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The Best and Worst Super Bowl Halftime Performances

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While they may say that baseball is the American pastime, we’re going to go ahead and submit that football is the true sport of God-fearing Americans everywhere. Sure, baseball has spitting, the 7th inning stretch, and nachos, but there’s something about football that transcends all that amazing stuff. It could be the increased violence or the neat-o uniforms, but regardless of all that, we’ll just assume it has to do with the fact that football has more of the total entertainment package. Plus, football’s the only sport that melds so brilliantly with rocking tunes and a dash of theatricality. And the pinnacle of that relationship can be seen each year during the Super Bowl: At no other time during the football season are as many big name acts involved and stops removed in order to give the gridiron’s acolytes the best 15 minutes ever. But like the ebb and flow of wins and losses, there’s good and bad halftime shows. And we do mean bad.

The following list is just a sampling of the rich history of halftime shows in the Super Bowl’s 48 year history. Some of them have been monuments to the artists’ careers, while others would have been better left to the cutting room floor. There’s been boatloads of patriotism, cartoon characters galore, crooners and rockers one and all, and moments of sheer hilarity and soul-crushing embarrassment not seen outside of a high school prom. Enjoy what we think has clearly defined the Super Bowl from its inception, and feel free to leave your own moments in the comment section.

– Chris Coplan
News Editor

The Best

Michael Jackson – Super Bowl XXVII

The Super Bowl XXVII halftime show marked the first time a major solo artist was showcased, and its ratings eclipsed those of the game itself. The artist in question? None other than Michael Jackson. Lip syncing aside, MJ danced and stormed through a killer medley (“Jam,” Billie Jean” and “Black or White”) and a rendition of “Heal The World” alongside a choir of 3,500+ children, the latter of whom also sang “We Are The World.” Jackson delivered a superbly choreographed spectacle to 90.99 million viewers and raised the bar to a level that only a few have subsequently managed to live up to. “The King of Pop,” indeed. -Justin Park

U2 – Super Bowl XXXVI

It was only five months after 9/11, and the nation was only starting to creep towards the “I think we’re allowed to go back to normal” phase of our collective activities. But this halftime show, which could have been doused in pro-American rah rah rah,  proved powerful, genuine, and effective as U2 played a rousing rendition of “Where The Streets Have No Name”. I think it’s the only time you can’t get snarky about Bono, or the fact that the song choice seems … misguided. But the grandiosity of the performance coupled with the solemn scrolling of names makes for one memorable show. – Jeremy Larson

Paul McCartney – Super Bowl XXXIX

Unlike many other artists who have played the Super Bowl, Paul McCartney’s setlist wasn’t full of medleys, and his stage was relatively modest when compared to other years (no trap doors and ancient temples for this legend). Instead, Macca went out and played a short, standard set of Beatles and Wings hits, and the result was as explosive as one would expect. “Drive My Car” and “Get Back” saw McCartney begin an aggressive move up the field, but the eruption of fireworks during the climax of “Live and Let Die” was the move that nabbed the cute Beatle the winning touchdown. Closing up the proceedings with possibly the greatest singalong ever, “Hey Jude” was the field goal that cemented McCartney’s name as one of halftime’s true elite. -Joe Marvilli

Prince – Super Bowl XLI

Soaked in rain may have been the only way the nearly 75,000 sports fans at Super Bowl XLI should have experienced the halftime show, because what the Purple Yoda delivered was nothing short of a full-on baptism. As if watching him barrel through “We Will Rock You”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, and CCR’s “Proud Mary” wasn’t enough, Prince brought it down with “All Along the Watchtower” and a truly epic guitar solo on set closer “Purple Rain”, complete with a glowing marching band (courtesy of FAMU) and what seemed like a full-stadium sing-along. Did we mention that he did it wearing the silliest head wrap ever? -Ray Roa

