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Tremendous Bowl halftime displays: Rating the most productive performances — with Usher on deck

(Editor’s observe: Along with being a baseball creator for The Athletic, Levi Weaver up to now was once an completed singer, songwriter and musician who performed roughly 1,000 displays in 43 states and 10 nations.)

Here’s a transient record of items that didn’t exist on Jan. 27, 1991:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • “Smells Like Youngster Spirit”
  • “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
  • Web sites

When making an attempt one thing so foolhardy as score each and every Tremendous Bowl halftime display from 1991 to the current, it’s no longer in point of fact honest to match them as though they existed on the similar time. So, I did my superb to weight context when making those scores.

I began with 1991, as it might be wildly unfair to match 1989 — when an Elvis Presley impersonator did card tips intended to be seen via 3-d glasses — with the largest stars on the planet enjoying soccer’s grandest level. Right here’s the rubric I used:

Tune (1-10): Instrumentation, vocal efficiency
Staging (1-10): Aggregate lights/level presentation and choreography
Set record (1-5): Did they play the hits and stay the calories excessive?
Memorable (1-10): Ten issues way we’re nonetheless speaking about it; one level way the similar factor, however for the entire incorrect causes.
“Vibes” (1-12): Crucial (and least tangible) part … did it paintings?
Geographic relevance (1-3): Did they incorporate a neighborhood act? Or, did the locale give a contribution to the efficiency in any respect?

Essentially the most a halftime display can ranking is 50 issues. Right here we pass:

In 1992, organizers had but to be told that the Tremendous Bowl will have a lot better manufacturing worth. However this one was once so dangerous it triggered organizers to shake issues up the next 12 months — bringing in Michael Jackson and converting the halftime display perpetually.

Gloria Estefan’s efficiency was once superb, however she didn’t even seem till overdue within the 13-minute display, after a snowflake military’s rendition of one thing referred to as “Iciness Magic,” adopted by means of youngsters rapping about Frosty the Snowman.

I now consider that that is the video they display performers when asking, “Are you positive you don’t need to lip-sync it?”

The “Indiana Jones”-themed set regarded very dear, and the costumes definitely have been extra concerned than the rest we’d observed earlier than. However there was once a ways an excessive amount of dangerous performing: A fake Indiana Jones (no longer Harrison Ford) steals the Tremendous Bowl trophy, and there’s a combat scene, replete with film sound bites enjoying. The entire thing felt like a half-baked promo put in combination by means of studio pros.

Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett deserved higher, however each felt very shoehorned in, as though the organizers would have most well-liked to not come with musical visitors in any respect. They wrapped with “Can You Really feel The Love This night” from “The Lion King,” and mercifully, that was once the tip.

The halftime display subsidized by means of Area of Blues. We will have had Wynton Marsalis, Dr. John, The Meters, Fat Domino, Allen Toussaint or the Preservation Corridor Jazz Band. As a substitute, this display kicked off with every other advertising scheme for an upcoming film a couple of blues band (from Chicago).

James Brown was once just right (albeit lip-synced, as evidenced right here and somewhere else). ZZ Most sensible have been forged. Excellent possible choices, however sullied by means of the blues headliners.

It will have to have labored. The halftime display was once rising from the “say sorry for 2004 by means of reserving older acts” generation, and the presentation was once decidedly trendy — futuristic, even. All it lacked was once an act that would sing on pitch. Fergie’s mic was once lower for the primary few seconds, however looking back, I’m no longer positive turning it on was once the most productive treatment.

Tremendous Bowl halftime displays: Rating the most productive performances — with Usher on deck

Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas and guitarist Slash on the Tremendous Bowl XLV halftime display in 2011. (Paul Spinelli / Related Press)

I can say that this efficiency appeared like a bunch of faculty buddies on an overly amusing night time out at a karaoke bar. Slash did superb in his cameo, and Usher was once … smartly, he did the splits, in order that was once one thing. However with the exception of a flashy level presentation, it was once in large part simplest memorable for unlucky causes.

