Are you ready for the biggest event of the year? The Super Bowl is right around the corner, and with it comes the much anticipated halftime show. This year, the San Francisco 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The event will take place on Sunday, February 11th. Whether you’re interested in the game or not, the Super Bowl halftime show has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right. According to Billboard, the TV audience of the Super Bowl halftime show reached an all-time high of more than 121 million people in 2023.
With an audience like that, it’s no wonder the halftime show features the biggest names in music. From Michael Jackson to The Rolling Stones, the halftime show has something for everyone — even if you’re only watching for the slip ups.
Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable Super Bowl halftime moments in history.
Why Is the Super Bowl Halftime Such a Big Thing?
Since the first Super Bowl, the Super Bowl halftime show has grown into a significant annual event in American pop culture.
Before the 1990s, the halftime shows exclusively featured university marching bands. Now, it includes diverse performances from the music industry’s most iconic stars.
The first pop-centric halftime show was in 1993 and starred Michael Jackson. It granted a whole new life into the once dull event. Since then, musicians have been trying to live up to the halftime show standards set by the King of Pop.
For Hollywood stars, performing at the Super Bowl halftime show is a marker of career success. While some give their all to deliver unforgettable performances, others become memorable in the worst way possible.
The Super Bowl halftime show is more than just a stage for singers — it’s a highly sophisticated marketing strategy. At some point, the NFL realized not everyone cares about sports. And hosting performances by artists with enormous fan bases was a clever way to increase viewership.
The halftime show is historically the most-watched musical performance of the year. In 2023, Super Bowl halftime ad space generated record-breaking revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal, Fox, the network broadcasting the game that year, charged $7 million for a 30-second commercial. Additional research shows that in-game ad revenue totaled about $578.4 million.
Advertising revenue combined with ticket revenue makes the Super Bowl an extremely profitable event. This year, the cheapest Super Bowl tickets will cost you around $6,000, excluding fees. At Ticketmaster, the official ticketing partner of the NFL, tickets are priced at around $8,600 to more than $50,000 each.
Stars who perform at the Super Bowl halftime show don’t get paid, but the NFL covers production expenses. Moreover, it’s a chance for them to solidify their position as a figure in contemporary US culture.
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Super Bowl Halftime Controversy
Entertainers will take advantage of the wide audience of the halftime show to showcase their catalog of hits on America’s biggest stage, even if they sometimes court controversy.
In 2023, viewers were treated to the first major live performance from Rhianna in 7 years. For about 13 minutes, the superstar singer sang a medley of her most popular hits, mostly while suspended on a platform high above the stage.
According to Billboard, Rihanna’s 2023 performance is the most-viewed halftime show in history with 121.017 million viewers tuning in. Her performance was also nominated for 5 Emmy Awards. However, not everyone was happy with the show.
Most of the 103 complaints filed with the FCC about the Super Bowl broadcast centered on Rihanna’s performance. There were multiple complaints about her sexualized lyrics and the suggestive choreography of her background dancers being inappropriate.
What to Expect from the 2024 Super Bowl Halftime Show
For the Super Bowl 2024 halftime show, 8-time Grammy winner and R&B superstar Usher is taking center stage. This will mark his second Super Bowl appearance, as he previously made a guest appearance for the Black Eyed Peas when the group headlined the halftime show back in 2011.
Usher has not released details about what his show will look like or whether he will have any guest stars. He definitely has pretty big shoes to fill following Rihanna’s performance, as far as viewership numbers. Still, based on his previous concerts, you can expect him to deliver a grand performance.
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The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows
Of course, which halftime shows were the “best” is a subjective question. However, some shows rocked the stage more than others, and certain artists are simply more timeless than others. Here’s my take on the 5 best halftime shows in Super Bowl history.
1. Michael Jackson (1993)
The King of Pop was the first solo artist to perform at the Super Bowl and he set the stage for the decades of shows after. His performance was nothing short of spectacular, with eye-catching costumes and unique dance moves. The crowd was ecstatic.
His 15-minute performance included hit songs Black and White, Billie Jean, and Heal the World.
2. Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan (1999)
Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan led the show with some Latin soul alongside Stevie Wonder. Together, they created a 90s disco extravaganza.
The show opened on a jazzy note with suited dancers prancing around along to trumpet melodies. Stevie Wonder then stunned the audience by entering the stadium in the driver’s seat of a car all the while singing his hit tune Sir Duke.
If you find yourself in the mood for a feel-good live show recording, you might enjoy taking a trip back to this pre-2000s halftime show. It’s both peculiar and fantastic!
3. The Rolling Stones (2006)
This raw and original halftime show stayed true to the classic Rolling Stones style. Mick Jagger and the gang worked their magic on a stage shaped like the Rolling Stones tongue-out logo. Although they offered few surprises on the musical front, they gave the crowd satisfaction. They’re already one of the most legendary rock bands in history — that’s enough, right?
