Moments During The Super Bowl Halftime Show No One Will Forget

Not many television events attract viewers like the Super Bowl. According to CNBC, the game was viewed by over 96 million people in 2021, and that was the lowest viewership since 2007. Suffice it to say, people love watching the Super Bowl. The only way to make an epic athletic battle interspersed with million-dollar commercials even more appealing to viewers, or to make some of us tune in at all, is by interrupting the game with a wildly entertaining performance by one or more of the most famous musicians in the world.

The Super Bowl halftime show is now a longstanding tradition of grandeur and meme-making moments, but it wasn't always such a long-awaited affair. Prior to 1991, the Super Bowl halftime shows were mixtures of marching band performances and bizarre ideas that were executed — some so bizarre they cannot be called anything other than ideas. According to History, Super Bowl IV's halftime show was marked by an unsuccessful hot air balloon race and a Battle of New Orleans reenactment. Like we said — bizarre.

But as The Atlantic recounted, the New Kids on the Block's Super Bowl halftime show in 1991 was the first to feature a popular artist, and since then we've been gifted with some of the most iconic pop culture moments. Suit up, because we're about to tackle some of the most unforgettable things that've happened during Super Bowl halftime shows.

Katy Perry's Left Shark stole the show

Katy Perry was at the height of her fame in 2015, making it fitting for her to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. Perry entered the field "Hunger Games" style, riding a giant tiger and wearing a dress adorned in flames. Lenny Kravitz, who later joined her on stage, did not pay homage to the film he co-starred in, unfortunately.

Perry and Kravitz sang her hit song "I Kissed a Girl," and Missy Elliott hopped on stage to perform a medley of her own hits, but it was a shark that stole the show. Accompanying Perry on stage while she sang "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls" were two shark mascots, one of whom, now known as Left Shark, seemed to be performing their own choreography. Viewers fell in love with Left Shark, and memes of the now-beloved mascot instantaneously circulated social media.

Bryan Gaw, the dancer responsible for blessing the world with such a moment, opened up to NPR nearly three years later about the method to his magic. "There's also what's called free-style choreography, or, like, you get to move around or play your character as a dancer," he said. "I'm in a 7-foot blue shark costume. There's no cool in that. So what's the other option? Well, I'm gonna play a different character." There may not be cool in dancing as a giant shark, but there definitely is in becoming a viral sensation. We salute you, Left Shark.

Beyoncé reunited with Destiny's Child

Fans were thrilled to learn Beyoncé was booked as the headliner for the Super Bowl halftime show in 2013. Queen Bey teased her performance in a pre-show interview, but was careful not to give too much away. When asked if others would join her on stage, she replied, "Maybe... I can't tell you any answers to that." The public already speculated that two specific women would perform with her, and her coy answer was enough to convince fans there would indeed be a Destiny's Child reunion at the Super Bowl.

The night of the show, she entertained the crowd with a medley of her hits and delivered dazzling choreography. Needless to say, the set was superb from the start, but it hit a new high when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams jumped on stage. The three children of Destiny performed some of their group's hits and teamed up for a very special rendition of Bey's indomitable track "Single Ladies." Much like the Destiny's Child reunion that happened at Coachella in 2018, this was a major moment. 

A few years later, Queen Bey would grace the Super Bowl stage yet again. During Coldplay's set, she delivered a mind-blowing rendition of "Formation," had a dance off with fellow guest star Bruno Mars, and caught herself mid-stumble. We are not worthy.

U2 honored 9/11 victims

After the September 11 attacks, the world changed. Institutions across the United States felt the effects and many struggled in the aftermath, unsure how to address situations and handle them with sensitivity and reverence for what had happened. When Super Bowl XXXVI arrived a few months later, Irish rock band U2  used the halftime show to honor 9/11 victims.

The set began with a performance of their hit "Beautiful Day." Several minutes into the show, a banner reading "September 11th 2001" unfurled, and the names of the fallen were displayed as frontman Bono continued singing. The tribute continued well into the show, and ended with Bono opening his jacket to reveal an American flag lining.

Bono discussed the touching performance in an interview, "I was connected with the other audience. ... I was trying to connect with people living in Queens, Texas, Chicago, whatever. Anyone who had lost someone. ... I felt we were honoring them, and I knew that it was right."

The Rolling Stones had an incredible stage

British rock band The Rolling Stones have been playing music since what feels like the beginning of time. Had the Super Bowl halftime show featured artists in the '70s and '80s the way it does today, the Stones would have likely dropped in at least once before 2006. Had they performed before 2006, though, they might not have been able to pull off the most memorable part of their show: their stage.

One of the best things about playing the Super Bowl is that artists have major creative license since the stage has to be built specifically for the performance. Many artists have taken advantage of this throughout the years, but none have done it quite like The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and company performed on a stage shaped like their famous tongue logo, which allowed fans to be inside and outside the unique setup.

