Super Bowl 49: Ranking best, worst halftime shows of past 20 years

You're gonna hear Katy Perry roar on Super Bowl Sunday, but will her 12 minutes in front of the biggest audience of her life be even brighter than the moon? Or will she wind up like other discarded pop stars -- ahem, Black Eyed Peas -- who failed to rise to the moment?

Really, there's no middle when it comes to this rodeo. It's kill or be killed out there. So, yeah, no pressure Katy!

What makes a great Super Bowl halftime show? The producers of these things seem to have settled on a formula that calls for Super-sized helpings of fireworks, American flags, cute kids singing, gospel choirs, surprise cameos, elaborate wardrobes, marching bands, helicopter landings, Slash on guitar, screaming hand-picked fans and choreographed dancing.

Oh, and Janet Jackson's nipple.

That's a surefire way to get people talking.

Landing this thing, however, takes some serious skill. For every Beyonce and Prince, there's that wretched Blues Brothers Bash in the Superdome or Phil Collins singing Disney soundtrack songs in cargo pants.

Beyonce brings the heat in New Orleans.  (Getty Images)
Beyonce brings the heat in New Orleans.  (Getty Images)

Hopefully, Katy is taking notes. With that in mind, it's time to rank the past 20 Super Bowl halftime shows, from Tony Bennett wandering around lost in the Miami twilight in 1995 to Bruno Mars channeling James Brown last year in the cold at MetLife Stadium.

20. The Black Eyed Peas, 2011

It's clinically proven that listening to the Black Eyed Peas makes you dumber. OK, maybe that's not true, but somebody should do a study on what happens to the human brain after repeat exposure to Boom, Boom, Pow.

Gotta get-get … Gotta get-get … Gotta get some new ideas, Peas.

The lame Tron theme, the shameless Dirty Dancing cover, it all sucks. The only thing missing is the Happy Meal action figure tie-in.

Will.I.am is wearing a metal hair piece, Fergie is on auto tune and still can't hit a note, and Taboo is self-editing the curses of out every third line of his lyrics. Apl.de.ap? Just happy to be here.

America no like that
America no like that 'Boom, Boom, Pow.' (USATSI)

I got a feeling ... Wooooooooo hooooooooo ... that this might be worst halftime show in history.

Yep -- definitely: Slash just teleported in wearing a metal top hat, and Fergie is butchering Sweet Child O' Mine. Usher is wearing dark shades and hoping no one remembers he was here. Note to NFL: It's never a good idea to go with an act that previously headlined the halftime show at the CFL's Grey Cup.

19. Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle, 1995

America wanted an apology for Janet Jackson's exposed nipple, but it should've gotten one for this 11-minute cheesefest.

The most amazing thing about this halftime show? That it actually happened. Just read the YouTube summary:

The halftime show was titled "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye" and was produced by Disney to promote their Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland that opened later that year. The show featured actors playing Indiana Jones and his girlfriend Marion Ravenwood who were raiding the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The show also had performances by singers Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle, jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and the Miami Sound Machine. The show ended with everybody singing "Can You Feel The Love Tonight."

You can't make this stuff up.

Patti LaBelle isn't even trying to pretend she's not lip-syncing, while that's gotta be the animatronic version of Tony Bennett. That, or the poor guy must've been drugged and dropped here and he's praying someone flies him to the moon, pronto. There's that hopeless 1,000-yard stare and that awkward thumbs up while he's singing, "This is so exciting."

Run, Indy, Run!  (Getty Images)
Run, Indy, run! (Getty Images)

The only thing faker than the choreographed fighting and the theme park voice-overs is the plastic Lombardi Trophy that Indy is trying to capture.

"Snakes! Why's it's always gotta be snakes?"

18. Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, 2000

Another Disney-themed disaster at another ABC Super Bowl. This was more Olympic opening ceremony than halftime show, and nobody cares about the Olympics. There's no Xtina in ass-less chaps getting Dirrty. No Phil banging out the drums on one of the greatest stadium rock jams of all-time, In the Air Tonight. Just a bunch of awful songs that nobody has ever heard of, like Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand.

