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From U2 to Prince, The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever

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Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

This weekend, all eyes will be on Beyonce as she takes the stage for the Super Bowl XXXIII Halftime show. She’s the latest in a long line of huge stars to play the event, and we went through the history of Halftime performances to count down the best five.

Yeah, we loved Up With People’s many performances (they used to be the Super Bowl go-to, with five half-time show appearances).  And who can forget the 1992 halftime show, when figure skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill performed on a makeshift ice rink in the middle of the field. Because if there’s anything football fans like, it’s figure skating. 

But here’s our Pro Bowl of halftime performers. Who was your favorite? 

1. U2 – Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002 

They were the right band for the right time. Of course, the halftime show was booked well before the events of 9/11, but in the weeks and months following that horrific day, they seemed to be one of the few bands who were able to come close to addressing the gravity of the situation. Their album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (released in October of 2000), saw them leave behind the kitch and flash of their ’90s Achtung Baby, Pop and Zooropa eras, and it turned out to be perfect timing. Their halftime performance was a moving of a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

2. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Super Bowl XLIII, 2009

bruce springsteen super bowl timothy a  clary From U2 to Prince, The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever(Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images)

During the Bush era, Bruce might not have been as welcome at an event like this; his criticisms of that President’s administration (especially after 9/11) rankled many of his red state fans.  But Super Bowl XLIII came at the dawn of the Obama era — all of the sudden, Bruce was the President’s pal, and it seemed the right time for him to play the event (allegedly, the NFL had sent out many invitations to Springsteen’s camp over the years). The set ended with a referee on stage, throwing down a flag for playing too long (oddly predicting an incident in the summer of 2012 where the power was cut during a Springsteen performance… where he had been joined onstage by Paul McCartney). 

3. Prince – Super Bowl XLI, 2007

prince by jeff haynes From U2 to Prince, The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever(Jeff Haynes/Getty Images)

Coming on the heels of half time show performances by Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones — both of whom essentially did abbreviated versions of their usual concerts — Prince pulled out all the stops. Torrential downpour didn’t slow the Purple One down a bit: beginning with a sample of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” he quickly launched into “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Baby I’m A Star” (joined by a marching band). From there, he started cranking out the covers: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” (the “wind began to howl” seemed especially appropriate given the weather conditions) and the Foo Fighters’ “Best Of You” before ending with “Purple Rain.”

4. Aerosmith with ‘N SYNC, Britney Spears, Nelly, Mary J. Blige – Super Bowl XXXV, 2001

steven tyler brit by brian bahr From U2 to Prince, The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever(Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

MTV produced two half time shows; this was the one that didn’t cause a major political firestorm. The show was set up, via a pre-taped video featuring Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, as a competition between Aerosmith and ‘N SYNC. Shockingly, the boy band seemed to take an early “lead,” as they began with their upbeat “Bye Bye Bye.” When Aerosmith got possession, they responded with their saccharine power ballad “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” Justin Timberlake & co. returned with “It’s Gonna Be Me” and Aerosmith followed with “Jaded.” For the finale, both groups were joined by Britney, Mary J. and Nelly for — of course — “Walk This Way.” Everybody wins! And while Brit wore a groupie-ish low-cut Aerosmith t-shirt, this wouldn’t be the year of the “nip-slip.” 

5. Paul McCartney – Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005

paul mccartney by roberto schmidt From U2 to Prince, The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever(Roberto Schmidt/Getty Images)

It was as no-frills as a half-time show could be. Paul and his backing band rolled through a number of classics — he played The Beatles‘ “Drive My Car” and “Get Back” and Wings’ “Live And Let Die” before wrapping up with the ultimate stadium singalong: “Hey Jude.”

(A remix of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” has been used on NFL broadcasts this year. Read more here.)

Brian Ives, Radio.com  

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