Lady Gaga will soon join a tremendous roster of artists who've performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. Beyonce, MJ, Mick, Sir Paul, Prince, Jim Belushi -- all the greats.
It wasn't always like that. Prior to 1993, the Super Bowl halftime show was barely indecipherable from, say, the Rose Bowl halftime show. There were college marching bands and weird 1970s "Up With People" performances. In 1992, the Minneapolis Super Bowl featured a winter carnival with Brian Boitano figure skating with Dorothy Hamill. It was filler. That soon changed.
That debacle, in addition to FOX siphoning viewers from the halftime show with a live edition of In Living Color, helped bring superstars to the stage. Now, with those performers and their surprise guests, many regard the actual game as a mere vessel for the main event in the middle.
Before Lady Gaga takes the stage (and perhaps steals the show) at Super Bowl LI, FOX Sports looks back at the last 24 Super Bowl halftime shows -- the modern era, if you will -- and ranks them from first to worst. Given Gaga's flair for the dramatic and penchant for theatrics, it'll be no surprise if she's near the top of this list come Sunday night. (Note: Headliners listed first. Post updated from September.)
MICHAEL JACKSON (1993)
For a moment forever etched in time, the King of Pop shot up from the stage and stood tall in triumph, surveying his 100,000 subjects (and 100 million at home) for almost 90 seconds before breaking out into five songs he didn't even need to sing -- the fans were doing that for him. It would be MJ's last stand. Later that summer, sexual abuse allegations would derail his career and Michael would never be the same. But after that night at the Rose Bowl, neither would the Super Bowl halftime show.
Getty ImagesGeorge Rose
For all his greatness, Prince didn't have a catalog over the previous 20 years that the 140 million television viewers would know all that well. (In his later years, Prince was more popular for being Prince than anything else.) Would he subject fans to recent songs they didn't know? He had hundreds, after all, and some were great. Prince knew fan service, though. He went We Will Rock You < Let's Go Crazy < Baby I'm A Star < Proud Mary < All Along the Watchtower < Best of You < Purple Rain for his set. That's a Queen cover, Tina Turner cover, Bob Dylan cover, an odd Foo Fighters cover and three songs from his masterwork, Purple Rain. Game, blouses.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
BEYONCE, DESTINY'S CHILD (2013)
Queen Bey performed nine songs (three with her former pop-group mates) in a whirlwind, tour-de-force performance that should be the standard for halftime shows: A performer at the peak of her power performing hits with one "surprise" (everybody knew Kelly and Michelle were coming out for a few tracks, but they fit the proceedings) rather than a cluttered mess of people on the stage obscuring the headliner.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
JANET JACKSON, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE (2004)
Well, one part was more memorable than the rest. (Bar trivia: What song were they singing during Janet's exposure? Rock Your Body.)
Getty ImagesFrank Micelotta
AEROSMITH, ‘N SYNC AND BRITNEY SPEARS (2001)
It's very rare that a Super Bowl features performers at the height of their popularity. Hugely popular? Sure. But at the exact apex of their careers? Not quite. The only time it happened was in 2001, when ‘N Sync and Britney Spears (hardly Beyonce or The Stones, I understand) took the stage and combined with Aerosmith for a joint performance of Walk This Way that stands as one of the most memorable halftime moments ever.
Getty ImagesDoug Pensinger
KATY PERRY, LENNY KRAVTIZ, MISSY ELLIOTT (2015)
You know how some people embarrassingly admit to not seeing seminal movies, like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters (mine), Star Wars or Die Hard? That's kind of the way I feel about Left Shark. I watched it live and didn't notice. I watched a replay and didn't notice. I still don't get it. So that non-troversy notwithstanding, Perry produced a great, upbeat show that was brought down a little by Missy Elliott in one of those "here's [name the artist], a fine musician who appears here for no reason whatsoever" guest spots. Sing songs people know. Act like you want to be there. Have fun. It's not that hard.
PAUL MCCARTNEY (2005)
The greatest, and most famous, halftime performer ever -- but not the greatest halftime show ever, disappointingly. Since those old Beatles songs are so short, McCartney can perform almost 40 songs at a regular concert, which takes fans through his whole musical history, from the early pop days through the Revolver experimentations through the Abbey Road perfection through the overrated Wings years through the cheesy duets up through his underrated recent output. So, with all those songs at his disposal, Sir Paul played: Drive My Car, Get Back, Live and Let Die and, of course, Hey Jude. Opportunity missed. But McCartney could have played G-chord progressions while reading the Wells Report and it still would have been awesome.
AFP/Getty ImagesROBERTO SCHMIDT
DIANA ROSS (1996)
Ross finished her Supremes-heavy medley by helicoptering out of the stadium. Like a Ross.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (2009)
The Boss plays four-hour shows. Giving him 15 minutes is like asking Ezra Edelman to adapt the O.J. documentary for a half-hour time slot. The songs he played at the Super Bowl -- Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Born to Run, Working on a Dream (blech) and Glory Days -- were impeccable, but it felt like Bruce was barely warmed up. Whatever it was, that show inspired Bruce to write his new memoir Born to Run (it's great) and to probably take new precautions while sliding among cameras.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
THE ROLLING STONES (2006)
When the Stones tour, they're nominally doing it to support a new record but really just using it as an excuse to charge baby boomers $375 to watch them sing the hits like Brown Sugar. But, out of obligation, Mick and Keith will play a few new songs, which everyone accepts and sits through, provided they don't do too many. Anyway, that's cool to do when you're on stage with a 22-song setlist, but when you have to narrow it down to just three, like the Stones did in Detroit, you can't have Start Me Up and Satisfaction bookending the opening track to the immensely forgettable 2005 album named A Bigger Bang.