I completely hated this display in actual time.  So, I did my superb to observe it with contemporary eyes for this record.

I nonetheless hate it.

From the intro the place Bruce Springsteen barks at us to “put the hen hands dowwwwn” to having a referee throw a prolong of sport flag simply earlier than Steven Van Zandt hollers, “It’s Boss tiiiiiiime!” … it’s simply all so very balk.

The E Side road Band is made up of a few sensible musicians, and Springsteen is a brilliant songwriter. That will have to spice up them upper in this record, however for me, none of that was once ready to polish during the cheesiness of the presentation.

27: Diana Ross (1996): 25 issues

It’s truthfully exceptional what number of of those really feel like an try to right kind a mistake made the 12 months earlier than. A 12 months after the “Indiana Jones” debacle, organizers went again to a extra conventional on-field setup, with marching band contributors in formation as Diana Ross blasted via a medley of her a lot of hits from a bare-bones level.

It was once very easy, inoffensive and an inexpensive marriage of old-style choreography with a large superstar on the heart, however none of it felt very creative or as much as the scope of the development. The go out by means of helicopter was once a pleasing contact, I suppose.

26. The Who (2010): 26.5 issues

Sorry for purchasing within the track manufacturing weeds right here, however I believe I’ve a concept for why this set fell flat. They blended a rock and roll band like a pop act: The vocals have been means too outstanding over the instrumentation. Given how a lot effort it took Pete Townshend to hit the excessive notes on “Teenage Barren region” and the way half-baked Roger Daltrey’s harmonica solo sounded, it was once a specifically egregious resolution.

At their superb, The Who have been at the leading edge of the rock and roll revolution. Right here, they arrive off as an anachronism on a futuristic light-show level.

The speculation — celebrating 40 years of Motown — was once forged. Blending artists from the heyday of Motown (The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas) with present artists (Queen Latifah, Boyz II Males)? I used to be , however it’s no longer a just right signal when notes from a halftime display come with, “It was once superb.”

I like every of those acts. It was once like seeing a residing museum of the Motown generation, with a contemporary wing for the youngsters. There’s worth in that!

However was once it leisure worth? To not the extent you’d be expecting from a Tremendous Bowl halftime display.

This one ratings excessive in level presentation. The set regarded nearer to an Olympics opening rite than the rest up to now observed at a Tremendous Bowl. Throw within the Disney orchestra, and the entire thing felt very grandiose.

Sadly, as soon as the artists took the level, it began to really feel very not-so-grandiose. The Tremendous Bowl halftime display will have to be a celebration, no longer an emotional ultimate scene of an inspirational movie. When Edward James Olmos’ narration begins — he even used the word “the tapestry of magic”— it’s obvious: They would like us to really feel issues.

Simply play the hits! Do the drum factor from “In The Air This night.” It’s so easy!

A a lot better set record, however by some means, the sum was once lower than the portions. I will be able to’t knock Shania Twain’s efficiency in any respect. Gwen Stefani was once a little bit pitchy from the entire working round and dancing, however it was once nonetheless lovely just right. The Police will have to have got an extended set, and Sting’s try to reflect Nelly’s half-jersey from a couple of years prior wasn’t nice.

Total, it lacked components that might have made it memorable.

I attempted to rank at the deserves of efficiency on my own. Beginning the display in a small membership setting underneath the stadium was once a pleasing contact. However then, Justin Timberlake is going into “Rock Your Frame” (the offending track from 2004 … extra on that later), omitting the general line with a “cling up, forestall.” And later within the set, “Cry Me a River” — written about Britney Spears — additionally hits another way, realizing what we all know now.

It’s a disgrace, as a result of devoid of context, this was once an objectively sensible efficiency. There was once even a tribute to Prince, with a shot of Minneapolis lit up in red!

