So this year’s halftime show with Maroon 5 kinda really sucked ass. A lot. Tepid tunes, weak performances, and not even a hint of the Sweet Victory tribute that we were rudely promised in the lead-up. A real stinker of a show. That’s fine. It wound up matching the game.
But it’s absolutely worth remembering that the blessed Halftime Show hasn’t always been a dippy, dreary parade of muck. In fact, some of the best musical performances ever to grace a television screen have come from the NFL’s big day.
Here’s a smattering of the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the performances hotter than a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
Not a single shirtless Adam Levine or a Moves Like Jagger in sight here, folks.
MICHAEL JACKSON – 1993
It’s worth noting that before Michael Jackson rocked up to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena that the NFL didn’t really put that big of an emphasis on the halftime entertainment. Then old mate shot up through the middle of an on-field stage, stood silently, and stared at the feverish crowd for the first 90-odd seconds of his 12-minute performance and changed the game forever.
Every act that followed tried to top the flat-out electric show The King of Pop put on that year. All of them didn’t get close.
All, except one.
PRINCE – 2007
Prince’s 2007 halftime show is as legendary as it is for a reason. The late, great, Purple One was greeted with monsoonal Floridian rain in February 2007 and reportedly had just one production request: “Make it rain harder.“
In atrocious conditions, on a slippery stage, with exposed electronics all around him, Prince proceeded to put on the single greatest Halftime Show in history, and one that likely won’t ever be topped. Opening with Let’s Go Crazy, throwing in a Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix cover and following that up with a Foo Fighters jam for little reason other than the fact he was goddamned Prince and could do whatever he wanted, the dearly departed icon closed a phenomenal 12-minute set with a howling, soaring rendition of Purple Rain.
Given the weather, it couldn’t have been a more perfect choice.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – 2009
A lot of modern Halftime Shows rely heavily on extra guest performers and surprises to help bolster the featured performer’s set. All Bruce Springsteen needed in 2009 was a mic, a guitar, and his trusty E Street Band.
The Boss’s seriously flawless Halftime Show showcased everything New Jersey’s very own had built throughout his storied and unrivalled career: Heart, charisma, honesty, and balls-out rock and roll.
No frills. No guests. No fancy surprises. Just Bruce Springsteen. Warts and all. So good.
BEYONCÉ – 2013
Counterpoint to the previous: Surprises are good as hell, and when that surprise is “Beyoncé reforms Destiny’s Child and doesn’t tell anyone about it until the day of” then infinite hell yeahs.
It took until 2013 for Beyoncé, the undisputed Queen, to get her own Halftime Show, and it wasn’t a moment too soon. Barrelling through a parade of hits that included cuts of Bootylicious and Independent Woman with DC cohorts Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé stood in front of the everyone and in one strong, commanding voice told us who run truly the world: She does.
LADY GAGA – 2017
Holding the rare distinction of being the only performer to begin a Halftime Show by “jumping” off the roof of the stadium, Lady Gaga arrived in Houston in early 2017 and took over proceedings with little more than her own immense sense of theatrics and a piano.
Gaga became the first pure solo performer to run through an entire Halftime Show without any extra guest help since Paul McCartney in 2005, and didn’t leave any doubt as to why she was able to do it. One of those rare sets from a true musical powerhouse. Incredible gear.
THE KILLERS – AFL GRAND FINAL 2018
No, this wasn’t an NFL show. And no, it wasn’t even at Halftime. Does that constitute as cheating as far as this article is concerned? Maybe. But you cannot deny the pure power The Killers put into their pre-game show at the 2018 AFL Grand Final.
While the AFL has consistently fallen well short of the NFL for big game entertainment, this one ranks up there with the very best; a rollicking, rolling set from the Las Vegas outfit who set fire to the MCG surface and just about tore every roof down with a balls-to-the-wall cover of Midnight Oil‘s ever-relevant hit Forgotten Years.
Closing with Mr. Brightside was the icing on otherwise white-hot cake. Good bloody thanks.