Super Bowl Halftime's Greatest Hits And Misses: A Video History

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rexusa_1227276aoPhoto: Rex USA.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Super Bowl halftime show just wasn't that big a deal. Throw out a college marching band and maybe a jazz singer, and everyone was good. But then, as the Big Game's audience swelled, viewers grew less and less familiar with the live experience, networks could demand more money for all those 30-second spots, and producers needed the 14 minutes between halves to match and amplify the buzz of the main event. Thus, the modern halftime spectacular was born.

It's been a mixed bag, to be sure. Some moments — like say, Prince's performance of "Purple Rain" in a downpour — touched the sublime. Others? Well, does anyone remember Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye?" No? Good.

According to our numbers, the Super Bowl halftime show misses just about as often as it hits...with 110 million or so watching — live. Just something to contemplate as you flip through our collection of the best, worst, and weirdest halftime shows and wait for Bruno Mars to take his turn.


Super Bowl XXX, 1996, Diana Ross
Diana Ross at the Super Bowl. Yep, it happened, and it was good, old-fashioned fun, too. Ross, who was just about to hit the downside of her amazing career, powered through a catalog of her greatest hits, reminding an entire nation of how damn good she really was. Diana, if you're listening, you can drop down from a helicopter and back into our lives any time.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XXVI, 1992, Gloria Estefan, Brian Boitano, and Dorothy Hamill
Well, you can't blame them for trying...or maybe you can. In an attempt to cross promote their coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympic Games, CBS decided on a winter wonderland theme. There were children rapping tributes to Frosty the snowman, hundreds of poor dancers dressed up as snowflakes, and two of our greatest figure-skating champions ever risking life and limb by performing on miniature ice rinks, each about the size of a parking spot. It was madness, and not the good kind.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XXVII, 1993, Michael Jackson
If you can get past all the children climbing over the massive midfield set piece (and we advise that you at least try), this is truly what a halftime show should look like. Here we have Jackson before his fall — a master of the stadium audience, singing, dancing, and mugging at the height of his powers. It's moments like this that cemented his reputation as the King of Pop.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowls V, X, XIV, XVI, and XX, Up With People
It would take a book to explain the weird, unnerving earnestness of the massive semi-cult Christian rock act, Up With People (several have been written). It would also take a book to explain how they managed to completely entrance Super Bowl producers and the American viewing audience for over a decade and a half (get on it, cultural anthropologists). Look, we're not trying to be mean here. The kids meant well. But through the lens of time, this all seems very, very odd.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XLIII, 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Brruuuuuuuccce!

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XXIX, 1995, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, and Indiana Jones?
Yes, it's a miniature India Jones adventure — "The Temple of the Forbidden Eye" — and officially the worst thing to ever happen to the beloved character. As anyone who's seen the The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull knows, that's saying a lot. This crypto ad for a Disneyland ride was kind of like The Lion King: The Musical, but with Tony Bennett, ninjas, and lots of cultural insensitivity. It almost ruined our childhoods. You must watch it, now.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002, U2
You know, we don't care what you think of Bono's pretensions at godhood; this rocked. We love it when producers tap an act that doesn't need guest-star backups to bring down the house, and the kings of arena rock surely did that. Besides, who else could pull off a bombastic halftime show that was also a tasteful tribute to the victims of 9/11? No one, that's who.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock
And it was all going so well, too. Multi-act halftime shows can be confusing and sloppy, and this was certainly that. But each of the individual (and collaborative) performances here was dead-on. Even Kid Rock impressed us, and he was Kid Rock. And then, just when it reached its apex, WARDROBE MALFUNCTION. Yes, it was on purpose and, ten years on, we still don't understand why it happened.

Video: Via DailyMotion.


Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005, Paul McCartney
To provide that shower for the soul the following year, Super Bowl producers enlisted Sir Paul McCartney, a performer as truly great as he is safe and lovable. Really, just watch. He may not be cool, but the man radiates good vibes and, try as you might, you can't help but give in. From "Live and Let Die" all the way to the end, this was a joy. After the J.T./Janet debacle, 75,000 people singing "Hey Jude" as one was exactly what we needed.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XXXV, 2001, Britney Spears, Aerosmith, 'N Sync, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly
MTV, who produced this halftime show, decided it would be a good idea to try to replicate the experience of watching their channel in a live, 14-minute format. They succeeded. Congrats, dummies. Look, we love all these acts, but packaging them in this way was kind of like taking all the contents of your refrigerator and stuffing them into one burrito. It made us queasy.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XLI, 2007, Prince
There's a solid argument to be made that, from beginning to end, this was the best halftime show, ever. Simple and direct, this was one man, his band, and a fireball of music. The Purple One started with his version of "We Will Rock You," and never let up. This writer isn't ashamed to admit that when Prince slashed through "Purple Rain" as the heavens poured down on signer and audience alike, he teared up. Not ashamed at all.

Video: Via WAT.tv.


Super Bowl XLV, 2011, The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, and Slash
Putting aside our very strong, and not very positive, feelings about the Black Eyed Peas, this was objectively a stagnant mess. We were actually surprised BEP was so directionless here. Somehow they seemed to believe that mugging, half singing, and bouncing around would make for a good show. Instead, the experience was like a neon-colored fish flopping and dying on the field. When Usher and Slash can't help you, you know you're in trouble.

Video: Via YouTube.


Super Bowl XLVII, 2013, Beyoncé and Destiny's Child
And finally, we reach last year's glitter bomb of joy. What can be said? Bey KILLED it, Destiny's Child reunited, a meme was born, and everything on earth was beautiful for about 14 minutes. A masterpiece. Good luck matching this, Bruno. No pressure.

Video: Via YouTube.