For over 50 years, the Super Bowl halftime show has grown from an afterthought to one of the most-watched global performances attracting over 100 million viewers.
Iconic acts like Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Katy Perry and Shakira have transformed the stage into both a platform for boundary-pushing artistry and a cultural touchpoint.
In this article, we will talk about some of the best performances that pushed creative boundaries and left an enduring impact, cementing their place in Super Bowl halftime show history.
The Game Changer: Michael Jackson (1993)
First off the bat, Michael Jackson’s 1993 performance at the Super Bowl halftime show was a game changer. Up until that point, halftime shows lacked star power and were more like afterthoughts featuring marching bands.
But Jackson brought his iconic style and attracted a record 133 million viewers, the highest in Super Bowl history. This caught the attention of the NFL and made them realize the potential of booking A-list musicians.
Ever since, halftime has aimed for mega stars like Prince, The Rolling Stones, and Beyoncé who could draw huge audiences. The crowd was electrified by Jackson’s grand entrance and ratings between halves increased for the first time.
The show boosted his album sales and spread his message of unity to over 100 million viewers globally. It established the template for modern Super Bowl halftime productions focused on entertainment value.
Michael Jackson’s 1993 performance took halftime shows to a whole new level and set the standard all subsequent performances have aspired to reach.
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The Power Trio: Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars (2016)
The 50th Super Bowl boasted a powerhouse lineup with Coldplay headlining alongside Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. While the game lacked drama as the Denver Broncos eased past the Carolina Panthers, a result which was widely backed in the NFL odds, the half time show certainly didn’t disappoint.
Over 115 million viewers tuned in to see the fireworks ensue as each act brought their signature styles. Coldplay kicked things off with favorites like “Yellow” and “Paradise.”
Bruno got fans moving to “Uptown Funk” while Beyoncé stunned with her new single “Formation.” All paid homage to past halftime greats in an energetic showcase. A highlight came as Beyoncé and Bruno engaged in an unforgettable dance-off.
Though Bruno held his own, no one could top Beyoncé’s leg kicks and fierce troupe of backup dancers clad in matching leather. While Bruno was no match, both left it all on the field.
By bringing such star power together, the 2016 halftime show set an incredibly high bar, delivering the most electric 12 minutes in Super Bowl history that fans won’t soon forget.
The Controversial Show: Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake (2004)
The 2004 performance by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake caused major controversy due to Jackson’s exposed breast during the finale of their duet.
The infamous “wardrobe malfunction” sparked immense backlash, FCC fines totaling millions for CBS and the NFL, and debate around censorship. It led to stricter broadcast policies going forward.
Yet, the show was also hugely popular, making Jackson the most searched globally and breaking one-day records. While ridiculed by some, others argued it distracted from other issues. YouTube even credits the viral event inspiring its creation.
Beyond the scandal, the star-studded duet delivered unforgettable music that has stood the test of time, ensuring the performance remains one of the most talked about in Super Bowl history. Its massive cultural impact cemented its place among the greatest halftime shows ever.
The Pop Extravaganza: Katy Perry (2015)
Katy Perry’s 2015 halftime show was a pop spectacle to remember. She made a grand entrance on a mechanical tiger before launching into hits like “Roar” and “Dark Horse.” Vibrant sets, costumes and props created a visual feast for viewers.
During routines, a backup dancer dubbed “Left Shark” seemed to struggle at times keeping in sync. While some saw this as floundering, he intentionally added comic relief. This made him an instant, enduring viral sensation as endless memes spread online.
Even years later, both Perry’s performance and “Left Shark” remain cultural touchstones.
By stuffing 12 minutes with non-stop energy and surprises like an iconic dancer, Perry’s show exemplified music’s power to bring people together and left audiences in awe. It cemented her halftime performance as the most watched in history.
The Latinx Powerhouse: Jennifer Lopez and Shakira (2020)
The 2020 Super Bowl halftime show starring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira was groundbreaking for Latinx representation. In a 12 minute performance in front of over 100 million viewers, both superstars paid homage to their diverse heritages. Jennifer Lopez repped her Puerto Rican roots while Shakira honored Colombia and Lebanon.
Special guests like J Balvin joined in on the high-energy celebration of Latin culture. Songs by both artists including “Jenny From the Block” and “Hips Don’t Lie” had the audience dancing.
It was the first halftime show to feature all Latinx talent. Their talents entertained and brought much needed visibility to Latinx artists on the world’s biggest stage. The performance cemented their place among the most impactful in Super Bowl history.
There have been so many incredible Super Bowl halftime shows that this list feels insulting to artists not mentioned. But these are the best 5 in my opinion. Who do you think should have made the list?