MMM Top Ten: The 10 Greatest Super Bowl Halftime Shows of All Time

Regardless of what your opinion normally is on expensive, over-the-top performances, it’s hard not to get caught up in the glitz and glam of the yearly Super Bowl halftime spectacle. This year, the honor of performing went to Rihanna, whose performance may not go down as one of the all-time greats, but deserves credit for reminding us of her seemingly endless supply of great hits, and for further heightening excitement for her long, long-awaited ninth album. Below are the 10 greatest halftime performances of all time.

#10. Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent & Kendrick Lamar

Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus

No one who watched the 2022 halftime show live will ever forget the sheer joy that was watching one superstar after another seemingly arise into view from nowhere – be it Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg arising from within the stage or 50 Cent being revealed to be hanging upside down underneath the stage floor. There’s always a risk with a performance like this – that tries to pack in so many features from so many greats – that it ends up disjointed, but the stars ultimately played off each other’s strengths expertly.

#9. Coldplay ft. Beyonce, Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson

Photo Credit: Reuters

If this list was ranking what halftime performance had the best vibes, Coldplay’s performance featuring Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Mark Ronson would surely top it. Chris Martin, ever the everyman, begins his performance standing on the field – not on the stage – as the crowd rushed in around him before he rips into his biggest hits. Out of nowhere, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars pop up to perform “Uptown Funk” – one of the best hit songs of this century thus far. Soon, Beyoncé joins – first to perform “Formation” and then to join in on “Uptown Funk.” Beyoncé, Martin, and Mars stride towards the camera huddling together, grooving with this beat, before Beyoncé pushes the camera leftwards to reveal the ecstatic crowd. Rarely do halftime performers seem like they’re having quite this much fun.

#8. Shakira & Jennifer Lopez

Photo Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

A month after Jennifer Lopez and Shakira graced the half-time stage in 2020, life as we knew it would cease to exist overnight. How lucky we were that one of the last major live music performances before the pandemic was this showstopper and not, say, the depressingly underwhelming Maroon 5 performance from the year earlier. Between J Lo’s grand entrance, the fantastic dance routines, the costume changes, and crowd-surfing, it was more than just a great performance – it served as an ongoing reminder during lockdown of what we were missing and what we could look forward to seeing on the other side.

#7. Bruce Springsteen

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire

There is so much lust for life in the songs of Bruce Springsteen, just as there is in their creator himself – who took the halftime stage in 2009 just months away from turning 60 and proceeded to casually throw a guitar across the stage, jump atop a piano, knee slide into a cameraman and belt out a performance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” within five minutes. Assisted by the iconic E Street Band and an ecstatic crowd, the indefatigable American icon sought to remind everyone what it means to live and to perform with every fiber of one’s being, and in the process reminded us who was still Boss.

#6. Madonna

Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters

A year before Beyoncé (a.k.a. Queen B) would take the Super Bowl stage, Madonna had her turn and used it to remind the world that she will always be the queen of pop; entering the stage sitting on a gold throne. The rest of the performance felt like a fever dream – an “I’m Sexy and I Know It” collab with LMFAO, a painful-looking tightrope dance routine from a male dancer, and a delightfully surprising cameo from trailblazer M.I.A. It was a loud, ostentatious spectacle, and who would have wanted it any other way

#5. Lady Gaga

Photo Credit: Anthony Behar / SIPA USA

If anyone was born to perform at the Super Bowl it was Lady Gaga – who nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, remains the greatest performer that the era has introduced. When it finally happened in 2017, she didn’t disappoint – arriving atop the ceiling in front of projected blue and red stars performing God Bless America and This Land Is Our Land. After being lowered from the sky, she cycled through megahits like “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” to LGBTQ+ anthem “Born This Way” and the spectacular power ballad “Million Reasons” while making the whole thing seem inexplicably effortless.

#4. Beyoncé

Photo Credit: Reuters

By the time Beyoncé performed at the Super Bowl in 2013, her status at the very highest echelon of pop music was undisputed, yet the performance still felt like her coronation as Queen B – and she made sure to fit the ceremony will all the requisite pomp and circumstance – from being surrounded by fire to her fellow Destiny’s Child members quite literally shooting out of the ground.

#3. Michael Jackson

Photo Credit: Al Messerschmidt

When Michael Jackson rises from the bottom of the halftime stage at the start of his 1993 performance, he stands silent for almost an entire minute. You sense that he had planned to begin performing immediately, only to realize that the sheer noise of the crowd applause would submerge his voice. Everything about his staggering performance – that saw him moonwalk across the stage as he sang “Billie Jean,” “Black or White” and “Heal The World” – was a testament to how immensely revered he was among the crowd. High-cost production antics were replaced by powerful gestures – like all crowd members holding colored placards that revealed illustrations of children around the world – that demanded active participation from nearly everyone in the stadium.

#2. U2

Photo Credit: Caulfield/WireImage & KMazur/WireImage 

U2’s 2002 Super Bowl performance doesn’t rank very highly based on production value, surprise factor, choreography, or even sheer number of songs (the band only performed two in their entirety). But the reason it earns a place on this, and on so many other, best lists is because of the context of which it occurred. Occurring just months after the 9/11 attacks, it arrived at a time when America’s future felt more perilous than it had at any other point post-WWII. The Bono-led rock band briefly brought together a nervous America with more grace, skill, and heart than anyone could have reasonably expected – displaying a rolling list of all the victims’ names throughout the performance. Towards the end, the list ends and is pulled down and Bono reveals the inside of his jacket to be adorned with the American flag. U2’s simple tribute to the victims was a testament to a country’s indomitable spirit and determination to move forward.

#1. Prince

Photo Credit: SIPA USA

Prince knew how to dominate a stage, and he knew how to do it alone – without the grand theatrics and production value that usually accompany Super Bowl halftime performances. Prince’s 2007 performance was hardly a low-key affair, but it is striking that for much of his performance, it’s just him at guitar, a few dancers performing a muted routine, and a small backing band far back on the stage. That it’s still rightly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, halftime performances ever is a testament to Prince’s effortless, unrivaled stage presence. During his performance of “Purple Rain” in the pouring rain, a giant flowing sheet shot up; turning Prince into a gigantic shadowy figure looming over the crowd – a fitting stunt for a performer who always seemed larger than life.

Written by: Tom Williams

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