Ranking All The Halftime Shows I Care About

by Gem Miller

It’s the end of February: the most boring, cold, and all-around yucky month. The only thing to look forward to is Valentine's Day (which you may or may not be dreading) and the Super Bowl. Perhaps you like the Super Bowl, because you like sports, or perhaps you are like me, and love to judge the Halftime shows. As I watched The Weeknd's halftime show, I couldn’t help but wonder how the past Halftimes shows compare. So, I sat through as many halftime shows as I could stomach before I got bored. Here’s my personal ranking from worst to best:

Black Eyed Peas (2011)

Though this halftime show was absolutely awful in every way, it just might be my personal favorite. There is nothing more fun to me than watching something so disastrously bad that you can’t help but laugh. The Peas were mumbling through their own songs, Fergie sang as clumsily as always, and the audience was clearly Not Engaged at all with the performance. I will give credit where credit is due: will.i.am is a significantly better performer than I remember. He had serious stage presence, and his voice never broke. Perhaps Mr. i.am’s performance was just amplified by his group’s embarrassing romp. I can’t recommend it enough; please give it a watch.

Justin Timberlake (2018)

Oh JT, how the mighty have fallen. Though this performance wasn’t as humiliating as others on this list, it was absolutely problematic. It takes a lot of nerve for him to return to do another Halftime show after he sat by as Janet Jackson was blacklisted from the industry. There was no tribute to Janet in the show and no mention of her at all. There was a memorial to Prince at the end of his show, but Prince publicly had beef with Timberlake. In addition, Prince specifically said he did not believe in or want posthumous performances of him. The show was not only offensive, but offensively forgettable. His dancing was clunky and his performance lacked anything memorable. I’m gonna need another notes app apology for this show alone.

Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi, and Spongebob? (2019)

The NFL was getting a lot of heat this year, and deservingly so. The NFL had coerced players to stand for the National Anthem after many had knelt in protest against racism and police brutality. The Halftime Show was up in the air. Who was gonna perform? Fret not, Maroon 5 is here. Adam Levine saved the day with his whiny singing and awkward stage presence. What I found particularly humiliating is when Adam Levine quoted Prince by saying “Can I play this guitar?” and then played absolutely mediocrity. Travis Scott was equally as clumsy with his performing, but Big Boi was fine for the minute or two he was there. He had a fun coat on, so that’s something. The rumors swirling about a memorial to Stephen Hillenburg led to a pitiful Spongebob cameo before “SICKO MODE”Yikes. This whole Halftime show could be summed up with that word, but at least it was more memorable than whatever Justin Timberlake did.

No Doubt, Shania Twain, and Sting (2003)

Shania Twain lip synced poorly which was weird because she wasn’t dancing or anything??? She just kind of walked around the stage and lipped the words to “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” But, Gwen Stefani sang live with No Doubt and seemed to have fun! She sang a song or two with Sting and it was fine. Sting sounded pretty smooth, and the chemistry between him and Gwen was surprisingly good. Personally, I only cared about them two. Otherwise, it was an unremarkable show.

Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock (2004)

Ah. The infamous 2004 Halftime show. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the controversy surrounding this Halftime show, so I’ll focus entirely on the performance. Janet looked great and was absolutely serving, but it was pretty clear she was lip syncing. Justin Timberlake sang well, but he dressed like he was on his way to his local CVS. P Diddy and Nelly were completely fine, and Kid Rock was exactly as you would expect: awful. It was a decent show but it would be worlds better if it was Janet Jackson exclusively.

Tom Petty (2008)

Due to Nipplegate, the NFL had a phase where they picked extremely safe and at-times boring acts for the Halftime show. This trend consisted almost entirely of classic rock musicians until this trend was broken by Black Eyed Peas in 2011. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers was the most boring of these classic rock bands. Go Tom, give us nothing. He had served no face, no body, no nothing. He just stood there and played. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” slaps though.

The Rolling Stones (2006)

The Rolling Stones met my expectations entirely. Mick Jagger did the fun and silly moves that he is known for, his voice sounded fine, and it was decently entertaining. There were no stunts, drama, or pizzaz, but Jagger carried the show well enough.

The Who (2010)

Roger Daltrey had really good energy and hit the classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” scream even though he was in his mid 60s. As a Youtube comment said, “those are elderly men and they sing better than that maroon 5 soyboy”.

Shakira and J.Lo (2020)

Shakira did a good job and put on a fun performance. She had a huge smile on her face and barrels of enthusiasm, but I was underwhelmed by J.Lo. She was trying to put on a sultry and sensual show, but her seduction seemed more like disinterest. It was a generally good performance, but J.Lo is just a boring musician to me, and I wish this show was Shakira alone.