They played their music authentically live. That’s more than we can say for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers who played with unplugged instruments when they opened for Bruno Mars.
4. Prince (2007)
Prince’s flashy blue suit and musical prowess had crowds of fans running to the stage for a closer experience of the star. The Super Bowl XL show at Dolphin Stadium in Miami went down as one of the greatest halftime shows of all time.
The event is remembered for its stormy weather and the excitement when he sang Purple Rain in the heavy downpour.
5. Eminem, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and 50 Cent (2022)
Despite the controversy around their show, the hip hop legends were a pleasing assembly of old-school rap stars. Each performed their most quintessential tune and together they had the crowd in high spirits.
That said, seeing as the artists might be way past the peak of their careers, it makes one wonder what took so long. Has modern music deteriorated so much we have to bring back the oldies-but-goldies?
The 4 Worst Halftime Shows
It’s true Super Bowl halftime shows have been historically epic. Otherwise, why would non-sports audiences continue to buy such expensive Super Bowl tickets? But it hasn’t been all magic and wonder, and some shows have gone horribly wrong.
You’d think with the massive budget it has, the NFL could reliably produce top-notch shows, but it’s just not the case. Here’s my list of the 4 worst Super Bowl halftime shows. Get ready for some real entertainment:
1. Patti LaBelle’s Lip-Syncing (1995)
Patti LaBelle set the bar low for live performance artists by lip-syncing her way through the Super Bowl halftime show. To be fair, the performance would have been impressive — if it was real. But Patti couldn’t even lip-sync on time to the music.
At certain times, you could hear her singing, but her mouth was closed and the microphone was nowhere near it. Poor show, Patti, poor show.
2. Elvis Presto (1989)
As part of the 1989 halftime show, an Elvis impersonation act hit the stage, creating enormous controversy in the audience. While some found it funny, others were left shocked and disgusted at the NFL’s audacity and lack of sensitivity.
It’s bad enough to mock a rock and roll legend, but it adds insult to injury how they failed to consider the feelings of his living loved ones. It was insensitive and crass by most people’s moral standards.
3. Fergie Murders “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (2011)
I don’t know whose idea it was to get anyone but Axl Rose to try to sing a Guns and Roses song alongside Slash, but it’s blasphemy. To put it mildly, Fergie’s voice was not suited for the song. On top of that, her unapologetic dance moves next to Slash’s obvious shame made for quite an uncomfortable watch.
Someone has to say it — this isn’t the first time Fergie botched a performance during a national sports event. Her performance of the US National Anthem at the NBA All-Star was otherworldly — in the worst way possible. I never thought I’d say this, but maybe lip-syncing is okay in some cases.
4. Janet Jackson’s Nip Slip (2004)
Janet Jackson’s surprise nipple slip during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show sent shockwaves around the country. The scene took place at the end of Janet’s dance routine with Justin Timberlake.
While some suspicious viewers believe the two planned the exposure, Janet’s career was somewhat derailed as a result. Unlike Janet, Justin’s career skyrocketed, which raised many thought-provoking questions about gender equality in Hollywood.
Despite the fact Justin pulled off Janet’s garment, revealing her breast to the world, she was the one who had to give a public apology, not him.
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Eight-time Grammy winner and R&B superstar Usher will be headlining the Super Bowl halftime show. This will be Usher’s second time performing at the SuperBowl as he previously took the stage with the Black Eyed Peas who led the halftime show in 2011.
According to multiple publications, including Rolling Stone, the Black Eyed Peas performance in 2011 is considered the worst Super Bowl halftime show. Detractors singled out factors such as the Peas’ entire medley, the costumes the band members wore, and Fergie’s subpar rendition of “Sweet Child O’Mine” with Slash on guitar.
The Rolling Stone singles out Prince’s performance during the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, which took place during the middle of a Miami thunderstorm, as the best. Prince performed a medley of his own hits as well as covers of songs by Bob Dylan and the Foo Fighters. A much-talked about main highlight of the show was his performance of “Purple Rain” while it was raining.
The 2004 halftime show in which Justin Timberlake caused Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction is considered the most inappropriate. During the show, Timberlake removed a breastplate from Jackson’s costume towards the end of the performance, exposing her to nearly 90 million viewers.
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The FCC received 540,000 complaints about the 2004 halftime show featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. During the performance, Timberlake removed a breastplate from Jackson’s costume, exposing her breast to viewers. The incident also led to a fine for CBS.
Yes. Some may alternate between lip syncing and singing live. The NFL will actually record a rehearsal of the halftime show as a form of insurance against something unexpected. The performers have the option of using the pre-recorded vocal track as much or as little as they want during their performances.