The Super Bowl halftime show is arguably one of the biggest gigs in the music business, and has provided us with some of the most iconic pop culture moments and spectacles in recent memory.
In preparation for Tom Brady’s ninth trip to the Super Bowl, we thought it was the perfect time to take a look back and rank the halftime shows from each year the Patriots were at the game. And thanks to the numerous appearances by Tom Brady, we are lucky to have a lot of performances to choose from. We’re not sure where Maroon5, Big Boi, and Travis Scott will fit in to this list, but here are our current rankings.
1. U2 – 2002
For the first Super Bowl since 9/11, the nation was still in mourning, and this performance was exactly what we needed from a halftime show. In a more somber style, U2 performed “Beautiful Day,” “MLK” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” while a giant banner displayed the names of everyone who died in the tragedy. It hit the perfect emotional resonance, being poignant and cathartic while still being entertaining.
2. Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot – 2015
This performance was everything a halftime show should be: Wacky, colorful, surprising and full of meme-able moments. Until Lady Gaga’s roof jump, Katy Perry had by far the greatest entrance: Riding in on a giant mechanical lion that actually roared while she sang “Roar.” Lenny Kravitz made an appearance, turning “I Kissed A Girl” into a rock anthem, and Missy Elliott performed three of her biggest hits. There were dancing beach balls, palm trees and surfboards. Plus, it gave birth to one of the greatest Internet sensations of our times: Left Shark.
3. Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Simpson – 2004
From the beginning, it was already an odd — yet epic — mismatch of superstars. We obviously all remember this year’s show for the infamous wardrobe malfunction heard ‘round the world, which forever altered broadcast and live television. But you’ve probably forgotten some of the crazier moments, like Kid Rock wearing an American Flag poncho, P. Diddy riding some sort of hoverboard through smoke, or Nelly entering the arena in a giant red truck.
4. Lady Gaga – 2017
Lady Gaga performed as if she was born for this very moment. We’ll never forget her entrance, where she literally jumped off of the roof after singing a patriotic mashup of “God Bless America” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. From there, she sped through futuristic performances of “Pokerface,” her empowerment anthem “Born This Way,” and the ballad “A Million Reasons.” Although it didn’t feature any collaborations or surprise guests, Lady Gaga proved why she is one of this generation’s most exciting entertainers.
5. Madonna – 2012
This performance was as over-the-top and flashy as you’d expect from one of the biggest cultural icons of the century. Decked out in Cleopatra-inspired garb and surrounded by Spartan-themed backup dancers, Madonna danced, shimmied, lunged, and marched her way through some of her biggest hits and made it all look effortless. Appearances by stars like LMFAO, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A were a bit perplexing, but it all ended with a dramatic duet of “Like A Prayer” with Cee Lo Green and a full gospel choir.
6. Paul McCartney – 2005
After the infamous 2004 show, the NFL needed to avoid a scandal, and what’s safer than a Beatle? Nothing controversial about that. Sir Paul McCartney led a crowd-pleasing performance of some of his biggest hits, “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” and “Live and Let Die,” and concluded with an audience singalong to “Hey Jude.” Sometimes simple is best.
7. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – 2008
He was one of the biggest rock stars out there, and delivered a perfectly acceptable performance, but without any of the flashiness and inventiveness we’ve come to expect from halftime shows. Everyone loves “American Girl” and “Free Fallin’” but we would have liked to see a little more creativity for such an important cultural moment.
8. Justin Timberlake – 2018
The third time was definitely not the charm for Justin Timberlake. Probably the most boring Super Bowl performance of the modern era, the only redeeming quality of this show was the emergence of Selfie Kid. We couldn’t even pinpoint a coherent theme, other than… camouflage? Timberlake also garnered more unnecessary controversy with a holographic display of Prince, who had just died. Was he playing it safe after the 2004 disaster? We’ll never know.