Super Bowl 2014: 5 unforgettable halftime shows

The Super Bowl halftime show is one of the most difficult musical gigs ever, but successful acts can attest to the incredible rewards of delivering a blockbuster performance. Check out these memorable performances from the past few decades.
Grammy Award winner Bruno Mars will headline the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday. (Al Powers/Powers Imagery/Invision/Associated Press)

Some would call the Super Bowl halftime show one of the most difficult musical gigs ever, even for a performer at the top of his or her game.

There are so many tricky factors to consider. For starters, you've got wildly ambitious artistic egos who plan eye-popping, stadium-sized and full concert-style shows. Then, you have the intense pressure of pleasing the massive and diverse audiences at the stadium and at home.

Add in mind-boggling logistics and high potential for serious technical issues, given that the ground crew has mere minutes to set up (and later tear down) the stage and set, all without damaging the field of play.

Still, successful past acts can attest to the incredible rewards of delivering a blockbuster Super Bowl performance: a reinvigorated reputation for music veterans, sold-out followup concerts for touring acts and general love from the football-watching public.

As recent Grammy-winner Bruno Mars — and his invited guests the Red Hot Chili Peppers — prep for their stint in the spotlight this weekend, we take a look at some of the most memorable Super Bowl halftime shows ever.

2004: Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake
(New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers)

Where else could we start but with the most memorable halftime show of the modern era? This 2004 MTV-produced set (does anyone remember that Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock also performed?) will live forever in infamy thanks to Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" when Justin Timberlake intentionally tore away part of her costume and exposed her right breast as he sang the words "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song" from his hit Rock Your Body.

Jackson noted afterward that her red lace bra was supposed to remain intact during the risqué reveal. Despite the explanation and her apology, the damage was done.

Along with introducing millions to a sensual body decoration (nipple shields), the incident dubbed Nipplegate led to a protracted, years-long legal battle over the U.S. broadcast regulator's levying of large fines against CBS. The NFL vowed never again to hire MTV and many networks instituted a five-second delay for live performances. The fiasco also resulted in a blacklisting of Jackson's music across some U.S. radio networks — a strike on her career that persisted for years — while "Teflon Timberlake" emerged relatively unscathed.

1993: Michael Jackson
(Dallas Cowboys vs. Buffalo Bills)

It was another Jackson, the late King of Pop, who — at the height of his career — delivered a watershed Super Bowl halftime show that ushered in the larger-than-life extravaganzas we know and expect today.

Seemingly zipping from one end of the Rose Bowl to another (courtesy of video effects, smoke and a few talented impersonators), Michael Jackson ultimately made his dramatic debut at midfield: standing motionless for well over a minute as masses of screaming fans welcomed him.

The crisp and passionate performance that followed ran through a medley of his hits — including Jam, Billie Jean, Black or White, We Are The World and Heal the World — and also included the unspooling of children's drawings by the stadium audience, a gigantic inflatable globe and the arrival of thousands of children joining Jackson onstage. It was a legendary gig that demonstrated just how commanding a performer he was.

2002: U2
(New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams)

Coming just months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the 2002 Super Bowl required a halftime act that could tread a delicate line in providing massive spectacle in an uplifting yet still respectful manner. Led by showy frontman Bono, activist rockers U2 turned out to be a perfect choice.

With a set list that included Beautiful Day, MLK and Where The Streets Have No Name, the Irish lads offered an invigorating performance that leaned on their stadium tour experience but also provided a moving tribute to the Sept. 11 victims, whose names scrolled up a large screen stretched out behind the band.

2009: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
(Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals)

There's a reason Bruce Springsteen continues to hover atop those annual "best live act" lists to this day. Simply put, the Boss knows how to rock a crowd, from New Jersey to Helsinki.

Springsteen showcased his famed magnetism and proudly shared the spotlight with his crackerjack E Street Band during their high-energy 2009 Super Bowl halftime performance. And when the Boss commands you "step away from the guacamole dip, put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up," you just do it.

Springsteen and the E Street Band joyfully ripped through Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Born to Run, Working on a Dream and Glory Days, offering a taste of the incredible musicianship and charismatic connection with stage-side fans you'd see at one of their concerts. And that power knee slide into an onstage camera? That was just pure rock 'n' roll.

2007: Prince
(Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears)

A catalog of hit songs can provide a major boost for a halftime performer, but Prince didn't just rely on his own admittedly fabulous tracks during his 2007 Super Bowl set.

Sure, the Funky One tore up the stage with favourites like Let's Go Crazy, 1999 and an epic rendition of Purple Rain, but it was his unexpected, high-octane covers — a popular and anticipated highlight of his concerts — that sent music-lovers into a frenzy.

With ferocious guitar solos and his adept integration of We Will Rock You, Proud Mary, All Along the Watchtower and Best of You (by the Foo Fighters) into a jam-packed medley, Prince served up a truly amazing performance that many tout as the best Super Bowl halftime show ever.

We would be remiss if we didn't extend honourable mentions to these artists, who also turned in notable Super Bowl efforts: Paul McCartney, Beyoncé, the Rolling Stones and Madonna.

As a bonus, here are three Super Bowl halftime duds that will have you wondering: "What were they thinking?"

1988: Elvis Presto
(San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals)

Random, bizarre, and incredibly awkward, the 1988 Super Bowl halftime entertainment featured an Elvis impersonator/magician named Elvis Presto leading an arena-sized card trick set to strange music.

1995: Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett
(San Francisco 49ers vs. San Diego Chargers)

Sponsored performances should only go so far. As proof: the 1995 Super Bowl halftime show promotion of Disneyland's new Indiana Jones theme park ride. Featuring a Harrison Ford lookalike in a ridiculous skit where he chases a football trophy, this horrible idea was made even worse by wasting the incredible musical talents of Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett.

1991: New Kids on the Block
(New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills)

You can't really blame New Kids on the Block — the boy band was on top of the world when it was enlisted as Super Bowl entertainment. But because the U.S. was embroiled in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, halftime show producer Disney had the bright idea to mash up the bubbly group's performance with It's a Small World and a tribute to America's armed forces.

Perhaps it was a blessing then that host broadcaster ABC switched to news coverage of Operation Desert Storm during halftime and the New Kids' Super Bowl gig was relegated to the Disney Channel as they performed live (and completely after the game itself on the main network).


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