Super Bowl halftime shows of last 20 years ranked
This year's Super Bowl halftime show starred Rihanna. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I would never presume to tell someone their music isn't great to them. This is entirely subjective. If you're into punk ska polka bands influenced heavily by salsa well good for you. The following is only my opinion.
Rihanna was far from the worst halftime show I've seen but also not the best. So it got me thinking about halftime shows of recent years. (I figured we'd leave out the marching bands and the Up With People.) In my humble opinion, here are the last 20 Super Bowl halftime shows ranked.
The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Slash 2011
This awful halftime show was one to forget. The Black Eyes Peas, not an enduring act, was half a decade late for this party. And I didn't need the colliding of worlds with Slash rising up out of the stage only to have Fergie completely butcher "Sweet Child 'O Mine."
The Who 2010
Sorry, they showed their age. Which in and of itself isn’t the problem. Voices don’t always hold up. Not everyone is Frankie Valli. But it felt more like I was watching a Who tribute band.
Justin Timberlake, The Tennessee Kids 2018
This just dripped of aging boy band vibe and too-cool-for-the-room performances. Not for me. Or maybe I still don’t like Timberlake’s part in the 2004 halftime stunt with Janet Jackson’s areola that turbo-charged the FCC and ruined fun broadcasting.
It felt mechanical to me. The overuse of lights and the skin-revealing costumes just lacked soul, in my opinion.
From the moment her elaborate entrance, being carried in like some goddess from an ancient time, I was turned off. Then there was the overdone choreography that saw Madonna nearly trip at one point. A trip would have made it more entertaining. A failed halftime show that took itself way too seriously.
Eminem, Dr. Dre. Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige 2022
The set that was apparently supposed to look like housing in Compton left most of America cold. Halftime shows that are this overcrowded with names can't do justice to any one performer and this one had that problem. In the end this was a big "meh."
Janet Jackson, Kid Rock, P. Diddy, Nelly and Justin Timberlake 2004
Make up your mind. Did you want it to be rock? Did you want it to be pop? Did you want it to be hip-hop? What’s the matter you couldn’t squeeze Dolly Parton into the mix too?
Also, see 2018’s comments.
Paul McCartney 2005
A solid performance by a living Beatles legend but it’s a lot of expectation to put on a classic rock act brought in to play it safe after the nipplegate debacle the year before. It was good, not great.
Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Bad Bunny, J Balvin, Emme Muniz 2020
Only slightly better than 2022’s and for largely the same reasons.
Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi 2019
This was a rather forgettable halftime show that tried being all things and mastering none. Putting Maroon 5 on with rap acts like Travis Scott and Big Boi didn’t work for me. And Adam Levine needing to take his shirt off like Mark Wahlberg in “Date Night” was just silly.
Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott 2015
Fun? Yeah. Looks dated now? Oh yeah. The AT-AT-looking beast she rode in on and the “Sponge Bob Square Pants”-looking island adventure were just two parts of an overall tried-too-hard show.
I’m not normally blown away by theatrics and choreography but Rihanna did her job and then some. She showed off a powerful voice amidst the glitz, the staging was exceptional, and the confidence she exuded was that of a far older performer. Plus it managed to be sexy without anyone showing off bodies. I liked it.
Coldplay, Beyonce, Bruno Mars 2016
We'd seen Beyonce just three years before and Bruno Mars just two years before. But Coldplay who I thought would suck was actually entertaining. They brought more life and energy than I thought they’d have in them. But the downer was Beyonce deciding to pay homage to the Black Panthers. No thanks.
Bruno Mars, Red Hot Chili Peppers 2014
This would rank higher had the powers that be realized Bruno Mars was strong enough to not need help. The Red Hot Chili Peppers left me ice cold and brought down the show, which started so strong with Bruno’s sick drum solo. Mars put on a class act with a throwback look.
The Weeknd 2021
What a winner! Emerging from a Las Vegas strip set and the backdrops only got cooler from there, The Weeknd commanded the stage beginning to end. His talent needed no crowd of dancers. And how often do you see a violin section at a halftime show?
The Rolling Stones 2006
Now maybe it was the time in my life. Maybe it was the fact that I worked in Detroit, the host city, at the time and was part of that media frenzy. But they delivered an energetic set to an enthusiastic crowd even if they cranked out predictable hits. And Jagger dressed all in black with tails looked like the rock royalty he is.
Lady Gaga 2017
I was prepared to be underwhelmed that year but she was an authentic superstar that night who somehow, through the crazy and the glam and the glitz and the theatrics, delivered her genuine soul.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 2008
I think why I put Tom Petty so high on this list is he and the boys delivered on the biggest entertainment stage on the planet with a genuine humble intimacy. He was great, endearing, and seemed confident and unaffected by the enormity.
His “thank you”s and “God bless” were sincere and his legendary talent spoke for itself without needing an ounce of ego. Superb.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 2009
The open with Clarence and Bruce back to back in silhouette against the white light was like an old album cover. The energy with which he addressed the viewers at home like a pentecostal preacher before launching into "10th Avenue Freeze-Out" was infectious.
The crowd interaction and the precision made this almost but not quite the best halftime show ever.
Hands down the best Super Bowl halftime performance ever. He was larger than life in that pale blue suit (not purple), commanding the stage effortlessly through smoking renditions of “Let's Go Crazy" and "Purple Rain."
He had everything good about all the aforementioned shows. Lights, dazzle, dancers, but minimal, and didn't rely on theatrics over talent. He had the Florida A&M marching band weaving the past into the present seamlessly. He even did covers.
It was the single most beautiful halftime show any Super Bowl ever had and set the bar so high it can probably never be repeated.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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