The Rolling Stones delivered a packed set that included "Start Me Up" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." As awesome as the show was, it was not without some behind-the-scenes drama. As Billboard reported at the time, a rep for the band said they thought the NFL's decision to censor a handful of lyrics during the performance was "ridiculous and completely unnecessary"; a rep for the NFL said the band was "fine with it." Sounds like you can't always get what you want.

Diana Ross left in a helicopter

The Super Bowl halftime show history is full of moments that, by today's language, would be described as extra. None, though, are quite as extra as Diana Ross's exit at Super Bowl XXX. To start, dancers spelled out Ross's name on the field, and others accompanied her on stage while she belted songs from her days with the Supremes. Oh, and let us not forget that arrived via crane that was firing off sparklers. 

The dancers on the field proved quite talented at formations, and just minutes in created a heart around the stage and let helium balloons ascend. Ross's show would've been iconic thanks to the dancers alone, but as the show continued, she made it harder and harder for fans to look away. After flames, choirs, costume changes, and another field formation spelling out XXX in honor of the Super Bowl's thirtieth year, Ross's exit began. As a helicopter descended toward the stage, Ross shouted, "Oh, my! Here comes my ride!" Helicopter attendants strapped Ross safely inside, and with her legs hanging out the side, the chopper took off. The crowd went wild after she exited the stage, and America knew they'd never see another exit as grand as Miss Ross's.

It's a performance that's stuck with fans for years — and one of those fans happens to be The Weeknd. According to Just Jared, the "Blinding Lights" singer told reporters at a 2021 press conference that as far as Super Bowl performances go, Ross's halftime show reigns supreme.

Lady Gaga jumped onto the stage

Few performers are as dramatic as Lady Gaga, and we would not have it any other way. Gaga took her showmanship to new heights for the Super Bowl halftime show, starting her performance on top of the stadium, singing a patriotic mashup and reciting the end of the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, she jumped off the ledge and was lowered to the stage to sing some of her own songs.

Per TMZ, the stunning entrance was pre-recorded, but Gaga, ever one to take risks, did perform the stunt herself for the recording. The rest of the mini concert was theatrical as ever, and showcased Gaga's genuine musicality and artistry.

Gaga looks back fondly on her performance, but there is one moment she regrets: the second jump at the end of the show where she caught a touchdown pass. The "Bad Romance" songstress shared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" she thinks the decision was "silly." For Gaga, silly and iconic are one and the same.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake made history

No list of Super Bowl halftime show performances would be complete without mentioning the most infamous moment of them all: Nipplegate. You know the story, but here's a quick recap for good measure: At the end of Janet Jackson's Super Bowl XXXVIII set, guest star Justin Timberlake pulled part of her top off, revealing her entire breast.

The scrutiny Jackson received afterward was harsh and unwarranted. As Billboard recounted, Jackson was disinvited from the Grammys the following week, and radio and television stations stopped playing her music, which led to incredibly low sales of her album "Damita Jo," compared to those of her previous albums. Although two parties were involved in the incident, only one of their careers took a hit. Meanwhile, Timberlake's career not only soared, but he was asked to perform at the Super Bowl again. Two years after the moment, Jackson addressed the performance and the fallout on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "All the emphasis was put on me, not on Justin," she said. 

Timberlake did issue a public apology to Jackson, albeit over 15 years later. "I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right," he said on Instagram.

The Weeknd's entire performance stunned

Canadian-born international superstar Abel Tesfaye, known by his stage name The Weeknd, had a better 2021 than, well, anyone else on Earth. He released new music, announced that his highly anticipated stadium tour will indeed begin in summer 2022 after pandemic-related postponements, dethroned Chubby Checker as the artist behind Billboard's number one song on the Greatest Songs of All Time Hot 100 Chart, and essentially became the top musical artist in the world. His unparalleled year began with one of the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

Many Super Bowl halftime shows have featured multiple artists all crooning one or two of their most recognizable tunes, but The Weeknd's only accomplices in his production were the choir members, dancers, and orchestra members who served as mere backup to the artist. Between The Weeknd running through a mirrored maze, singing and dancing to a mid-show fireworks display, infiltrating the field with hundreds of dancers donning his signature red jacket, and ending the show with another fireworks display, it was impossible to look away while he entertained America with a medley of his famed catalog.

Before the big game, it was revealed The Weeknd invested $7 million of his own money to create the halftime show he wanted. As he told the NFL Network, "It was tough to bring the vision to life with what we had at the time. ... We didn't really know what we were doing, we just knew that we'd have to be creative."

Michael Jackson just stood there

Of all the ways to kick off a performance, standing motionless seems like the least likely, but that's exactly what Michael Jackson did to start his Super Bowl halftime show. For over a minute, the King of Pop stood like a statue, letting the crowd's energy build and build. Eventually, Jackson removed his sunglasses and the music began. And with that, his halftime spectacular was off to the races. 