Bruce Springsteen – Super Bowl XLIII

Forget eagles and apple pies; the Super Bowl is truly one of the most American institutions around. You know what’s even more American than sanctioned violence and multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, though? Bruce Springsteen. So, when The Boss took the field for Super Bowl XLIII’s halftime, he wasn’t just entertaining a crowd of sports enthusiasts; he was changing the halftime experience forever. He was a rocker, a rouser of spirits, an acrobat (peep his climb atop the piano), and so much more. From the opening chords of “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” to “Born To Run” and on into the ecstasy of “Glory Days”, Springsteen and his E Street Band picked up the religion of football and made those at home his followers, even for just 12 minutes. All hail The Boss. -Chris Coplan

The Worst

Magic Show – Super Bowl XXIII

So, this is an interactive magic show hosted by a character named Elvis Presto featuring music “from the 50’s!” like Mitch Ryder or The Stray Cats. Yup. Then, add hundreds of dancers who don’t really seem to be on the same page at all, several odd high school A/V club cutaways, and a poorly executed crowd-participation magic trick that confuses the living shit out of every person watching and participating. Oh, and the whole thing was in 3-D. Thanks, 1989! -Jeremy Larson

New Kids On The Block & Disney Characters – Super Bowl XXV

There’s a lot of things that cross through the mind of fans during the Super Bowl. Be it stats, pangs of disappointment, the heights of victory, or questioning how much avocado dip is left, we can say with almost total certainty that there’s at least one thing that most fans don’t think with even the most fleeting of thoughts: “Gee, I’d sure love to see those NKOTB boys right about now.” Yet for the glory that was Super Bowl XXV, that’s what they got. Whether it was the parade of children, the copious amounts of Disney characters, the dance moves, or just Donnie Wahlberg’s bucket hat (we don’t care if it was 1991), this performance is a strict reminder that football and pop music aren’t always the most marriageable of American institutions. -Chris Coplan

Indiana Jones, Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle, & Miami Sound Machine – Super Bowl XXIX

We can applaud the Super Bowl for being daring and all, but there comes a point where you have to question the decision-making process. For instance, the halftime show for Super Bowl XXIX. We don’t care who you are, Disney, but no one messes with Indiana Jones by hiring anyone but Harrison Ford to play the character in order to– and we can’t believe we’re writing this– steal the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. But not even the bastardization of America’s greatest archaeology professor could dampen performances from Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle, and the Miami Sound Machine. Until they all started singing “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from The Lion King. That sure explains the mystery of why video from this abomination doesn’t exist online. -Chris Coplan

*NSYNC, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler & Ben Stiller – Super Bowl XXXV

The Kings of Rock and Pop. Not a bad theme for a Super Bowl halftime show… in theory. *NSYNC and Aerosmith weren’t surprising choices as performers, considering the fan demand for No Strings Attached and Just Push Play, respectively. But to play together? Something about that just didn’t feel right. *NSYNC kicked off the show with “Bye Bye Bye”, with Aerosmith launching into their hit “Jaded” soon after. The two groups would come together for a not-so-stirring rendition of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” that you wanted to end just as soon as it started. Throw in Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Nelly, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller, and you have one huge clusterfuck of a performance that could have been so much more. That is, if no one present was involved. -Megan Caffery

Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, a breast, et all. – Super Bowl XXXVIII

This one will likely go down as the most infamous halftime show off all time– and it has nothing to do with the quality of performances. In fact, most people have probably forgotten that Kid Rock was there or that P. Diddy and Nelly ever even played a halftime show. What remains memorable is how this performance was responsible for MTV’s exclusion from all future Super Bowls, a nearly 1200% increase of the FCC’s indecency violation fines, and introducing the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” into the lexicon. The slipshod and over-crowded production value is all eclipsed by Ms. Jackson and Mr. Timberlake’s overtly sexual finale, culminating in his “accidentally” exposing her right breast. Oh yeah, and the theme was apparently “Rock the Vote.” What? – Ben Kaye

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