That is murky, and once more, I in point of fact attempted to rank at the deserves of the efficiency — despite the fact that I do know complete smartly what everybody recalls. I believe this was once an objectively higher halftime display than the Rolling Stones. However the metrics are the metrics, and everybody mentioned this for the incorrect causes.

Even earlier than “the incident,” this halftime display already had a unique vibe than any we’d observed earlier than. We even were given our first curse phrase in albeit a quite tame “ass is bodacious” line by means of Nelly. On reflection, listening to “I get so scorching; I’m gonna take my garments off” feels extra like an omen than a singalong. Child Rock even references “topless dancers” and “methadone clinics” in “Bawitdaba.”

It was once a contemporary, moderately extra tawdry halftime display! After which …

It’s a disgrace that the display as a complete is kind of forgotten due to controversy. Janet Jackson deserved higher.

This was once the second one 12 months of the “antique acts” generation. It’s nowhere close to “Iciness Magic” dangerous, however after 2004’s controversy scuttled a blossoming multiple-megastars-on-stage-at-once pattern, it was once a little bit of a letdown to look a shorter model of a typical display from a band whose top was once 25 or so years prior — although they’re probably the most all-time nice traveling acts. As Mick Jagger stated earlier than launching into “Pride”: “This one, we coulda performed at Tremendous Bowl I.”

If they’d, it might be a lot upper in this record.

Large Unhealthy Voodoo Daddy is a great instance of ways a band doesn’t need to be the largest act on the planet to be triumphant on a big level. Swing track was once going via a renaissance round this time, and so they kicked off the display with a amusing (if a little bit dated) vibe.

However what I in point of fact need to discuss is that this: Stevie Marvel was once using a automobile. (Let’s throw it to Shaquille O’Neal for conspiracy concept tale time.)

Marvel’s set was once uncharacteristically shaky — some echo problems that have been out of his regulate and one botched excessive observe — however nonetheless just right. It was once Estefan who caught the touchdown. The Latin-infused set was once a great have compatibility for Miami. Total, lovely just right for the generation!

Adam Levine’s vocals are a large a part of what makes Maroon 5 one of these just right band, so it was once a little bit disappointing for them to be simply OK within the first half of of the display. The falsetto in “She Will Be Liked” and “Strikes Like Jagger” was once robust — much less so in “Sugar.”

I will be able to’t make a decision how I believe in regards to the “SpongeBob SquarePants” creation of Travis Scott. My intestine says “dangerous,” however my middle tells me to forestall being previous and grumpy. My larger factor was once for those who’re going to must bleep out half of of Scott’s efficiency, possibly simply pass with any individual else? Issues for purchasing Large Boi for an Atlanta Tremendous Bowl, however differently (past Levine starting off his blouse) this was once a quite forgettable display.

17. Tom Petty  (2008): 32.5 issues

It feels a little bit grim for Prince and Tom Petty to have performed in back-to-back halftime displays, for the reason that the 2 passed on to the great beyond a little bit over a 12 months aside in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Following Prince almost definitely hurts Petty’s score right here. Now not his fault, only a tricky draw.

Tom Petty was once the headliner all the way through the Tremendous Bowl XLII halftime display in 2008. (Ben Liebenberg by means of Related Press)

It was once a horny just right display by means of a super artist. Only a few bells and whistles, simply the hits. Get in, get out, passing grade, directly to the following.

A Beatle? Taking part in Beatles songs? On a level that in truth took some effort to build? Large pyrotechnics? Turns out like a successful aggregate. I’m even nearly susceptible to forgive an emotional ballad right here, since a complete Tremendous Bowl crowd making a song alongside to “Howdy Jude” is a second that the ones in attendance indubitably haven’t forgotten.

Sadly, it’s painfully evident that 2005 marked the start of a seven-year generation of halftime displays that appeared designed to say sorry to the general public for the talk of 2004. The purpose gave the impression much less to take the halftime display to new heights and extra to easily keep away from a global incident. Project completed, however in context, it was once a little bit uninteresting in comparison to what it would were.

