive young energy to deliver a venerable performance backed by NYSNC, with a fusion dance that drew in Britney Spears and Mary Blije and Nelly to make a voltron of a live collab Walk This Way.
The crowd vibed electric.
It was short, it was sweet, it was Halftime.
There were hitches – a NSYNC member had to be nudged into place by a backup dancer – and the stage was far too small to allow much movement, but NYSNC managed to deliver a dance performance that was great despite it.
This was a really difficult to rank Super Bowl Show; I spent several hours agonizing over its placement, and I look forward to reading your 6000 word essays excoriating me over my final decision.
#14: Super Bowl XL, 2006 – The Rolling Stones
The geriatric rockers turned in one of their typical performances; a shriveled Mick Jagger bouncing through Start Me Up, ripping down to a t-shirt and jeans at the end of Rough Justice to reveal a surprisingly ripped body for a someone approaching retirement age, turning into a human jellyfish midway through (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.
The new era of the Halftime Show was now truly christened. But, the best was yet to come.
#13: Super Bowl XLIX, 2015 – Katy Perry
Katy Perry didn't just have a halftime show: she had a super-sized show that felt like an acid trip viewing of Blade Runner and The Hunger Games. Technically a marvel, the show didn't quite live up to Katy's full potential. Maybe next time?
#12: Super Bowl XLII, 2008 – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Of course it was Tom Petty to deliver the only great country performance in the history of the Super Bowl, in an emotional concert that set that included American Girl, I Won't Back Down, Free Fallin', and Runnin' Down A Dream. It wasn't a Tom Petty concert at a halftime show, more a football game sandwiched around a Tom Petty show.
#11: Super Bowl XLII, 2018 – Justin Timberlake
What does Justin Timberlake bring to the bowl? Vibrant set design and the smoothest white boy dancing. And the fashion sensibility of Nacho Vergas. And lots of dubstep. Which is dope if you like the dub.
The peak of his show is when he drags a full giant brass band to the field and dances on a white platform with a microphone stand.
But then he had the sheer caucasity to perform over a project image of Prince on a giant curtain. "Two fingers in the air for Prince tonight" beseeches Justin. I raise two fingers – my middle fingers.
#10: Super Bowl XLVI, 2012 – Madonnna
Madonna invades the 2010s in a massive collab featuring guest performances by LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M. I. A, and Cee Lo Green.
The show kicks off with Queen Madonna invading the stadium with her... Roman army in an impressive set of choreographed songs on stage that made every previous one look lilliputian by comparison. She dances, she sings, and glides across a grandstand flanked by dancers who were one step away from disaster. We have no choice but to stan this insanely over the top, death-defying performance. (Also, please, never do it again.)
The worst segment of the show – the appearance by a be-sequined LMFAO - is thankfully short.
Madonna channels Mars Argo in her third song – a collab with Nicki Minaj, who references Conan the Barbarian thrice in her rap segment.
Her collab with Cee Lo Green bridges two sets of guest performers – a marching drum band and a sizeable choir in one of the most interesting homecoming performances by the pop sensation.
#9: Super Bowl XLIV, 2010 – The Who
Lasers, amazing stage design, and virtuoso performance from a band that somehow became better as geriatrics than they were in their youth. Perhaps the greatest performance of their entire career – and one of the most expensive productions of the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
#8: Super Bowl XLIII, 2009 – The E Street Band
Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen gave this performance his all. Blustering like a Tennessee preacher, his stripped-down concert included a an entire southern church-style choir in the most fun jam session of Rock Band ever, replete with a banter segment poking gentle fun at the time limits, and an incredible fireworks synchronization.
#7: Super Bowl 50, 2016 – Coldplay
Coldplay's performance was brilliant, meshing a youth orchestra into the Coldplay stoner hymns Viva la Vida, and Paradise. Then, a guest performance from the Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars roadshow, busting out the multiplatinum hit Uptown Funk capped with a Beyoncé appearance and Formation that turned right back into Uptown Funk to the delight of pretty much everyone.
The broadcast edition layered clips from the previous 20 years of performances over a Fix You / Up and Up medley.
Not a fan of daylight productions. But on this one, Coldplay and the gang were bright as the sun.
#6: Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002 – U2
U2 brought their legendary A-game with a beautiful concert that brought the crowd to tears – and to singing along to Beautiful Day. A top-tier concert with no pyrotechnics, just voice and lights. Behind them, a massive curtain acted as a rolling memorial for the thousands who died in the terrorist attack on 2001/9/11. Capping off with Where The Streets Have No Name, it was – and remains – one of the most emotionally charged concerts of all time.
#5: Super Bowl LI, 2017 – Lady Gaga
Wirework, flaming hoops, and a relatively restrained stage mark the best performance by a white artist at the Super Bowl as Lady Gaga belts out her best-known songs. Remotely-controlled LED lanterns dot the field in A Million Reasons. Pyrotechnics blaze through Bad Romance. While the set changes weren't as impressive as the heights set by Katy, Lady Gaga shows why she's the (white) songstress supreme in a show spectacular.
#4: Super Bowl XLVII, 2013 – Beyoncé
There will never a be a super bowl game worthy of Beyoncé, one the greatest living performing artists.
Surrounded by her coterie of dancers, Beyoncé brings the house downby singing, dancing, twerking, and growling through an absolutely perfect set. Then when you think she's hit peak, she turns one side of the stage a vertical digital canvas that explodes into light.
Her rendition of the Charlie's Angels Theme deserves all the airtime – but she manages to top it with Single Ladies.
Visually it was one of the most inventive of the shows of the HD era, and one that will still prove difficult to top in the years to come.
#3: Super Bowl XLVIII, 2014 – Bruno Mars
Words fail to describe the sheer awesome overload that is the Bruno Mars Experience, featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you sold time machine trips, this is probably the performance that I would go to, time and time again. And again. Bruno Mars is a god. I would die for Bruno.
#2: Super Bowl LIV, 2020 – Shakira and J. Lo
The single best-produced show with incredible camera work, the 54th edition of the Super Bowl features Shakira laying down the law in an anthemic series of bops that she twerks, twirls, spins, dives, slides, and kicks through, in Español and in English.
In an impressive showing that puts pretty much everyone to shame, J. Lo's hips keep up with Shakira as she twerks, dances on and off poles, clambers human pyramids, as the horniness level of the show reaches an incredible crescendo.
It was a very, very anime performance that culminates in a final medley that starts with a giant Puerto Rico flag (note: Puerto Rico still hasn't received aid for the devastation of 2018, let alone 2019) and ends with Shakira and J.Lo ascending on a platform.
Top notch costume design, wide open lit-up stage, it was the perfect dance performance and I will fight whoever says otherwise.
#1: Super Bowl XLI, 2007 – Prince
The moment everyone had waited for.
Prince's 2007 epic extravaganza channeled the power of forty years of his contemporaries and predecessors, bending genres and space-time itself. As the rain fell, Prince danced, sang, and summoned the spirit of bowls past in a synthesized fever dream.
During the 80s medley, the field filled with a neon-strip clad marching band reaching euphoria. Then he danced and played his electric through The Best of You, a Foo Fighters banger released just years prior.
As the water fell from the skies, Prince led the stadium in a performance of Purple Rain, growing to a giant size silhouette on a billowing curtain during his guitar solo segment.
Delivered in crisp HD, this legendary performance cemented Prince's status as the greatest American singer of all time.