I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much interest in football. The idea of watching the Super Bowl doesn’t excite me — though I do appreciate a good excuse to eat chips and dip all day. For those of us who are in it for the snacks, rather than the sports, the halftime show is our hero. Here’s what you need to know about this musical tradition, along with some of our favorite performances.
The Super Bowl halftime show has been around since the very first Super Bowl game, back in 1967. In its earliest years, the Super Bowl was not the massive spectacle it is today, and its halftime shows featured marching bands from local schools. The first celebrity to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show was actress and singer Carol Channing. (The Washington Post reports that though Channing claimed to have first performed there in 1970, her performance actually took place in 1972, with jazz great Ella Fitzgerald also taking the stage.) Musicians like Andy Williams, Chubby Checker, and Gloria Estefan followed suit, but it wasn’t until 1993, when Michael Jackson performed, that halftime became — arguably — the main event.
Jackson’s halftime performance marked the first time Super Bowl halftime ratings surpassed ratings for the game itself. Since Jackson’s performance 30 years ago, the show has consistently been an A-list affair. In recent years, halftime shows have featured either classic rockers (when The Rolling Stones performed in 2006, frontman Mick Jagger quipped that they could’ve played at the very first Super Bowl) or contemporary pop queens like Beyoncé. This year’s halftime show, taking place on Sunday, February 12, will feature a performance by Rihanna. In anticipation of the big game, here are our picks for the five most exceptional performances from years past.
1. Tanya Tucker, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Clint Black, and Travis Tritt — 1994
Football and country music. You can’t get more American than that! In 1994, when alternative rock was all the rage, the halftime show went in a decidedly different direction, bringing in a selection of popular country musicians to perform in a “Rockin’ Country Sunday” themed show in Atlanta. Country legends Tanya Tucker, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Clint Black, and Travis Tritt (a Georgia native) all performed, and to enhance the theme, the show included a bevy of cowboy hat-clad dancers.
2. Diana Ross — 1996
Few, if any, musicians are as fabulous as Diana Ross. The former Supremes singer took the stage in Tempe, Arizona in 1996, for a halftime show honoring the Super Bowl’s 30th anniversary. She sang a medley of some of The Supremes’ greatest hits, including “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” filling the stadium with nostalgic joy. Ross looked every inch the resplendent diva in a fuchsia catsuit and flowing gold robe. In the ultimate power move, she ended the show with her 1995 song “Take Me Higher” and was taken off the stage in a helicopter. Now that’s a dramatic exit!
3. Shania Twain — 2003
Let’s go, girls! In 2003 Shania Twain brought her signature country pop flair to the halftime show. Decked out in a long leather coat and lots of sparkling accessories, she performed her anthem “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and her then-new track “Up!” No Doubt and Sting also performed at this San Diego halftime show, making for a musically diverse lineup. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a country performance in the two decades since Shania burned up the halftime stage. Fingers crossed that Twain (or any of our other top female country music stars) make an appearance in the future.
4. Paul McCartney — 2005
You can always count on a former Beatle to get the crowd going. When Paul McCartney took the halftime stage in Jacksonville, Florida in 2005, you could feel the love emanating from the audience. (The performance is available to watch here.) Sir Paul performed The Beatles’ classic hits “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” and “Hey Jude,” as well as a Wings favorite, the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die.” That song came with some intense pyrotechnics, and “Hey Jude” led to a stirring audience singalong. A year after the most controversial halftime show to date, McCartney delivered a performance that everybody could agree on.
5. Prince — 2007
Prince’s distinctive charisma lit up the 2007 halftime show (which you can watch here) in Miami. The ’80s icon wore a spiffy blue suit and performed on an illuminated stage designed in the shape of his signature symbol. (He also played a custom purple guitar in the same shape.) His set included a mix of his greatest hits, like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Baby, I’m a Star” as well as covers of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” among others. The most memorable moment came when he performed his final song, the 1984 classic “Purple Rain,” in the midst of a rainstorm. The perfect pairing of the song and the weather felt preordained, and the effect was truly stunning. Since Prince’s tragic, unexpected death in 2016, the performance has taken on a heartbreaking emotional potency.
Whether you’re into country, pop, or classic rock, there are plenty of excellent halftime show performances to enjoy from Super Bowls past.