To include the entire crowd in his performance, each person in the Rose Bowl stands was given a prop to lift per his direction to create pictures of children while "We Are the World" played. Children and choir members joined Jackson on stage to sing "Heal the World," and fireworks served as the show's crescendo. His jam-packed set also included "Jam," "Black or White," and "Billie Jean." According to The New York Times, his halftime show was a bigger draw than the first half of the actual game. 

It was a moment that totally changed the Super Bowl halftime show. As The Hollywood Reporter reflected, before the King of Pop's set, the event was "mostly an afterthought" and he helped shape it into the "communal pop extravaganza" it has become. 

Prince performed in the rain

When it was announced that Prince would be headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2007, the world knew it was in for an epic 12 minutes. Prince's performance was everything a halftime show should be: loud, energetic, and full of hits for fans to sing along.

His performance would've gone down in history regardless, but one element made it unequivocally great: rain. Prince performed his entire set during the first rainfall in the Super Bowl's history, and ended the show with a magical performance of his iconic song "Purple Rain." Prince performing "Purple Rain" in the rain? It doesn't get much better than that. As Jess Day says in "New Girl," "I think Prince is magic."

Prince, being the legend he is, didn't limit his performance to the halftime show. Instead of going the traditional Q&A route at his Super Bowl press conference, he did what he did best: played music. "Contrary to rumor, I'd like to take a few questions right now," he said before interrupting a reporter's inquiry to begin a surprise concert. No one will ever do it like The Artist.

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez wowed the crowd

International superstars Shakira and Jennifer Lopez teamed up for a tremendous Super Bowl halftime show in 2020. Shakira started things off with a show-stopping medley of hits before stepping aside so J.Lo could do the same. The incredible set featured cameos by J Balvin and Bad Bunny, dynamic staging, and, of course, epic dancing. Eventually the two pop megastars joined forces on the stage to sing Lopez's "Let's Get Loud" and Shakira's "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)."

J.Lo and Shakira sharing the stage was a jaw-dropping moment for the books. As The Atlantic wrote, "This was an extravaganza that burst at its sparkly harness, and it would have been too much if every part weren't dazzlingly done."

Alas, there were some people who took issue with the fantastic dancing, believing some of the moves, such as a pole routine, to be too explicit. According to WFAA, the Federal Communications Commission was flooded with complaints afterward. While the FCC didn't receive nearly as many following Shakira and J.Lo's performance as they did after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's, they did get over 1,300 messages from viewers who were upset by the content. Complaints be darned, it was an electric, memorable performance.

M.I.A. flipped the bird

Most Super Bowl halftime show performances go off without any hitches, but some have blunders that prompt swift legal action afterward. Unfortunately for M.I.A., the latter was the case. The British rapper joined Madonna and Nicki Minaj for the Queen of Pop's performance of "Give Me All Your Luvin'," and ended her verse by flipping off the camera as the lyrics told the audience exactly what she doesn't give.

M.I.A.'s choreography didn't sit well with the NFL, and per The Hollywood Reporter, she was sued for $16.6 million and an apology. The suit was settled in arbitration, so the terms weren't publicly released.

The rapper did speak out about the situation years later, telling Huck (via NME), "The lawsuit was so ridiculous." She also noted that her management encouraged her to sign an agreement offered by the NFL, but she refused. We doubt we'll ever see her on the Super Bowl stage again.

Red Hot Chili Peppers performed pre-recorded music

When Bruno Mars headlined the Super Bowl halftime show in 2014, it was a kinetic, hit-filled extravaganza that happened to feature a quick cameo by rock outfit the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Super Bowl has a long history of creating seemingly random collaborations for their halftime show, and this was no exception. Both parties were entertaining to watch, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers made headlines by not performing live, which audiences expect of, well, live performances.

Viewers noticed the rockers were playing unplugged guitars, leading them to believe they were hearing a pre-recorded version of the song. Following the show, RHCP bassist Flea posted a since-deleted letter on their website, admitting to using pre-recorded music and explaining the situation. "It was made clear to us that the vocals would be live, but the bass, drums, and guitar would be pre-recorded," he wrote (via The Verge), noting that the NFL was firm on this decision. We appreciate the effort either way.

Bruce Springsteen slid across the stage

Bruce Springsteen began the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show with the E Street Band by telling the audience, "I want you to step back from the guacamole dip. I want you to put the chicken fingers down, and turn your television all the way up." We can't say whether viewers followed his instructions regarding the guacamole and chicken (we didn't), but we're sure they turned their volume up to avoid missing even a moment of The Boss's set.

Springsteen and company entertained fans with their legendary songs, and a few minutes into the show, the singer slid across the stage toward a camera, all but crashing into the lens. Some viewers loved it, others hated it, but no one forgot it.

Springsteen seems to look back at the moment fondly, and ahead of the 2018 Super Bowl, he tweeted a gif of the move for fans to watch on repeat. "Happy Super Bowl Sunday!" he said. Every Super Bowl Sunday is a happy one, but they're especially happy when we're gifted with unforgettable moments like that one during the halftime show.