But wait, it gets worse. Edward James Olmos as narrator? Dude needs to narrate himself out of this thing and take Toni Braxton's bad lip-syncing with him.

What, James Earl Jones wasn
What, James Earl Jones wasn't available? (YouTube)

17. The Blues Brothers, James Brown, ZZ Top, 1997

The first thing you need to know about this mess is that Oscar Meyer Weiner produced it.

You can almost imagine the pitch meeting: "Hey, what if we got the wrong Belushi brother, John Goodman, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown and ZZ Top together in the middle of the Superdome? Genius!"

What do you wind up with? One giant cheddarwurst.

The fake Fox News report about Elwood Blues escaping from the Illinois State Penitentiary is probably the funniest thing here, if only for that awesome '90s news anchor hair.

'They're on a mission from God.'  (YouTube)
'They're on a mission from God.' (YouTube)

This is definitely the hardest workout that John Goodman and Dan Aykroyd have done in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the Godfather of Soul looks like he's doing bad James Brown karaoke over a canned track. He keeps missing his cues, then smiling.

"Hey! I feel good!"

'So nice! So nice! I got you!' (Getty Images)
'So nice! So nice! I got you!' (Getty Images)

No, like most Oscar Meyer products, you're not gonna feel good after consuming this thing.

16. The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Queen Latifah, Boyz II Men, 1998

Everybody loves to dance when Motown comes on at weddings, but in a Super Bowl where John Elway finally came up a winner, nobody remembers this thing.

The Temptations -- at least what's left of the original members -- and Smokey Robinson are timeless, but somebody should have left Martha Reeves and the Vandellas back in Detroit. Like a heat wave? More like hot flashes.

You gotta love those Boyz II Men, though, back in their '90s heyday doing some Motown Philly. But, what, no End of the Road? C'mon, that would have been perfect.

15. Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (1999)

E.T.! Big Bad Voodoo Daddy! Savion Glover! Gloria Estefan! Now this is one big, bad nostalgia trip. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was so money after that Swingers flick came out, and who doesn't love everybody's favorite little cuddly extraterrestrial? And, man, can Savion tap ...

Waaaaait a second ... Who let Stevie drive the car?

Ease off the gas, Stevie.  (YouTube)
Ease off the gas, Stevie. (YouTube)

Hey, anything goes in Miami at the Super Bowl. Just ask Eugene Robinson.

14. Shania Twain, Sting and No Doubt (2003)

Girl power!

Shania screaming "Let's go football fans!" may have been the only time her mic was live. Man, I feel like a beer run …

The guys in her backing band all look like they dressed up as the Lost Boys from Hook. Also, check out the dude rocking the sweet keyboard guitar.

Bangerang! Rufio!  (YouTube)
Bangerang! Rufio! (Getty Images)

No Doubt and Sting rescue this thing, somewhat, with Gwen Stefani trading lines with Sting on Message in a Bottle. But no Police reunion?

At least ABC got the message by 86ing the Disney-themed dreck.

13. Diana Ross, 1999

Nothing says XXX like Diana Ross taking off her clothes in front of millions of people. Actually, you didn't see that, but her running through four wardrobe changes in about 12 minutes is the most amazing part of this halftime show. That, and getting followed around the stage by a bunch of kids on their way to prom.

Diana Ross setting a Guiness record for world's largest golden Mumu.  (USATSI)
Diana Ross setting a Guinness record for world's largest golden Mumu. (USATSI)

Then the biggest Diva at the Super Bowl -- sorry, Prime Time -- exits the stage as only she can, in a helicopter ... like a Ross. Hey, postgame traffic is always hell.

12. The Who, 2010

There was a serious wardrobe malfunction, but nobody was running to YouTube to get another look at Pete Townshend's beer gut popping out while he did windmills on Baba O'Riley.

What was eye-catching was maybe the coolest stage setup in Super Bowl history, with the band churning through its hits on a platter that looked like a pulsing speaker or a spinning record. The Who reportedly had never watched an American football game, and some critics complained they mailed this thing in. Whatever.

