Watch: Britney, Prince and Elvis Presto. Our top ten Super Bowl halftime shows

Prince performs during the 'Pepsi Halftime Show' at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Prince performs during the ‘Pepsi Halftime Show’ at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Super Bowl LI is set to go down Sunday in Houston and avant pop innovator/Mother Monster/occasional meat frock-rocker Lady Gaga is gearing up to take the halftime spectacular on solo, with no special guests. We don’t know much about Gaga’s show yet, except that she plans to use every inch of the stage to have dynamic moments.”

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Also, it looks like there will be at least one horse in the production, because Texas, but hopefully no vomiting. To get ready for the big event we decided to take a look back at Super Bowl halftimes past.

Super Bowl halftime shows began humbly in 1967 with performances by the University of Arizona and Grambling College marching bands. Throughout their first decade they remained fairly low key. At Super Bowl VIII in Houston, in 1974, the Longhorn Band backed country singer Charley Pride on the National Anthem and then played “A Musical America” program at halftime that featured Miss Texas 1973, Judy Mallett on fiddle.

Over the years, the halftime set has grown into one of the biggest stages in the world. Last year’s game, which featured Beyoncé breaking the internet at halftime, averaged 111.9 million television viewers (and 16.9 million Tweets).   

Programming to such a massive audience is tricky, even with the superstar-anchored spectacle the show has become. In the quest to find the right balance of relatability and bombastic spectacle, producers through the years have mixed in a bit of everything — Ice skaters! Dancing beach balls and sharks! An Elvis-impersonating magician!

We polled Team 360 and our colleagues at the Statesman to compile this top ten list of memorable Super Bowl moments, including a few we should all probably forget.

2007: Prince

This show is so widely regarded as the best Super Bowl performance of all time, that Representative Jarvis Johnson of Houston filed a resolution in the Texas Legislature this week to “commemorate the 10th anniversary of Prince’s Super Bowl concert and pay tribute to the memory of this incomparable artist.”

Prince put in an epic marching band-enhanced medley of his hits, with snippets of pep rally rock standards like “We Will Rock You” and “Proud Mary” mixed in. The performance built to an unforgettable climax, the artist playing “Purple Rain” in the middle of a Miami downpour. (Fun bonus fact: The night before the performance, the Purple One warmed up with Austin’s own Grupo Fantasma, who backed him at a private pre-party.)

2016: Beyonce and Bruno Mars

Remember the beginning of 2016, when Beyonce and Bruno Mars were billed as a cameos on Coldplay’s Super Bowl set? Yeah, Bey had other plans. Bruno Mars set the stage with a serious splash of “Uptown Funk,” then Bey marched out with her drill team in “Formation.” Clad in uniforms that echoed the Black Panthers, she debuted the black power anthem of the year. The show capped off with a dance off between Bruno and Bey and does anyone remember what Coldplay did?

2009: Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band.

Springsteen and the mighty East Street Band pulled out all the stops in a show for the ages featuring guitar heroics from Steven van Zandt, fiery sax licks from the late great Clarence Clemons and the Boss belting out drop-everything-and-rock-your-face-off renditions of anthems like “Born to Run and “Glory Days.” The entire performance was electrifying 13 minutes of pure, pyrotechnic enhanced rock ‘n’ roll, but several colleagues shouted out the “crotch slam on the camera” slide as the definitive moment.

1993 Michael Jackson

I’m a Prince guy but Michael Jackson singing ‘Man in the Mirror’ and ‘Heal the World’ was amazing,” says Statesman sports writer Cedric Golden.

2001: The Britney Spears, Aerosmith, N-Sync extravaganza

Not only did Brit, then a reigning pop princess, and N-Sync, featuring her then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, perform, this rock slop spectacular also included performances from glam metal titans Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige and Nelly. If you don’t have nine minutes to devote to the entire performance (you do!), then check out this excellent .gif by .gif breakdown from EOnline.

2015: Katy Perry

In which Katy Perry lives out her jungle fire princess and Lenny Kravitz-assisted-sexually-fluid-rock-queen fantasies then plays alt-Gidget in a Dora the Explorer beach scene while left shark steals the scene. Also, Missy Elliott shows up!

2013: Beyoncé

Leave it to Beyonce to sashay into the heart of America’s biggest man cave and turn it into a sexy feminist dance party. Backed by a blistering all-female backing crew and the baddest dance team on the planet, Ms. Knowles-Carter proved exactly why she’s the diva America needs. She kicked off with “Crazy In Love,” blazed through a slew of hits, and for the climax, reunited her old crew Destiny’s Child for a medley that included “Independent Women” and “Single Ladies.”

1992: Gloria Estefan, Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill

Statesman writer Asher Price still has a lot of questions about this halftime classic. For example, whose idea was it to plug the sizzling sounds of Miami Sound Machine into a  “Winter Magic” themed event, and why did they wait for the ten-minute mark to trot out poor shivering Gloria Estefan? Also: “Why couldn’t we get cut-away shots of the flying rollerbladers during the rendition of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now?’ They just looked like red objects flitting across the screen – and they were obviously awesome.” He still considers this production, which also features a Frosty the Snowman rap, one of the all-time greats. It left him “feeling good about our chances in the 1992 Winter Olympics”

2004: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake

Nelly, Diddy and Kid Rock also showed up on this set, but the biggest thing everyone remembers the way Timberlake, who was no longer in a boy band or Britney’s boyfriend, ripped off a piece of Jackson’s costume, baring her breast in the “wardrobe malfunction” seen round the world.

1989: Be-bop Bamboozled 

According to this ESPN short documentary, this bizarre show that included the world’s biggest card trick, copious quantities of 3D glasses and Elvis impersonating magician changed the course of Super Bowl halftimes forever. Here’s a little more background.

A few more notable super bowl performances.

1998: Motown Tribute with the Temptations, Queen Latifah and Boyz II Men

2002: U2


2005: Paul McCartney

2006: Rolling Stones

Kevin Lyttle, Peter Blackstock, Eric Webb, John Bridges, Kirk Bohls, Ken Herman and Michael Adams contributed to this report. 

Author: Deborah Sengupta Stith

Deborah Sengupta Stith has been hanging out in dimly lit corners of the city soaking in the music scene for almost 20 years. Twitter: @deborific

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