Nation track was once having a second in 1994, and this lineup labored nice for a Tremendous Bowl within the south (Atlanta). Clint Black had larger hits, however going with “Tuckered Out” earlier than handing it off to the inimitable Tanya Tucker was once a pun I will be able to admire. The Judds had damaged up 4 years prior, so it was once cool to look Naomi sign up for her daughter Wynonna on level for “Love Can Construct a Bridge” (even though “Rockin’ With the Rhythm” would were higher, individually).

Whilst the track was once forged, the manufacturing worth was once lovely mid for the primary 3 performers, till the more youthful Judd took the level to a sea of sword-length glow sticks that in point of fact emphasised the stadium-show really feel. I’m no longer positive they might have performed a lot more, even though. Too many bells and whistles would have felt inauthentic.

2001 marked a sea alternate between secure and middle-of-the-road to “let’s to find the largest stars of the day — after which upload any other giant stars.” Nice in concept, however going from side to side between NSYNC and Aerosmith for the primary half of was once vibes whiplash. Thankfully, it stepped forward when the collaboration were given began with “Stroll This Approach.”

I might have beloved to have observed Run DMC right here, however Britney Spears and Mary J. Blige stuffed in brilliantly. Nelly’s half-Ravens/half-Giants jersey was once one thing we’ll all consider.

It was once at this level I spotted that I favor when the Tremendous Bowl isn’t at the west coast, in order that we get a middle of the night display as an alternative of a mid-afternoon competition really feel. Organizers did a just right process using a large number of brilliant colours and vegetation into the staging, however it didn’t really feel like an actual celebration whilst the solar was once up.

I imply no offense to Coldplay after I say this: Their efficiency was once precisely a Coldplay display, and so they’re probably the most greatest bands of this millennium. But if Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars hit the level, the calories degree soared. Mars is solely fitted to this level. So is Beyoncé, and the dance-off mash-up between the 2 was once any such pairing the halftime display will have to attempt for.

12. Girl Gaga (2017): 36.5 issues

The selection to pair “God Bless The us” and “This Land is Your Land” as an opener was once no longer simplest low-energy, however a peculiar pairing. Woody Guthrie wrote the latter as a clap-back at what he felt was once erroneous ranges of patriotism by means of Irving Berlin. I am getting why one would possibly have felt we wanted some therapeutic and team spirit in January of 2017, however this felt pressured and ill-advised.

However then, the soar — adopted by means of the descent to the level whilst Gaga kicked her legs like a frog mad about being picked up — lives rent-free in my head no less than a half-dozen occasions a 12 months.

Had the display began across the 1:20 mark, it might have ranked upper, as the remainder of the display was once antique Girl Gaga. Daring level possible choices with art-school aesthetics, large hits, just right vocal efficiency … or even a keytar! The display even completed with Gaga leaping off one thing else, this time catching a ball within the procedure. I will have lived with out slowing the display down with “Million Causes,” however I’d be beating a useless horse about holding the set record peppy.

11. The Weeknd (2021): 39 issues

The efficiency that introduced 1,000,000 memes. I’m a large fan of blending in some trendy artists who don’t have the decades-long cache of hits to choose between. (On that observe: are we able to get Jon Batiste a slot subsequent 12 months, please?)

Efficiency-wise, it was once just right! His decrease vocal sign in was once a little bit shaky, however my goodness did he blast out the excessive notes. Sadly (in direct distinction to The Who), the vocals have been blended too low. I believe like I will be able to listen the drum cymbals above the whole lot else for the primary half of of the display. However this display was once extra in regards to the spectacle than the efficiency, and on that entrance, it delivered. Even the truth that he spent see you later in that lit-up hall with the masked dancers was once delightfully bizarre.

At this level in halftime display historical past, the levels have been getting larger and extra elaborate each and every 12 months. I believed this will be the apex, however the next 12 months raised the bar even additional (extra on that later).