These guys perfected stadium rock in the '70s. Playing the hits for 12 minutes? Almost too easy, like Drew Brees picking apart the Colts secondary.

11. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 2008

Lost in the craziness of David Tyree's amazing helmet catch, the Giants' shocking win and the heartbreak of the Pats blowing a perfect season was Tom Petty's underrated rock-solid set of hits. American Girl, Won't Back Down, Free Fallin', Running Down a Dream.

Petty clearly got what this thing's about. Just play the hits. Smile for the cameras. Get a spike in iTunes sales. Have a story to tell later.

10. Rolling Stones, 2006

"This one we could have done for Super Bowl I," Mick yells before the Stones break into Satisfaction, prompting you to ask your mom why she's moving her neck like that.

How it took 40 years for these guys to get on the Super Bowl stage is a wonder. They wrote the playbook for stadium rock.

But expecting Mick Jagger to self-censor "You make a dead man …" on Start Me Up was a play call that backfired. The NFL cut the vocal on the tape delay anyway, as well as another reference to a male rooster on Rough Justice, both of which ruffled Mick's feathers.

That's what you call a serious cock block.

9. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 2009

Twelve minutes of Bruce Springsteen is akin to only getting to watch the first 12 minutes of the Godfather. But, hey, it's the Boss and he's here to "bring the righteous and mighty power of the E-Street Band into your home."

"I want you step back from the guacamole dip," he shouts. "I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up!"

Done and done, Boss.

Tenth Avenue Freezeout, Born to Run, Glory Days, what more do you want?

OK, maybe Born in the USA, the most misinterpreted song of all time, but that's probably too much to expect in one Super Bowl show.

8. Aerosmith, Britney Spears, N'Sync, Nelly & Mary J. Blige (2001)

 

When your kids ask what America was like pre-9/11, just show them this video. Welcome to a world where MTV produces halftime shows and actually plays music, boy bands and pop tarts rule the charts, and Aerosmith is still making albums.

The mashup of N'Sync, Nelly and Britney Spears doing Walk This Way with the Bad Boys from Boston has to be one of the most awesomely bad spectacles ever done on live TV. I'm sure JT and the guys in Aerosmith are still wondering how they ever got talked into this. This is probably the most crowded Super Bowl stage ever, too. Everybody's walking around, looking for a plot of space -- no, not here, nope, not here either -- and the camera guys are totally confused on where to pan next.

7. Bruno Mars, 2014

Definitely the best moment in a terrible Super Bowl, and the closest thing to James Brown on the Super Bowl stage (the real James Brown lip-syncing with Jim Belushi and John Goodman doesn't count).

There was a little controversy, too, after it became obvious that the Red Hot Chili Peppers weren't playing those instruments live. 

As if they were the first band to not play behind a pre-recorded track at the Super Bowl. Even less of a shocker: that Flea and Anthony Kiedis came out shirtless despite temperatures in the 40s.

6. Paul McCartney, 2005

How do you clean up the Super Bowl halftime show after Nipplegate? Enter Paul McCartney.

It would have been straight punk rock if Sir Paul launched into Why Don't We Do It in the Road, but instead he played it straight, ripping through Drive My Car and Live and Let Die and thankfully avoiding Freedom.

5. Madonna, 2012

Blonde Ambition, Super Bowl Edition. This is a hot mess that you can't take your eyes off. Madonna as Cleopatra, the elaborate Roman costumes, the gospel choir, the cheerleader routine. Nobody does spectacle like Madge.

She stayed on her best behavior, too, aside from doing a headstand in some guy's crotch, but M.I.A went AWOL on the pregame marching orders, flipping the bird right in front of a TV camera. That led to a lawsuit from the NFL seeking $1.5M that was eventually settled.

Maybe M.I.A. pulled her stunt after playing Truth or Dare with Nicki Minaj in the dressing room.

The theme was clearly about Madonna, pop royalty, passing the torch to the next generation of stars, but, seriously, LMFAO? CeeLo?

Yeah, LMFAO right now ...

