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The Past 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows, Ranked

February 10, 2023 | Reid Sperisen
This Sunday marked the return of one of music’s biggest superstars as Rihanna took the stage at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to headline the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show. As headline-grabbing as the Barbadian billionaire’s first live performance in five years was, it sparked my reflection on all of the culture-shaking moments the most coveted gig in music has brought us over the years. We’ve done the research for you– here’s the past decade in Super Bowl Halftime Shows, but only you can determine how Rihanna’s stacks up in the ranks.

10. Maroon 5, Super Bowl LIII (2019)

If it were not disgraceful enough that the safest soccer mom band on Earth was selected to perform in the hip-hop capital that is Atlanta, then the performance that Maroon 5 gave was even worse. Despite appearances from Travis Scott and Big Boi, this set only ever operated as a vanity walk for an obnoxiously off-key Adam Levine to awkwardly remove layers of clothing, building up to the cringe-inducing shirtless conclusion of “Moves Like Jagger.” Save yourself 14 minutes of your life and skip the nostalgic urge to revisit whatever banal catastrophe that was. 0/10

9. Justin Timberlake, Super Bowl LII (2018)

From his underwhelming entrance from the underbelly of the stadium to his hideous all-camouflage Stella McCartney suit, Justin Timberlake’s headlining appearance was doomed from the start. Seeking redemption after being embroiled in *that* Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco in 2004, JT failed to provide any evidence that his superstar charisma or musical chops were still intact as he promoted his album Man of the Woods. The lowest point (of several) in the show came during an uncomfortable pseudo-tribute to Prince that only accentuated Timberlake’s weak vocals and middling choreography. 2/10

8. The Weeknd, Super Bowl LV (2021)

An asterisk has to be placed next to The Weeknd’s halftime show, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and need for social distancing surely inhibited the execution of his creative vision. Regardless of the external circumstances surrounding his performance, this victory lap during his inescapable After Hours era was unfortunately puzzling and perplexing more often than not. For too much of the show, the enigmatic Canadian crooner was fairly stationary and solely serenading the camera, a problem that not even an on-field “Blinding Lights” blitz could correct. 4/10

7. Coldplay, Super Bowl 50 (2016)

The first five minutes of the landmark 50th halftime show seemed poised to adopt the same nature as Coldplay’s music: perfectly enjoyable, but also largely forgettable beyond frontman Chris Martin’s occasional bursts of energy. Thank goodness for the guest stars that completely stole the spotlight, with Bruno Mars’ stadium-ready “Uptown Funk” and an explosive debut of Beyoncé’s Black pride banger “Formation.” After a poorly constructed piano medley portraying footage of previous halftime shows, the performance ended on a unifying note as Martin, Mars, and Beyoncé reunited amidst a stadium abloom in a bonanza of pastels. 6/10

6. Bruno Mars, Super Bowl XLVIII (2014)

Bruno Mars was born to be an entertainer, and this set proved it as soon as he appeared with an emphatic drum solo. Only four years into his mainstream career, Mars and his hooligans oozed sexiness and soul as they served a satisfying arrangement of crowd-pleasers, the best of which was the frenetic “Runaway Baby.”  With that said, points have to be docked for an inexplicable appearance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who failed to match Mars’ showmanship and made it painfully obvious that their instruments weren’t being played live. 7/10

5. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, & Kendrick Lamar, Super Bowl LVI (2022)

Hip-hop finally got its moment at the first halftime show played in LA’s own SoFi Stadium, and the killer line-up brought their A-game for the momentous occasion. Anchored by the immortal beats of Dr. Dre, the highlights of the decade-spanning set included the laid-back groove of Snoop Dogg during “The Next Episode” and the emotive belting of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama.” The only reason this show isn’t higher on the list is because at times the strength of the line-up was to its own detriment; each of the five artists in question had enough beloved hits that they could have dominated the set themselves rather than squeezing out a couple catchy choruses within their allotted two minutes of airtime. 8/10

4. Katy Perry, Super Bowl XLIX (2015)

Katy Perry’s halftime show is a master class in maximizing the spectacle of the biggest gig in music, delivering an incredible show despite her shortcomings as a vocalist and dancer. Everything that crossed the screen was crafted to possess the same immediate memorability of her effervescent pop hooks, from the drama-infused entrance atop an animatronic lion to the sun-soaked corniness of the backup dancer Left Shark. Throw in a thrilling appearance by rap goddess Missy Elliott and a well-timed midair finale of “Firework,” and you’ve got a performance “even brighter than the moon, moon, moon.” 9/10

3. Shakira & Jennifer Lopez, Super Bowl LIV (2020)

It’s hard to believe how aggressively the NFL corrected course after the Maroon 5 disaster in 2019, bringing together two of the Latinx community’s most beloved superstars to light up Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. Before 2020 became a grueling blur of unrest and hardship, this absolutely delightful set ushered in the new decade in exciting fashion as an exuberant Shakira and energetic Jennifer Lopez offered up a message of cultural celebration and acceptance. With new medleys to squeeze in as many songs as possible and impressive choreography displays backed by battalions of dancers, this show proved that the Super Bowl can be both feminist and fun. 9.5/10

2. Lady Gaga, Super Bowl LI (2017)

Few halftime shows have what it takes to be as legendary as Lady Gaga’s, where the bisexual songstress flew in from the stadium’s ceiling on wires and became the first artist to recognize the LGBTQ+ community during the Super Bowl with the inclusion of her 2011 classic “Born This Way.” Taking the stage without any guest acts, Mother Monster showcased her diverse talents as a vocalist, dancer, and instrumentalist, especially during her cathartic ballad “Million Reasons.” But no moment shone brighter than the final number, when the heart-pumping “Bad Romance” received its most ferocious rendition to date, complete with a rising platform and flames shooting into the sky. 10/10

1. Beyoncé, Super Bowl XLVII (2013)

There is a reason why Beyoncé just became the Grammys’ most awarded artist of all time and was named the greatest living entertainer by Rolling Stone. Her halftime show a decade ago still stands as a testament to her unparalleled talent. In lieu of costume changes or expensive set pieces, Beyoncé commanded the Super Bowl’s sparse stage with such fiery passion and rhythmic verve that the power went out at New Orleans’ Superdome. While every single second was a highlight, never before has “Crazy in Love” been so electrifying or “Halo” sounded so heavenly, and a Destiny’s Child reunion segued into the bombast of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was just icing on the cake. 10/10

Next year, Rihanna’s performance will join the ranks of 10 years of (mostly) unforgettable moments on America’s biggest stage. But how do you think Rihanna’s set compares to the shows that preceded her? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
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