After the recent spectacle put on by Maroon 5, Travis Scott, and Big Boi at the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show, I took a moment to think back on past halftime performances over the years. Out of all the shows since 1993, where does this act stack up? Prior to ‘93, halftime shows were performed by college marching bands – but the decision to exclusively feature live concert-type performances by the top musical artists of the time changed pop culture forever. Ever since, there has been a rollercoaster of quality within these flamboyant shows. Some are amazing, and others are complete disasters. Either way, all of the performances can be undeniably ranked – including the top best and worst ones since that history-cementing day in 1993.
TOP 5 WORST SHOWS
5. Jessica Simpson, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Kid Rock, P. Diddy, Nelly, the Spirit of Houston from the University of Houston, and the Ocean of Soul of Texas Southern University marching bands (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004)
There’s only one thing from this show that held it back from a place on the best five… and his name is Kid Rock. Not only were his MULTIPLE costume changes all increasingly atrocious, his set just didn’t fit in with the rest of the pop/hip-hop lineup. This performance also served up the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake “nip slip,” which has ruined the extremely talented Jackson’s chances of performing at the Super Bowl ever again in her lifetime. This show was so close to earning a ranking on the best-performance list, but instead came up just short of the finish line.
4. The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Slash, Dallas/Ft. Worth-area high school drill teams and dancers (Super Bowl XLV, 2011)
We thought we had found out Fergie couldn’t sing at the NBA All-Star Game in 2018, but it turns out this had been established seven years earlier in Arlington, Texas at Super Bowl XLV. Throughout the entire performance, I questioned what convinced will.i.am, Taboo, and apl.de.ap to choose Fergie as their leading female vocalist. She even managed to make Slash’s axe-wielding skills seem sub-par due to her lack of vocal control. Sadly, this show was not as glamorous as we wished it would have been.
3. Blues Brothers, ZZ Top, James Brown (Super Bowl XXXI, 1997)
Yes, we get it, the Blues Brothers were riding off of a high after going from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch to a popular movie franchise, but I don’t think anyone wanted to listen to Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and John Goodman sing the blues for five minutes. James Brown’s portion of the show was decent, and gave audiences a soulful theme to follow up with after the mess the Brothers left. Most of the performances on this list have varying musical ranges, but ZZ Top’s inclusion in this year’s show was one of the worst, veering sharply from the genre of the performers seconds before them. Not to mention, the sound mixing was off from the beginning of the show, but the Blues Brothers and James Brown managed to make it seem more polished. Unfortunately, ZZ Top did not, as the lag in sound was quite obvious and made their lyricism very unclear. Had you not been familiar with the group’s music, it would have been very difficult to follow along.
2. Phil Collins, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton (Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000)
Let’s just say, Disney really tried to go for it in the first year of the new millenium. The “Tapestry of Nations” theme they had going on was too much, especially when Edward James Olmos came out of the woodwork to narrate between performances. This show had the potential to kick off the 2000’s with a bang, but the disappointment it brought instead just dug itself in the depths of bad halftime shows. I mean, Phil Collins and Toni Braxton on one stage? Disney really had the ball in their court. Instead, they had a complete airball by having all four artists sing new original songs specifically with the show’s theme in mind. Would we have all preferred Collins and Enrique Iglesias singing “Two Worlds” and “You’ll Be in My Heart,” or to hear Toni and Aguilera’s dueling vibratos in “He Wasn’t Man Enough?” Yes! Did we get it? Sadly, we were denied the chance, and were instead given 12 minutes of confusion and false hope.
Dishonorable Mentions: Madonna (Super Bowl XLVI, 2012), Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Queen Latifah (Super Bowl XXXII, 1998), Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005), Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (Super Bowl XLII, 2008), Coldplay (Super Bowl L, 2016)
1. Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi (Super Bowl LIII, 2019)
There are SO MANY reasons why this sole performance takes the cake as the worst halftime show to date. The biggest was the trap of the Spongebob clip to introduce Travis Scott onto the stage. Millions of people, myself included, had signed petitions for the NFL to play “Sweet Victory” from “Spongebob Squarepants.” All evidence seemed to point that our dreams would come to fruition on Feb 3. Much to our dismay, we were instead swindled by Roger Goodell and Mercedes-Benz Stadium into watching both a boring football game and halftime show with no “victory” after all. Not to mention, Scott did not have the support of autotune or one of America’s favorite Canadians, Drake, during his performance of “Sicko Mode.” Luckily, most of his performance was bleeped out.Big Boi was my favorite (and undecidedly best) part of the entire debacle, but he failed to make up for the earlier disappointment in Travis Scott’s introduction with an André 3000 appearance. Just a short Outkast reunion would have made up for the entire show for many hip-hop fans. As for Maroon 5 themselves, their music is not a selection I would consider ‘Super Bowl-relevant’. The one song out of their entire repertoire that would’ve worked at the Super Bowl is “Girls Like You,” mainly because of the feature from rapper Cardi B. However, she declined a spot in the show to take a stand with Colin Kaepernick (who is being blackballed by the NFL), so Adam Levine and crew had to perform the song with no guest verse. I believe that skipping this year’s halftime show, as well as the game, would not have been a total loss.