4. U2, 2002

U2 lands the Super Bowl and doesn't play Sunday Bloody Sunday? What kind of crap is that? OK, maybe not the best idea given the national mood at the time, but, still, that would have been epic.

It's a beautiful day in New Orleans.  (Getty Images)
It's a beautiful day in New Orleans. (Getty Images)

Jokes aside, this is the most poignant halftime show in Super Bowl history. America was still coming to grips with 9/11. U2's perfect tribute to the victims by scrolling their names while playing Where the Streets Have No Name struck the right note without being overly preachy. Bono then opened his jacket at the end to reveal the Stars and Stripes sewn inside, perfectly predicting that big Patriots upset.

3. Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, Kid Rock, Jessica Simpson and Nelly (2004)

Watergate. Spygate. Deflategate. None of those national scandals reached the level of pure absurdity and histrionics that resulted from Janet Jackson's right nipple being exposed to some 144.4 million viewers for 9/16 of a second at the end of the Super Bowl halftime show.

Nipplegate forever altered the course of history. The FCC reportedly got more than 200,000 complaints. Janet Jackson got blacklisted from MTV and radio, and her career never fully recovered. Networks had to do live TV on a longer delay. 'Wardrobe malfunction' became common nomenclature. And a software programmer who was frustrated about not being able to find repeat showings of the nip slip created what eventually became YouTube.

'Gonna have you naked'.  (USATSI)
'Gonna have you naked by the end of this song.' (USATSI)

Yes, you read that right: Janet Jackson's nipple spawned YouTube.

The finger pointing rivaled Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories and also completely overshadowed a great Super Bowl.

MVP Tom Brady could've thrown six second-half touchdowns with fully deflated soccer balls and Bill Belichick could have admitted after the game that he personally filmed the Panthers' walkthrough and knew all their defensive signals. Wouldn't have mattered.

The only thing people were talking about was Janet Jackson's unique body jewelry. No one remembers that Kid Rock wore the American flag as a poncho ... or that Diddy used to fashion himself a rapper. Months later, when David Letterman had Jackson on his show, he got right to the question that all of America had been waiting for Jackson to answer.

'How's Tito?' he asked.

2. Beyonce, 2013

This is like the Michael Jordan Hall of Fame speech of halftime shows. Beyonce arrived at the Super Bowl engulfed in controversy after lip-syncing the national anthem at Obama's second inauguration.

At her pre-Super Bowl press conference she humbly explained the cold led her to make the call to sing a canned track, and then she belted out an amazing rendition to the assembled press.

But when it came time for Super Bowl Sunday, she went straight Sasha Fierce. Those mics aren't just live, they're smoldering. Forget the inauguration controversy. It's like Beyonce brought Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland out for a Destiny's Child reunion to prove that Star Search totally blew it all those years ago.

Everybody expected Jay Z to make an appearance, but H.O.V.A would've just slowed this thing down. Queen Bey runs this town tonight.

When the power went out in the second half, there were fears of some kind of Tom Clancy terrorist plot.

Lights out, guerrilla radio.

— Tony Reali (@TonyReali) February 4, 2013

Turns out New Orleans' grid wasn't up to snuff and it wasn't Beyonce's show that blew the lights. But nobody would've been shocked if it had.

1. Prince, 2007

The King of Pop invented the modern Super Bowl halftime spectacle but it's Prince who perfected it. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, in the same class as George Harrison, he reportedly heard While My Guitar Gently Weeps only the week before performing with Tom Petty -- and then delivered this face-melting guitar solo.

Purple rain comes down in Miami.  (Getty Images)
Purple rain comes down in Miami.(Getty Images)

You can kind of imagine his prep for the Super Bowl halftime show went the same way. Like, OK, this looks easy. Marching band, check. Actual rain, check. Controversial use of Prince symbol-shaped guitar to make a giant phallic symbol? Check!

Yep, let's get crazy, let's get nuts! Best Super Bowl halftime show ever. And it's not even close.

Game, blouses.

The Prince halftime spectacular, presented by Cialis.  (Getty Images)
The Prince halftime spectacular, presented by Cialis. (Getty Images)
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