There are two kinds of Super Bowl watchers: the ones that watch for the game and the ones that watch for the halftime show.
But, every now and then, a halftime show comes along that is so electrifying, it definitively overshadows the actual sporting event. A good halftime show has the power to transcend barriers, unite viewers all over the world, and make, break, or revitalize a career (no pressure, Rihanna). These shows also light up the internet with memes and takes (see: left shark).
This is by no means a comprehensive list. But below, in no particular order, are some of the most memorable performances to grace the football field. Actual football performances not included.
For Super Bowl XLI, the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears braved the pouring rain and driving winds (Colts won 29-17). But Prince fought those same elements while playing a live electric guitar, a pretty metal move considering water and electricity are a dangerous combination.
Unfazed, Prince set a high bar for halftime shows. He started with Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and transitioned into his own “Let’s Go Crazy,” eventually bringing the stadium down with “Purple Rain.” Watching him shred on his signature Prince symbol guitar in the pouring rain instantly became an iconic sight and solidified Prince’s status as one of the best performers of all time.
Coldplay, Bruno Mars, and Beyoncé but really just Beyoncé (2016)
Wait, the 2016 halftime show was headlined by Coldplay? We forgot because Beyoncé’s special guest appearance completely stole the show. First Bruno Mars crashed the stage with “Uptown Funk,” to which Beyoncé responded by storming the field with her perfectly synchronized backup dancers, performing “Formation.”
Wearing a military-style getup, a nod to Michael Jackson’s halftime show outfit, Bey strutted to the stage and slayed (sorry) in a dance-off with Bruno Mars. By the time Coldplay’s Chris Martin came back to the front, even he seemed to realize this was Beyoncé’s moment.
Katy Perry (2015)
(Stefon(Opens in a new tab) voice) This show had everything: a giant lion puppet, a historic viral moment, inspired guest appearances, ample costume changes, and a shooting star. The 2015 halftime show may be best remembered for the left shark, but Katy Perry also put on a hell of a show. Perry came riding in the lion, then passed it off to Lenny Kravitz singing “I Kissed a Girl.”
Then the left shark captivated the internet with its blasé dance moves. Through it all, Perry brought strong energy and impressively sang live. By the time Perry brought on Missy Elliot who performed “Work It” and “Lose Control,” we knew this halftime show was one for the record books. Perry capped it all off by singing “Firework” as she was lifted up onto a shooting star. Bravo.
Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent (2022)
In the comments of the official recording, one YouTuber said, “This is not just a concert, this is also a history class,” which sums it up pretty well. Rapper and producer Dr. Dre’s influence on hip hop can’t be overstated. He’s credited with launching the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and many others. And during the 2022 halftime show he brought his famous friends to the stage for a legendary performance.
The “history lesson” started with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg performing “The Next Episode” and “California Love.” The show played off the West Coast vs. East Coast rivalry with New York native 50 Cent rapping “In Da Club,” while hanging upside down. Then Mary J. Blige belted out “Family Affair” and “No More Pain,” followed by Kendrick Lamar delivering powerful renditions of “m.A.A.d City” and “Alright,” and Eminem giving everyone goosebumps with “Lose Yourself.” Dre even fit in a tribute to 2Pac. The show closed out with everyone on stage performing “Still D.R.E.” A perfect close to a celebration of Dre and historic hip hop moments.
Diana Ross (1996)
Pyrotechnics, mass-coordinated dance routines, and costume changes are de rigueur for halftime shows these days. But not only was Diana Ross the first to do it, her performance still holds up today. Ross performed a medley of some of her biggest hits including “Baby Love” and “Stop in the Name of Love” with her signature smile. Then, in the middle of singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” her gold cape spread across the entire stage as she rose on a scarily high platform. Then, the platform descended and she covered a banger version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Up until this point, Ross’s performance was solid, but what happened next proves she is the ultimate diva queen. Ross casually said “Oh, here comes my ride,” as a helicopter literally came to pick up. She sat on the edge of the chopper and waved to the crowd as it ferried her away, legs still dangling from the open helicopter door. That’s how you make an exit.