This weekend is going to be a massive one for the worlds of music, television and sports. The Super Bowl is finally here, and the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will be squaring off against one another to determine who is this year’s NFL champion is only about the fifth-most important thing happening over the next few days. In addition to the game, there will be the headline-grabbing advertisements (including a number of movie trailer premieres and appearances by both Justin Bieber and Eminem), the new episode of “Glee” that will follow the big game (which features the much-talked-about “Thriller” sequence), the national anthem care of Christina Aguilera (which bodes well for the Steelers) and the fact that this could be the most-watched American television broadcast in history (besting last year’s Super Bowl, which drew 106.5 million viewers).
There’s also the halftime show, which is always one of the biggest spectacles in music in any given year. This time around, the Black Eyed Peas will take the stage at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which guarantees that the show should be rousing, loud and full of hits. The Peas represent a departure from the recent logic in booking Super Bowl halftime shows, which have skewed more toward classic rock acts in the past few years.
But what do the Peas have to live up to? For the Super Bowl’s first 25 years or so, the halftime show was made up mostly of marching bands and wasn’t considered to be that big of a deal. But in 1991, the NFL came up with the great idea to have a giant pop or rock act take over the show (which makes the performer that year — which happened to be New Kids on the Block — the Nirvana of the Super Bowl). Who has been the best? Here is the list of the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows of the modern era (1991 to 2010) in descending order (with a few thoughts on the top six).
U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002)
Though the theme was beyond somber (the show operated as a tribute to the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001), U2 proved why they were the biggest band on the planet. In a moving performance, the band blew through hits new and old (“Beautiful Day,” “Where the Streets Have No Name”) and projected the name of the dead behind them.
Michael Jackson (Super Bowl XXVII, 1993)
For anybody watching in 1993, Jackson’s performance of “Heal the World” became instantly iconic and set the bombast bar extremely high for future halftime shows.
Prince (Super Bowl XLI, 2007)
Prince did it with huge hits (“Purple Rain”), a surprise cover (Foo Fighters’ “Best of You”) and scorching musicianship (probably the best guitar solo in Super Bowl halftime history). Also, he did it in the pouring rain, which made it even more majestic.
Bruce Springsteen (Super Bowl XLIII, 2009)
Basically did everything Prince did, except didn’t have to fight the weather. Springsteen’s performance is also notable because the frontman did his signature knee slide across the stage and collided with a camera, a surreal sight (especially in HD).
New Kids on the Block (Super Bowl XXV, 1991)
It was big, it was fun, it was bombastic, it was for a good cause (it was in honor of the children of armed forces members serving in Operation Desert Storm) and it featured an appearance by Mickey Mouse. What more could you want?
Paul McCartney (Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005)
It’s pretty easy to have a great show when you’ve got a bunch of Beatles songs at your disposal, and McCartney sure knows how to handle a stadium. This is one of the underrated greats.
Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Aerosmith, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly (Super Bowl XXXV, 2001)
Janet Jackson, Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004)
Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting (Super Bowl XXXVII, 2003)
Diana Ross (Super Bowl XXX, 1996)
Gloria Estefan (Super Bowl XXVI, 1992)
Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, the Temptations and Queen Latifah (Super Bowl XXXII, 1998)
Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias and Toni Braxton (Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000)
The Rolling Stones (Super Bowl XL, 2006)
Chaka Khan, Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Savion Glover (Super Bowl XXXIII, 1999)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Super Bowl XLII, 2008)
The Blues Brothers, James Brown, ZZ Top (Super Bowl XXXI, 1997)
The Who (Super Bowl XLIV, 2010)
Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and the Judds (Super Bowl XXVIII, 1994)
Indiana Jones, Marion Ravenwood, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval and the Miami Sound Machine (Super Bowl XXIX, 1995)
What’s your favorite Super Bowl halftime show? Let us know in the comments!