MCT via Getty ImagesAbaca Press
BLACK EYED PEAS, SLASH, USHER (2011)
The Black Eyed Peas performed songs people knew, didn't take themselves too seriously, had the crowd jammin' out like they were at a Bat Mitzvah and kept even the snobbiest Pitchfork writer tapping his foot. What more do you want, people?
Getty ImagesChristopher Polk
With 9/11 still on everybody's mind, Bono was in all his preening but admittedly touching glory. A projected scroll of all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims from that horrible day was a wonderful remembrance but made the football 10 minutes later feel trivial.
Getty ImagesJed Jacobsohn
BRUNO MARS, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS (2014)
Bruno Mars is a tremendous performer with a flair for the stage and some catchy songs to boot. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the most entertaining bands around and have a handful of tracks to which everybody can sing along. Mix 'em together and you get awkwardness on the level of Tom Brady lunching with Roger Goodell.
MOTOWN SALUTE (1998)
The NFL saluted Motown with a performance in San Diego. You won't find any criticism of Boyz II Men here, but that was a little like having a tribute to the blues at a game in Phoenix. So even though MJ had ushered in a new era of halftime shows, it took about a decade to work out the kinks.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
SHANIA TWAIN, NO DOUBT, STING (2003)
Sting surprisingly managed to finish within the allotted 20 minutes.
COLDPLAY, BRUNO MARS, BEYONCE (2016)
The guest stars were back for second go-rounds on the halftime stage and for good reason -- they both gave great performances in the years they headlined. But why is Beyonce jumping into the middle of a set by a pasty British dad rock band? If you want Beyonce, get her to headline. You don't get Leonardo DiCaprio for a movie and then put him behind Jake Gyllenhaal.
Matthew EmmonsMatthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
MADONNA, CEE-LO, M.I.A., NICKI MINAJ, LMFAO, REST OF PLANET (2012)
From the school of less is more, The Material Girl would have had a fine show if she didn't trot out the entire Billboard Top 40 to perform along with her. While there had been some concern Madonna would try and use her platform to shock the only 17 people in the U.S. she hadn't already (it's now down to 3 after her profanity-laden rant at the post-inauguration protest), it was M.I.A. who made headlines by flipping the bird to the camera (how subversive!), a move that brought a $16.6 million lawsuit by the NFL that was later settled for an undisclosed amount.
Boston Globe via Getty ImagesBoston Globe
TOM PETTY (2008)
You always forget how good Tom Petty is until you hear a couple of songs, some of which you didn't remember are his, and then - boom - you have "The Way-ay-ting is the hardest part" stuck in your head for days. Petty is pleasantly forgettable, a non factor most of the time but a star when he makes you pay attention. He's a lot like The Eagles in that way, minus the pomposity, sense of entitlement and frequent crappiness. And I guess that makes him sort of like Don Henley and Glenn Frey's band too.
MCT via Getty ImagesMCT
THE WHO (2010)
Running out of "Oldchella" options (sorry, I don't think Bob Dylan is ever getting the call), the NFL called up The Who to perform at Super Bowl XLIV, where they played the theme to not one but two CSI programs.
AFP/Getty ImagesTIMOTHY A. CLARY
CHAKA KHAN, GLORIA ESTEFAN, STEVIE WONDER, KISS, BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY (1999)
Who's the only person to headline two Super Bowl halftime shows? Sorry, Beyonce -- though you stole the show at last year's Super Bowl, it was Coldplay's show to steal. No, the answer is Gloria Estefan, proving that, indeed, the rhythm will inevitably get you.
AFP/Getty ImagesSTEPHEN JAFFE
PHIL COLLINS, CHRISTINA AGUILERA, ENRIQUE IGLESIAS (2000)
I don't know any of the songs on the five-track setlist, which is a shame because it meant Phil Collins left Sussudio just sitting there.
Between the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and Travis Tritt, the amount of blue tassel at the Georgia Dome vied for a world record.
Getty ImagesFocus On Sport
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF THE FORBIDDEN EYE (1995)
The height of mid-90s cheese: In this "stage production" that was a lot like the one at Disney's MGM Studios, Indiana Jones (but not Harrison Ford) searches for a missing object (in this case, the Vince Lombardi trophy) while Tony Bennett and Patti Labelle sing songs that only tangentially related to what's going on around them. This would stand as most embarrassing moment in Indiana Jones history until that monkey scene in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
THE BLUES BROTHERS, JAMES BROWN, ZZ TOP (1997)
One half of a fake band from Chicago opens for a soul legend from Georgia backed by a rockabilly country band from Texas all in a loving tribute to the music of New Orleans. Gus Bradley could come up with a better game plan. Still, if this performance in any way contributed to the creation of the transcendent According to Jim, then it was all worth it.