Ranking Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Ranking the last eleven Super Bowl halftime shows from worst to best.


   In case you don’t know me very well, I’m a huge football fan. I down the days until the kickoff of each NFL season, and count even longer for Super Bowl Sunday. In addition to my love for football, I look forward to the different Super Bowl halftime shows every year. I’ve always thought it was insane how right smack dab in the middle of a football game, you can have a legit concert in a matter of minutes. So, I decided to go back through the last 11 halftime shows and rank them from worst to best.


#11 – Maroon 5 (2019)

I want to bleach my eyeballs every time I see this performance. When it comes to Adam Levine’s eyeballs, they look like they’re fighting through sleeping pills the entire time. At least we can tell he’s singing live, because he is constantly missing notes. So maybe he should’ve lip-synced. 

   Leading up to the halftime show, it got substantial heat. Several artists denied the gig in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and all of the controversy surrounding the NFL at that time. Rihanna, Cardi B, and Pink all turned it down, all of which I think would’ve done a much better job than the abysmal show that Maroon 5 had to offer. 

   Tons of people were holding out for an appearance of “Sweet Victory” from SpongeBob after the passing of creator Stephen Hillenburg, and while they sort of half-commit with an intro, we ultimately just end up with the second most tragic performance of Travis Scott’s career. Big Boi drives in to represent Atlanta, but at this point in the show he should’ve just reversed back into the locker room. 

   Maroon 5 had Maroon 0 energy, and in an attempt to up the intensity, the show ends with Levine writhing around the stage shirtless. No one really knows why, and Levine himself probably doesn’t know why either, but he was stuck doing it, and I was stuck watching it.


#10 – Justin Timberlake (2018)

   2018’s halftime show brought back a disgraced performer for his third appearance. This time though, he’s headlining. There’s plenty you can say about the decision to bring Justin Timberlake back after the infamous “nipplegate” scandal that rocked the nation back in 2004. But honestly, the most offensive thing about the performance is how deeply inoffensive it really is. 

   That’s not to say it’s good though. Obviously Timberlake needed to play it safe to an extent, and he is a technically sharp performer, but everything about this halftime show is so sterilized and too safe that I end up feeling nothing by the time it’s over. 

   Also, for the entire show, Timberlake’s mic is way quieter than it should be. The Prince tribute was a nice touch, but it wasn’t enough to save this otherwise mid performance.


#9 – The Weeknd (2021)

   Leading up to this performance, The Weeknd was dealt the worst hand of any performer, having to abide by new Covid regulations. But despite that, I was still hyped for this halftime show. I love The Weeknd’s music, and he certainly has a big enough catalog of hits to back up why he was performing. 

   Unfortunately, the end product wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be. For the first half of the show (aside from his performance of “Can’t Feel My Face”), every song was performed on the exact same set and blended together so much that when you were over halfway into the show, you had barely noticed that 10 minutes of a 13 minute show had been eaten up with hardly any new visuals. He tops off the show with “Blinding Lights”, where he finally runs onto the actual field, but by that time, it’s too little, too late, and it’s not a very memorable (or good) finale. 

   Now let’s get back to his performance of “Can’t Feel My Face.” Towards the end of the 10 minute stretch of bleh, he takes a quick break to enter this cool lighted mirror maze, and it made for one of the most memorable moments of any halftime show, ever. But this is the only good moment in the entirety of what was supposed to be a much better performance, which causes The Weeknd to land in the bottom half of this list.


#8 – Coldplay (2016)

   2016 brought us Coldplay, and I still don’t know if this was a good or bad idea to have them headline. Alright, it’s not particular to this show, but I’ve got to say it. Ever since halftime shows have been commonly done in a darkened stadium, any show that’s performed on the west coast is automatically handicapped by the fact that the sun is out. 

   Obviously you can’t start the Super Bowl at 10 pm Eastern, but you also can’t tell me that the kaleidoscope props that Coldplay had out, or anything else lighting related wouldn’t have looked 100 times better if it was actually dark in the stadium. With that said, Coldplay isn’t even the headliner here. They’re definitely fine, but they also chose to feature recent Super Bowl performers that put on much more compelling shows then, and now. 

   Bruno Mars now has “Uptown Funk” and a lot more energy, and Beyonce now has “Formation” and a team of dancers dressed like Black Panthers. So after these two shared the stage together, Chris Martin and Coldplay came back, and I completely forgot that they were even there in the first place. Everything closes out with a sappy montage of past halftime shows, but seeing Mars and Beyonce alongside Chris Martin uh and Coldplay creates a disjointed quality between the three acts. 

   Overall, the performance definitely seems to lean on Beyonce and Mars for the majority of the entertainment, causing Super Bowl L’s halftime show to be mostly an L. 


#7 – Lady Gaga (2017)

   If I were ranking the openings of each halftime show, this would take #1. Lady Gaga stands at the top of NRG Stadium in Houston, singing patriotic songs, and then proceeds to jump off the roof. That’s how you start a halftime show. 

   Unfortunately, the remainder of the performance couldn’t top that moment. Sure, Gaga has a catalog of hits, all of which she performed, but I just feel like when I think of this performance, the only thing that comes to mind is her midair, diving towards the field after that leap off the roof. I have to give credit where credit is due though, she gave an immense amount of energy in her dancing, and was still able to belt her songs out. But, I’ve never been gaga for Gaga, and I was never gaga about this performance, either.


#6 – Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar (2022)

   This lineup is absolutely loaded with legends of rap music, presumably to make up for the fact that there had never been an actual hip-hop-centric headliner in the entire history of the Super Bowl. 