That is The Weeknd’s meme-generator predecessor. We nonetheless consider Left Shark nearly a decade later. Additionally, consider Katy Perry driving in on that gigantic robotic-looking, Transformer-Mufasa factor?

I’m no longer positive the second one half of of the display — with the entire cartoonish, beach-ball mascot dancers and palm timber — would have labored for a halftime display had the shark at the left no longer forgotten the majority of the dance regimen. It was once one of these phenomenon that folks have a tendency to fail to remember that Missy Elliott additionally placed on a super efficiency of “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Regulate.”

9. Rihanna (2023): 41 issues

Some essential context: Rihanna hadn’t performed a display in 5 years. It was once later printed she additionally was once pregnant along with her moment kid. And but, there she was once, suspended excessive above the sphere at State Farm Stadium.

If context advantages, it could actually additionally remove. If shall we time-travel Rihanna again to 2006, it might were a number of the maximum iconic performances of all time, on any level. Floating levels? The ones dancers and that choreography? The selection of qualified bangers she ran via? The extent of creativity and spectacle would have damaged our collective psyche.

Rihanna carried out all the way through the Tremendous Bowl LVII halftime display in 2023. (Joe Camporeale / USA These days)

However in 2023? The most efficient display within the historical past of the arena (circa 2006) was once only a just right halftime display. It was once just right! I don’t have any nitpicks. However was once it particular?

Smartly, it cracked the highest 10, so … a little bit bit?

After all, the Subject material Woman arrived on the centerpiece of American extra.

It was once the whole lot you’d be expecting from a Madonna display: hit after hit, moderately tawdry choreography, a gospel choir, centurions. Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. nonetheless have been early of their careers, and completely held their very own as visitor stars, as did CeeLo Inexperienced.

An excellent halftime display, however I’d be remiss to not indicate that M.I.A. flipped off the digicam as she delivered the road “I don’t give a s—,” which led to the NFL to make your next step.

How do I put this? That is by means of a ways probably the most, uh, “sensual” halftime display we’ve ever observed. From Shakira stomach dancing with a rope to Jennifer Lopez’s pole regimen above a writhing mass of backing dancers, it was once certainly pushing envelopes.

But it surely wasn’t all hip shaking and pelvic thrusts. The six-piece brass ensemble serving as Shakira’s backing dancers was once a pleasing contact, and her vocal efficiency was once probably the most superb we’ve observed. J-Lo’s vocal efficiency completely exceeded my expectancies, as smartly, going full-throated rasp every now and then and staying on pitch. After which Shakira hopped on a drum equipment and performed it smartly? Dang.

From a ability viewpoint, I will be able to’t deduct any issues in any respect. The Latin-influenced dance finale was once a great finishing to a collection that felt very Miami. So far as the overall sexiness of all of it, it wasn’t obscene, however it certainly driven the bounds of what shall we be expecting from a halftime display.

I have been pronouncing for some time at this level that the Tremendous Bowl wanted a halftime display of Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe. This display granted half of of my request, and I felt vindicated.

After a brief intro with Mars enjoying a drum solo, it was once time to celebration. Pedal down, begin to end. Mars’ character and catalog are uniquely and completely fitted to this instance. The purpose of his occupation appears to be getting everybody at the dance ground and having the night time in their lives. It’s a real ability to be at the international’s greatest level and nonetheless make the target audience really feel just like the revel in is ready them.

No offense to the Pink Sizzling Chili Peppers, who’re consummate performers and did not anything incorrect, however I might were superb to let Mars do just the entire thing. Nonetheless, the chaotic mash-up of the 2 acts was once a spectacle and merits credit score for operating smartly as a one-off.

Consider that the one halftime displays you’ve ever observed concerned marching bands or youngsters rapping about snowmen. After which one of the transformative artists of all time begins his efficiency by means of defiantly posing at the level in silence for a minute and a half of.