Coldplay, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Mark Ronson (2016)

I had no idea people cared about Coldplay. This Halftime show did not make me care about Coldplay. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars were fun and funky as always (I may or may not have a crush on Mark Ronson) and Beyonce was absolute performance perfection. I have no idea why Coldplay was the headliner when Beyonce was right there. 5/10 too much Coldplay.

Madonna (2012)

Madonna lip synced this whole show except for “Like a Prayer”, which she nailed. The set and tech for this show was insane. Her entrance was stunning and the look she was wearing is an instant classic. Though she mostly wasn’t singing live, she is such a naturally entertaining person. Even when she was awkwardly dancing to “Music”, I still loved watching it. LMFAO joined her which is absolutely hilarious in retrospect. CeeLo Green also joined her which is unfortunate (Google “Ceelo Green Arrested”). Love her or hate her, Madonna entertains.

Paul Mccartney (2005)

It’s Paul Mccartney! He is always a delight. He played two Beatles songs, which were fine, but then went on to do a booming performance of “Live And Let Die”. He, of course, ended with “Hey Jude” which got the whole stadium singing. Hard to go wrong with this Halftime show.

Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chilli Peppers (2014)

I went into this Halftime show with a relatively low opinion of Bruno Mars, but he truly gained my respect. He chose some of his funkiest songs to perform and he served a genuinely dynamic performance. He also did a split! At one point there was a children’s choir singing, which I hated, but luckily it didn’t last long. Red Hot Chilli Peppers performed “Give It Away” which is a shame because Anthony’s rapping is embarrassing. The chemistry between the band and Bruno was actually pretty good. The show ended with videos from people in the military sending a message to the families before Bruno sang “Just The Way You Are''. I found that very corny but otherwise, I was really impressed with the show as a whole.

Bruce Springsteen (2009)

I was not a fan of Bruce Springsteen before this show but I surely am now. What an incredible performer! I have never seen such natural charisma from a male musician. His little intro at the beginning about putting down the chicken tenders is hilarious and incredibly endearing. There isn’t much for a stage or set but Bruce is so fun and I loved it. I recommend you all watch this Halftime show if you're like me and know very little about Bruce Springsteen.

The Weeknd (2021)

I’m sure we have all seen this performance by now and we have all seen the memes. Regardless of that hilarious camera work during “I Can’t Feel My Face”, it was a great show. The Weeknd pumped seven million dollars of his own money into the show and it sure as hell paid off. This is the best the Halftime show has ever looked. The costumes, the lighting, the set, it all matched the After Hours aesthetic. What didn’t match was the awful sound engineering. I was straining to hear him, but from what I could hear he was singing great. Though I think The Weeknd has room to grow as a performer, it was a fun and unique Halftime show.

Prince (2007)

This is one of the most iconic Halftime shows of all time. It was pouring rain. Prince was singing and playing his heart out. Though I can’t deny how iconic it was, it could have gone further. Prince could have stepped up the energy a bit or the tech could have been a hair more extravagant. But performance wise, Prince was fantastic as always. It was hard to find the full video of this performance (I ended up finding it on Facebook) but it is absolutely worth the watch. Purple Rain has been stuck in my head ever since.

Katy Perry (2015)

This Halftime show had some of its most flamboyant stages to date. Katy enters the stage while on a giant geometric lion, there was a giant chessboard on stage during “Dark Horse” that was campy and fun, and who could forget left shark? The show was so visually dynamic, it’s become one of the most memorable Halftime shows in my lifetime. Katy served a good performance and sounded great. She reminded me why I fell in love with her back when “Teenage Dream” came out. Lenny Kravits was there briefly, and Missy Elliott made her iconic comeback. Watch this Halftime show next time annoying pop fans call Katy a flop on Twitter.

Lady Gaga (2017)

Gaga was perfect. She sang “God Bless America” on the roof, she jumped from said roof, all while singing live. Lady Gaga has claimed for many years that she doesn’t believe in lip syncing and this show proves it to be true. She sounded fantastic and she sounded organic. The backup dancers were especially good, and the stage was pretty stripped back to put a focus on Gaga. This was during her Joanne era, which was a hiatus from her loud and eccentric looks. She proved to the nonbelievers that she doesn’t need crazy and campy looks to carry her performance, her talent speaks for itself.

Beyonce (2013)

Wow. This performance left me speechless. Performances like these are what make young kids tell their parents that they want to be pop stars when they grow up. Beyonce is beyond perfection when it comes to performing. Her energy is above and beyond. The stage was cut in the shape of two women’s faces, a flaming silhouette was behind her as she began the show, and fog machines were blasting. Beyonce looks at-home on this extravagant stage. Her stage presence is so flawless that it makes you wonder if she had to rehearse at all. Her dancers and band were all women and Destiny's Child makes a bombastic appearance. Confidence and womanhood are encapsulated in every aspect of this performance. This Halftime show speaks for itself and I urge everyone to give it a rewatch, or enjoy the privilege of watching it for the first time.