In recent years, Super Bowl halftime shows have become pyrotechnics-filled blockbuster extravaganzas, complete with couture costumes, phalanxes of dancers and cutting-edge technology. Here, a rundown of the most show-stopping spectacles in NFL history — many of which were more memorable than the games themselves!
#10: Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005)
Why it was amazing: Macca was seen as a safe choice after the controversial Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson set the year before — but never bet against a Beatle. This rollicking ride through McCartney’s first five decades in music started with two Beatles classics, “Drive My Car” and “Get Back,” before diving into Wings’ 1973 James Bond theme “Live and Let Die.” For the perfect finale, the entire crowd of 78,000 fans at Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium joined him on the chorus of “Hey Jude,” as they lifted red, white and blue placards that spelled out the “na-na-nas.” When Sir Paul shouts “I want to hear everybody in the world sing!” you have no choice but to obey.
Watch it here: Paul McCartney at Super Bowl XXXIX
#9: Lady Gaga (Super Bowl LI, 2017)
Why it was amazing: Following the bruising 2016 election, Lady Gaga started her performance standing on the roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium, singing a medley of “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land,” as 300 drones flew in the formation of the American flag in the night sky behind her. And then, to the surprise of millions, she jumped off and onto the stage below. OK, so that “jump” may have been prerecorded movie magic, but the energetic concert below was pure live Gaga, complete with a Swarovski-encrusted Versace jumpsuit, keytars, scores of dancers and Emmy-winning lighting design. She capped off the halftime in style, catching a football as she leapt off the stage.
Watch it here: Lady Gaga at Super Bowl LI
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#8: Katy Perry, featuring Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott and the Arizona State University Sun Devil Marching Band (Super Bowl XLIX, 2015)
Why it was amazing: Nobody does pop maximalism quite like the American Idol judge. The 2015 halftime show — the most watched of all time — was a candy-colored delight, with each song unfurling like a new scene in Wonderland. She rode in on a giant robotic lion as she sang “Roar,” danced with human-sized chess pieces during “Dark Horse,” dueted with Lenny Kravitz on “I Kissed a Girl” and entered a bubblegum world of cartoon sharks and beach balls for “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls.” After a critically lauded three-song interlude with rap hitmaker Missy Elliott, Perry rode off on a shooting star as she belted her 12x-platinum single “Firework.”
Watch it here: Katy Perry at Super Bowl XLIX
#7: Diana Ross (Super Bowl XXX, 1996)
Why it was amazing: Diana Ross, now 76, was one of the first halftime performers to take full advantage of the grandeur of the occasion. Her set included 10 songs from her solo career and her time with the Supremes, multiple costume changes, an enormous gospel choir, and hundreds of dancers spelling her name on the field. She made a grand entrance — descending to the stage on a sparkler-shooting crane while singing “Stop! In the Name of Love” — but it was her exit that was truly one for the history books: As she began singing her 1995 dance hit “Take Me Higher,” she looked up and said, “Oh my, here comes my ride!” before a helicopter landed in Tempe’s Sun Devil Stadium and whisked the diva away.
Watch it here: Diana Ross at Super Bowl XXX
#6: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Super Bowl XLIII, 2009)
Why it was amazing: The Boss was clearly having a blast during this mini-concert, which he kicked off with a message to the millions of Americans watching at home: “For the next 12 minutes, we’re going to bring the righteous and mighty power of the E Street Band into your beautiful home! I want you to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put the chicken fingers down! And turn your television all the way up!” But the band’s four-song set might be best remembered for a small choreographic hiccup: Bruce sliding across the stage on his knees and smashing into the camera — torso (ahem) first!
Watch it here: Bruce Springseen and the E Street Band at Super Bowl XLIII
#5: Madonna, featuring LMFAO, Cirque du Soleil, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., CeeLo Green, Andy Lewis and more (Super Bowl XLVI, 2012)
Why it was amazing: You could never accuse the Queen of Pop of not knowing how to share the spotlight. Her 2012 halftime show, which had a vaguely Roman gladiator–meets–Ancient Egypt–meets–college pep rally theme, was filled to bursting with guest performers: slacklining stuntman Andy Lewis, electronic dance duo LMFAO (whose two members are the son and grandson of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, 91!), rappers Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., soul singer CeeLo Green, 100 drummers, 200 choir singers and 150 gladiators. And it somehow all worked beautifully.
Watch it here: Madonna at Super Bowl XLVI
#4: Aerosmith, NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly (Super Bowl XXXV, 2001)
Why it was amazing: This intergenerational experiment seemed as if it were created in a lab to appeal to the most guests at your Super Bowl party. Starting with a prerecorded sketch featuring Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, the set then traded off song by song between Aerosmith and NSYNC — the first of three Super Bowl appearances for Justin Timberlake. For the all-star finale of “Walk This Way,” both groups were joined onstage by Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and St. Louis rapper Nelly, whom you might recognize from the last season of Dancing With the Stars.
Watch it here: Aerosmith and NSYNC at Super Bowl XXXV
#3: Beyoncé, featuring Destiny’s Child (Super Bowl XLVII, 2013)
Why it was amazing: Just weeks after performing at Barack Obama’s second inauguration, Beyoncé headlined the Super Bowl in a fierce performance that saw her reteaming with Destiny’s Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams — who memorably took to the stage by popping up through the floor like pieces of toast! After the electrifying performance, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome plunged into a 34-minute blackout, and the one-two punch really got people talking: At the time, Twitter reported that the performance and the power outage were the first and second most-tweeted-about moments in the social media platform’s history.
Watch it here: Beyoncé at Super Bowl XLVII
#2: U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002)
Why it was amazing: Just five months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Irish rockers took to a heart-shaped stage at the Louisiana Superdome to deliver a powerful tribute to those we lost. Bono started the set with his recent hit “Beautiful Day,” as he waded to the stage through a sea of fans. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers played “MLK” and “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the names of 9/11 heroes scrolled up a giant screen to the heavens behind the band. Bono ended the set with a simple gesture of affection and support, opening his jacket to reveal the American flag inside.
Watch it here: U2 at Super Bowl XXXVI
#1: Prince (Super Bowl XLI, 2007)
Why it was amazing: The platonic ideal of a perfect Super Bowl set saw Prince ripping through his greatest hits and dipping into a few perfectly chosen covers, including “Proud Mary” and “All Along the Watchtower.” The stage was shaped like his trademark love symbol (remember when he briefly changed his name to the unpronounceable icon?), and he was backed by the Florida A&M University Marching 100 Band. Even Mother Nature got in on the action: The show took place during a torrential downpour, which somehow made his “Purple Rain” finale all the more powerful. Producer Don Mischer later recalled that when he phoned His Royal Badness to tell him it was raining, Prince had a perfect response: “Can you make it rain harder?”