TOP 5 BEST SHOWS
5. Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott, and the Arizona State University Sun Devil Marching Band (Super Bowl XLIX, 2015)
If not for the “Left Shark” memes alone, this show was definitely one of the greats, during what I would consider Katy Perry’s peak. Perry kicks off the show on a giant animatronic lion while wearing a dress reminiscent of a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to sing “Roar.” She then brings out Kravitz to man the six-string and help her out with a rocking rendition of “I Kissed a Girl.” Perry takes to the skies on ‘The More You Know’ shooting star logo, singing “Firework,” but not before she invites Missy Elliott onstage to perform “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” and “Lose Control.” Perry shared an unspoken message that it’s nice to share the spotlight once in a while. This show was a breath of fresh air for the bubblegum pop genre.
4. Diana Ross (Super Bowl XXX, 1996)
Diana Ross was the first solo female halftime performance, and she made sure networks wouldn’t regret it. She starts out the show descending from a platform in a sparkly red outfit, singing “Stop in the Name of Love” with a group of tuxedo-clad dancers behind her. Ross then goes through a medley of her biggest hits, including “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “I Will Survive.” You then start to realize that she’s changed her outfit for EVERY SONG. This set the precedent for every female after Ross who would perform at the Super Bowl (barring the next performer on our list). She makes sure to end the show like no other diva could, by having a helicopter land in the middle of the stadium, sitting on the ledge as it flies away while she sings “Take Me Higher.” This is definitely a show I won’t forget anytime soon.
3. Beyoncé (Super Bowl XLVII, 2013)
This show was AMAZING, from the graphics to the dancers. I only wish Queen Bey would have brought out hubby Jay-Z for “Crazy in Love” or Shakira for “Beautiful Liar.” I mean, having Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland come out for a Destiny’s Child reunion was a miracle, but I only wish they could have done more than partial verses of “Bootylicious” and “Independent Women, Part 1” before taking the sidelines on “Single Ladies.” They had the opportunity to do fantastic routines to some other iconic songs. Another thing I noticed was missing was a costume change by Beyoncé. All of the other females on this list each had at least one quick outfit change in between songs, but not our queen bee. Despite this, she gave a wonderful performance which sent a powerful message and beacon for change for female representation.
2. Michael Jackson (Super Bowl XXVII, 1993)
Just because he was the first, didn’t make it the best. This was obviously a history-making performance, and MJ was chosen to be the first to do so for a reason. It has been claimed to be one of the most watched events in American TV history, which isn’t very surprising considering that it was led by the King of Pop. MJ jumped out from behind the jumbotron, ready to moonwalk across the stage and blow us all away. This performance was really a test run for the networks, because they weren’t really sure how to broadcast a halftime show yet. You could definitely tell the audience was excited for the show, evident by the loud cheering that went on for THREE MINUTES before Jackson could even get a note out. That year, the Super Bowl took place in California, so they couldn’t create a spectacular light show to go along with Jackson’s performance. The set list could have been restructured in a way that highlighted some of his greatest hits. Per usual, Jackson managed to keep the crowd hyped up with “Billie Jean” and “Black or White.” Instead of the squeaky clean “We Are the World” with a children’s choir and “Heal the World,” he could have shown off his performing prowess by performing some of his classic material.
Honorable Mentions: Lady Gaga (Super Bowl LI, 2017), Aerosmith, Britney Spears, NSYNC, Mary J. Blige, Nelly (Super Bowl XXXV, 2001), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Super Bowl XLIII, 2009), U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002), Bruno Mars (Super Bowl XLVIII, 2014)
1. Prince, Florida A&M University Marching 100 Band (Super Bowl XLI, 2007)
Before you all begin to complain, no, this wasn’t the most grandiose performance. But that’s what makes it so special. It’s just Prince with four electric guitars, the marching band, and two dancers wearing eight-inch heels in the pouring “purple rain.” He starts the whole show off with the melody of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” before switching onto “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince then brings out the Florida A&M Marching Band for a tribute to the history of past halftime shows in a new arrangement of “Baby I’m a Star.” He then ends the show with what I consider the most beautiful performance of “Purple Rain,” complete with a final searing guitar solo by Prince. The show was simple and painstakingly beautiful, while showcasing the best of Prince’s talent. We only wish he were still with us to give us another performance as breathtakingly astounding as this one.
As we wait for next year’s Super Bowl and the announcement of its halftime performers, we must look back at performances past and lament on the creative genius – or lack of – in these shows. Knowing what we do and do not enjoy is useful not only to us, but to the networks who have the decision to select halftime performers. Speaking out about which performances we loved or hated gives networks the opportunity to anticipate what kind of show audiences would prefer for the next year. I know I’ll be waiting to hear every single rumor of next year’s potential headliner, and predict the turnout.
Did you agree/disagree with these rankings? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
My name is Jamani Reed (JUH-MON-EE, not JU-MON-GEE), and this is my third year on the 42Fifty staff. At school, I'm involved in BIONIC, WE Club, OATS, and Scholastic Bowl. Outside of school, I work at Culver's and Chick-Fil-A, and play piano. I enjoy reading, hanging out with friends, and watching/playing sports.