03 Feb 2002: A banner displays names of victims of the september 11 attacks during a performance by the band U2 during the halftime show of Superbowl XXXVI at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
Drew Magary writes sports commentary for Deadspin, Maxim, GQ and is the author of "The Postmortal."
Madonna is your Super Bowl halftime show this year, and there is already a report from the Daily News that she will "bring the gay" to America's most macho of unofficial holidays. Of course, Madonna is the master of manufacturing a scandal out of relatively tame behavior, so who knows how outre this whole thing will get. All I know is that she has her work cut out for her if she plans to rank among the worst Super Bowl halftime acts of all time.
The truth about the Super Bowl halftime show is that pulling off a good one is nearly impossible. You're wedging a rock concert into a football game when no one really asked for one. It's a misplaced event that somehow grew into its own big THING for no reason at all. It exists mainly to serve as a vehicle for selling you Bridgestone tires. To pull off a live concert on TV in front of 70,000 people who are all clamoring to use the bathroom is a lot to ask. I’m surprised there have been ANY good halftime shows, and this list of the best and worst halftimes ever will show you just how rare a decent one is.
THE BEST (Roman numerals demote which Super Bowl)
U2 (XXXVI): The best halftime show ever, and one that will never, ever be topped. Do you understand how hard it is to pull off a Super Bowl halftime show that doubles as a tribute to 9/11 victims and ISN’T breathtakingly tacky? I was stunned. To this day, I still can’t believe how well done this halftime show was. It was a freakin’ miracle. I fully expected dancing firefighters and airplane holograms. Instead, we got a tasteful scroll of the names of the victims, along with a lights-out set from U2 that culminated with Bono revealing the American flag inside his jacket and the whole place going bonkers. It won’t be beaten. Not a chance.
PRINCE (XLI): He did it in the RAIN, people. In the rain! You think a little monsoon is gonna stop Prince from bringing the funk? The man covered Bob Dylan AND the Foo Fighters in the span of ten minutes. This was the only time I can remember that the halftime really did outdo the game itself, which was a soggy trainwreck. This set and the set from U2 represent the beginning and end of the best halftimes ever. Everything else in this top five is here strictly be default.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (XLIII): Like this one! I guess The Boss did okay. I dunno. He was hamming it up for the cameras and everything. Maybe you got excited about hearing “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” for the eightieth time, but I dare say the man has had better performances.
TOM PETTY (XLII): Everybody makes fun of the parade of geriatrics that the NFL brought out for this show during the 2000s, but there’s a reason the NFL did it: Because they knew exactly what they were getting. In the case of Petty, it was solid renditions of “American Girl” and “Free Fallin’.” Points deducted for not doing “You Got Lucky” or “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY (XXXIX): The fact that he didn’t play “Freedom” was really the gift of this show.
UP WITH PEOPLE (XX, XVI, XIV, X): Are you aware that Up With People was the halftime act at FOUR Super Bowls? They’re the only halftime act with that many appearances. Not the Boss. Not U2. Up With People. That’s lunacy.
BLACK EYED PEAS (XLV): I knew it was gonna be bad, really. It was only a matter of degrees of just how bad. When they summoned Slash up through the stage and Fergie started caterwauling “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” it was clear that the Peas were aiming to be as bad as possible and nothing less.
ROLLING STONES/THE WHO (XL, XLIV): So, so old. Mick Jagger hasn’t been able to hit a high note in twenty years. Isn’t that awful when you to go a Stones show and Mick starts singing a full eight octaves below the original studio vocals? Such a letdown. And the worst part of these acts is when they bring the kids in to flood the field and wave lighters and stuff during the set. You kids aren’t fooling anyone. You ain’t that happy to be there.
MICHAEL JACKSON (XXVII): ZOMG! There’s Michael Jackson! And there he is again on the top shelf of the Rose Bowl! And there he is again in the end zone! IT’S MJ CLONES! And they all are singing against thin backing tracks!
JANET AND JUSTIN (XXXVIII): Hey guys, thanks for the wardrobe malfunction! Now my only sources for racy content are basic cable, the internet, movies, and current network primetime programming, which is more sexually suggestive than ever. WAY TO HOLD ME BACK, JERKS.
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF THE FORBIDDEN EYE (XXIX): This actually happened. Another warning of what George Lucas would soon wreak.
THE BLUES BROTHERS (XXXI): If there ain’t Belushi, it ain’t the Blues Brothers. Let us never speak of it again.