Michael Jackson headlined the Tremendous Bowl XXVII halftime display in 1993. (Al Messerschmidt by means of Related Press)

It’s extremely uncommon for one thing from 1993 to carry up greater than 30 years later, however this efficiency does. The manufacturing worth (by means of 1993 requirements, anyway), the musicianship (bonus issues for guitarist Jennifer Batten’s glam-rock coiffure including to the message that this was once one thing other) … it completely modified the Tremendous Bowl halftime display perpetually. And despite the fact that it’s obviously dated, it holds up.

The one actual deduction comes from transferring gears to an overwrought rendition of “We Are The International” when “Mystery,” “Unhealthy” and others have been proper there for the taking.

I’m going to get roasted for placing this forward of Michael Jackson, however with issues for level presentation and set record, that’s the way it shakes out. Beyoncé’s vocals have been flawless, and the level and lights have been immaculate, with video monitors permitting Beyoncé to function her personal backing dancer(s). Oh, and Future’s Kid reunited after a seven-year (!) hiatus. They saved the pace up during, and from starting to finish, this was once a flawless halftime display: a star, a reunion, a high-energy set and a good looking level.

Additionally, it wasn’t till Beyoncé requested the gang to place their fingers in combination that I spotted there hadn’t been a lot crowd participation in those displays. It’s a small factor, however it performed smartly.

This one had all of it, with one exception: a second that transcended the efficiency and increased past greatness and into magic.

3. U2 (2002): 48 issues

There have been no visitor stars for this one, which felt precisely proper. I’m hard-pressed to think about every other band that would deal with the emotional gravitas of a Tremendous Bowl that got here lower than six months after 9/11. U2 controlled to drag off the inconceivable — appearing a touching tribute to a second on the time nonetheless too giant and too new to totally procedure, however doing so with out sacrificing an oz of showmanship or delving into jingoism.

The band opened with “Stunning Day” earlier than going into “MLK” as a big banner that includes the names of those that died within the assaults rose in the back of them to the highest of the stadium. They wrapped with “The place the Streets Have No Identify.” I consider audibly gasping because the banner fell on the finish.

It was once the only halftime display the place it was once completely superb to be emotional.

This lineup, in Los Angeles, had Dr. Dre kicking off complaints sitting in the back of an all-white blending board as a hat tip to the selection of hits he has produced. It had a level that was once a map of Los Angeles, replete with antique automobiles and homes with rooms. It had Anderson .Paak and band contributors enjoying together with the tracks. It had dancers. That is the best level design in halftime display historical past, fingers down.

However a super level is not anything and not using a efficiency to check, and amongst those legends, there have been greater than sufficient hits to make a collection record that featured no susceptible spots. The spectacle was once surreal ranges of perfection. Kendrick Lamar was once the latest title amongst those stars, however he completely confirmed he belonged, turning in a pointy efficiency with memorable choreography. The staging and upside-down 50 Cent have been probably the most tweetable pictures of the night time, however Lamar’s efficiency was once underrated.

End it with Dr. Dre enjoying the piano on “Nonetheless D.R.E.,” and it’s the second-best Tremendous Bowl halftime display of all time.

1. Prince (2007): 50 issues

(The level) was once slippery initially, and when it rained on it, it was once treacherous.

The deluge started about 30 seconds earlier than Prince took the level, and organizers requested Prince if he sought after to cancel it to protection considerations. Prince, according to Tremendous Bowl halftime display manufacturer Don Mischer, spoke back the query with a query: “Are you able to make it rain tougher?

When he introduced into the guitar solo of “Red Rain” because the heavens poured forth, it was once a type of moments that no one ever will have deliberate. Now not simply an all-time halftime display, however an all-time rock and roll efficiency.

It was once transcendent, and it’s the only halftime display I’ve watched on a number of events since.

(Most sensible picture of Prince: Jamie Squire / Getty Photographs)

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