   But despite the insane amount of stars, it actually manages to balance all of them out, and never really feels overcrowded. Considering at the time of this halftime show, we were over a year removed from the start of the covid lockdown era, I think everybody was ready to celebrate some better times. 

   Similar to Coldplay, the game was played on the west coast, so the show does suffer from looking like it was performed at noon, but given that California ties in so heavily into the performance, it’s a little more excusable. Some of the highlights of the show include Snoop Dogg still having the most charisma of any figure in entertainment, 50 Cent hanging upside-down looking like he’s going to burst open like a piñata, Mary J. Blige belting herself into exhaustion, Kendrick Lamar in his prime already fitting into a lineup of all-time greats, Eminem performing “Lose Yourself” while Anderson .Paak has the time of his life on drums, and the entire lineup joining for “Still D.R.E” to cap off what was a historic set. 

   This show is significantly better if you slot into the age demographic that grew up with these songs, and there are spots where more energy would take this thing into the stratosphere. But as a love letter to rap music, it accomplishes everything it was supposed to.


#5 – Rihanna (2023)

   Now how do you follow up a set of legends reclaiming the throne after years away from the spotlight? Well, why don’t you just do it again? Rihanna’s return to superstardom was one of the most hotly anticipated halftimes that I can remember. Considering at the height of her fame years ago, she distanced herself from music in favor of other interests, like becoming a mom who is also a billionaire. 

   Oh, and speaking of, this show doubles as the most expensive pregnancy reveal in human history. No matter what direction Rihanna wanted to go with this show, it was impossible not to have one of the better setlists in halftime history with her catalog. Even though Rihanna is understandably limited in her choreography, her background dancers pack in a ton of energy. 

   This show had a ton going for it, but in all honesty, it seemed to be content to just coast on the fact that Rihanna is the one performing, and that alone is enough. After it ended upon my first watch, I remember wondering, “is that it?” But after rewatching every other halftime show, I realized that the dancing, setlist, the floating Super Smash Bros platforms, and the fact that it really looks like a music video came to life makes it better than most. However, the show is held back by being hyped up for months and being a tad underwhelming in the end.


#4 – Bruno Mars (2014)

   Bruno Mars opens things up with a motorized drum set, a fresh and unique way to kick off the performance. Once he finds his way to the stage, he rolls through some of the hits from his earlier albums that fit the more traditional and sleek concert vibe he’s going for. 

   Mars wasn’t quite the megastar he is now back in February 2014, so he did have a more limited catalog, but I can’t begrudge the man for landing the Super Bowl early in his career. What is he gonna do? Turn down the chance of a lifetime? Something I can begrudge though, and the only thing that I can begrudge from the show, is the Red Hot Chili Peppers being shoehorned in as guests. But other than that, there isn’t really anything to complain about.

   Despite the questioning of his catalog and his career before the performance, Mars proved that he has the same stage presence and charisma as any other superstar at that time. The closing number in “Just the Way You Are” as a dedication to military troops and their families is a beautiful way to end it all.


#3 – Shakira & J Lo (2020)

   At age 43 and 50 respectively, Shakira and J Lo proved that age is just a number, and they had zero issue injecting the energy that was desperately needed in the halftime show at this point. (I’m looking at you Maroon 5). In fact, they provide the most energetic and high-energy performance of any halftime show, and it makes for a lot of fun. 

   Shakira is on two different instruments all over the stage, and even crowd surfs during “Hips Don’t Lie.” The guests in Bad Bunny and J Balvin, although slightly forgettable, fit in perfectly with the performance, and homages are made to the cultures the two women are proud to represent. The entire production is solely focused on keeping the energy as high as possible, and as a result, the show feels more like a celebration rather than just a performance.


#2 – Beyonce (2013)

   Within the first few minutes of this show, it was clear that this performance was going to be incredible. And incredible it was. First off, Beyonce provides the best vocals from a halftime show ever, and probably the best choreography as well. Secondly, the show had so many great shots, always hooking you in with progressively more and more outstanding visuals. 

   The energy is always high, you get a non stop barrage of Beyonce’s hits, and somehow Beyonce can unleash killer vocals despite the high energy. It’s impossible to ignore how much intensity this performance has. 

   Midway through, the other two members of Destiny’s Child are catapulted to the stage for a cameo, which made for some of the best surprise guests of any halftime show. After “Single Ladies,” “Halo” caps off one of the greatest halftime shows of all time.


#1 – Katy Perry (2015)

   I’ve never been the biggest fan of Katy Perry’s music, and she is obviously not the same level of performer as someone like a Beyonce, Shakira, or Bruno Mars, but she seems to understand that. She just lets her never-ending list of number one hits be the real star of the show. “Roar” “Dark Horse” “Teenage Dream” “California Gurls” and “Firework” alone provide possibly the greatest set list of any halftime show ever, and if that wasn’t enough, she had the most visually impressive halftime show of all time. 

   There’s obviously the infamous left shark that forgets his routine he spent weeks memorizing as soon as the cameras roll, but let’s not forget the other ridiculous moments that took place during Perry’s performance. Both the gigantic metal lion she rode in on and the shooting star platform on which she exits off into the night sky are some of the best props in halftime show history. 

   There were also guest appearances from Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott. While Perry and Elliott have about zero similarities in the course of their careers, I found Elliott’s performance to be one of the best parts of the show. Overall, this show was a perfect balance between a concert and a spectacle and easily takes the number one spot for me.