Top 10 Super Bowl halftime performances

Opinion: As fans wait for Rihanna to rock the Super Bowl LVII halftime show on Feb. 12, theGrio counts down 10 of the most memorable performances during the NFL's biggest game of the year.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The Super Bowl Halftime Show is one of the most coveted pieces of musical real estate every year. Because the NFL’s annual championship game is consistently one of the most-watched television programs each year, all eyes are on the halftime performances.

Rihanna is the halftime entertainment for Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 and much is being said about it. On the one hand, there are people like A$AP Rocky, Rihanna’s partner, who expressed excitement about the prospect of her making music again after a long layoff.

On the other hand, there is someone like sportscaster Stephen A. Smith, who said Rihanna was “no Beyoncé” earlier this week during an appearance on daytime talk show, “Sherri.” Although he apologized on Wednesday, his remarks have likely intensified anticipation about the show from those wondering whether it will stand up against some of the best of all time.

Over the past three decades, many artists have graced the halftime stage, but some stand out more than others. Some delivered a dazzling show full of energy, nostalgia and bombast. Other performances were controversial or innovative. Here is theGrio’s Top 10 list of the most unforgettable Super Bowl halftime performances.

10. Motown Celebrates 40 Years (1998)

During Super Bowl XXXII, fans were treated to a celebration of Motown’s 40th anniversary. The milestone for one of America’s greatest musical institutions featured appearances from some of the most famous members of its past and then-current roster.

Martha Reeves performed “Heatwave” and “Dancing in the Street,” while Smokey Robinson slowed things down with “The Tracks of My Tears.” The Temptations sang the classic “My Girl” and the Four Tops song “I Can’t Help Myself.” Igniting the set was Boyz II Men, bringing down the stadium with the smash, “Motownphilly.”

9. The Black Eyed Peas Have An “OMG” Moment (2011)

The Black Eyed Peas had risen from underground rap darlings to international pop sensations. Super Bowl XLV signified the peak of the group’s success. But while members dazzled the crowd with a medley of the group’s massive crossover hits like “Where Is The Love?” and “I Got A Feeling,” things reached another plateau when Usher emerged.

The R&B superstar was a surprise guest and performed “OMG,” his No. 1 collaboration with Peas frontman will.i.am. That proved to be the showstopping moment of the night.

8. Diana Ross Lifts Us “High Enough” (1996)

Super Bowl XXX’s game called for a big celebration. The NFL commemorated the occasion by enlisting Diana Ross as the halftime performer. The diva of all divas shined, flanked by tuxedo-wearing background dancers and fitting numerous costume changes during her 12-minute medley of hits with The Supremes and as a solo artist.

Her rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was a special moment, but it was her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that provided the exclamation point before she literally got higher and took off in a helicopter.

7. The Weeknd Illuminates The Super Bowl with “Blinding Lights” (2021)

Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show
The Weeknd performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Weeknd had a career year in 2020. His album, “After Hours,” was another platinum success and the single “Blinding Lights” was one of the biggest in Billboard history. His performance at Super Bowl LV was the perfect cherry on the sundae.

The Canadian crooner crafted an immersive television experience, using the narrative aesthetic of the album’s accompanying music videos. He performed hits like “Starboy,” “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Blinding Lights” in a 14-minute epic set that culminated with hundreds of Weeknd look-alikes on the field.

6. It’s Still Dre Day, And Everybody’s Celebrating (2022)

Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show
Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Super Bowl LVI had a halftime show for the ages. West Coast hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre led the way, joined by Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar. Dre and Snoop pulled out their classics like “The Next Episode” and “Still D.R.E.,” while Lamar brought the fire with “m.A.A.d. city” and “Alright.”

Blige exuded her legendary explosiveness, singing her Dre-produced No. 1 smash, “Family Affair,” and a fiery rendition of “No More Drama.” Add surprise appearances from Anderson .Paak and 50 Cent and you get an Emmy-winning performance.

5. Janet Jackson and Nipplegate (2004)

What was forgotten in the aftermath of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous wardrobe malfunction is that Jackson delivered a superb performance for the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. She was joined by Kid Rock, Nelly, P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson, but Jackson’s performances of “All For You” and “Rhythm Nation” were head and shoulders above them all.

When Timberlake exposed Jackson’s breast, the gauntlet went down in many ways. Jackson was blackballed; Timberlake forever alienated the Black audience, and the viral incident inspired the creation of YouTube.

4. Beyoncé Causes A Blackout (2013)

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Kelly Rowland, Beyonce and Michelle Williams perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Less than a year before Beyoncé would shock the world by dropping her surprise self-titled album, she lit up Super Bowl XLVII, before possibly rendering it dark. The superstar ran through her solo hits like “Love On Top,” “Crazy in Love” and “Baby Boy” using tons of pyrotechnics and dramatic looks.

Things went into high gear when fans were treated to a Destiny’s Child reunion. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams joined her for “Bootylicious” and “Independent Woman” as well as Beyoncé’s hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” When the game resumed, the Superdome had an unprecedented blackout. Did Bey suck all the energy out? We may never know.

3. Bruno Mars’ Coming Out Party (2014)

Although Bruno Mars had two hit albums by 2014, he signaled that he was here to stay at Super Bowl XLVIII. As a children’s choir sang his hook on Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire,” Mars emerged thrashing away at his moving drum set as he made his way to the stage — an opening never before seen at the Super Bowl.

He joined his Hooligans band and promptly busted through smash records like “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Treasure” and “Runaway Baby.” After a surprise appearance from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mars closed things out with a touching rendition of “Just the Way You Are.”

2. Michael Jackson Changes The Landscape (1993)

Michael Jackson performs during halftime at Super Bowl XXVII between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills at the Rose Bowl in January 1993. (Photo: Mike Powell /Allsport)

The Super Bowl Halftime Show can be split into two eras: before Michael Jackson and after Michael Jackson. The first 26 halftime shows were wholesome, bordering on boring. When the 1992 halftime show lost the ratings battle to Fox’s live alternative — the sketch show “In Living Color” — the NFL called in the world’s biggest star the following year.

The King of Pop brought the energy and staging of his current Dangerous World Tour to Super Bowl XXVII, performing “Jam,” “Black or White” and “Billie Jean” with his signature dance moves and charismatic persona. He ended it by involving the crowd in his charitable anthem, “Heal the World.” After this, the NFL recruited the biggest stars available.

1. Prince Reigns During The Rain (2007)

Prince performs during the “Pepsi Halftime Show” at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Following the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction of Super Bowl XXXVIII, the NFL had a string of less controversial legacy acts for the halftime shows like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and The Who. During that era, Prince delivered arguably the greatest halftime performance ever.

Forced to play in the rain, the weather only made Prince more pumped and focused. The Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist performed on a custom stage designed in the shape of his former love symbol pseudonym. Armed with his guitar and a slick bandana, Prince performed hits like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “1999.” However, it was Prince’s powerful rendition of “Purple Rain,” featuring him silhouetted behind a curtain during his guitar solo, that captivated the audience.

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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