Adding Rihanna to my ranking of every Super Bowl halftime show since 2010


Jacob Glass (He/Him), Staff Writer

The Super Bowl halftime show is known as one of the biggest nights of music with over 100 million people watching worldwide. It has given us some of the most amazing moments in pop culture, and sometimes, it has let us down.

This year, Rihanna made her comeback performance after not releasing an album for over 6 years. Her performance was quickly applauded by many and led to multiple viral moments, including her announcing her second pregnancy.

To celebrate her performance, I have decided to rank every Super Bowl halftime show since 2010. This meant watching over two hours of corporation-sponsored performances. Some felt like a complete waste of time and others were completely captivating.

14. Maroon 5, 2019

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At dead last, we have the Adam Levine-led pop rock band Maroon 5, whose Super Bowl Halftime Show was a total flop. There was nothing exciting, the music wasn’t that good, and we were all forced to see Adam Levine shirtless. The set was bad and it feels like they didn’t make use of the magnitude that is the Superbowl. 

Travis Scott was their only guest, and while he was much better than Maroon 5, he only performed one song and there really was nothing special about his approximately one minute performance. This was a straight-up bad halftime show. I would like to have seen anyone else perform, especially Ariana Grande since she released her albums sweetener and thank u, next the year prior and was at the top of her game.

13. Justin Timberlake, 2018

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There was no cohesiveness, no theme, and whoever thought this was a good idea was not in the right mindset. Yes, there were some viral moments, most notably “selfie kid” who became a bit of a pop culture icon for a few weeks (and was recently arrested in Florida). But overall, this show was mediocre at best, especially with those god-awful outfits. Don’t even get me started on the disingenuous-feeling tribute to Prince.

12. The Who, 2010

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This was the final entry to the Superbowl Halftime era of male, non-controversial rock bands. While it was good, nothing stood out to me, especially as someone who has never been a fan of The Who or similar bands. The stage design was somewhat interesting, but the whole show felt like a slightly elevated concert. Honorary bonus points for the harmonica solo.

11. The Black Eyed Peas, 2011

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The nostalgia is real for me with this show. The Black Eyed Peas do not make good music, but they make hits—ones that captivate bar mitzvah party DJs. This was a futuristic mess but I loved it. Slash was kind of a random guest especially with Fergie being flirtatious with him, but Usher was a perfect choice for this show that felt like a time capsule of early 2010s pop music.

10. Bruno Mars, 2014

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This was a classic Superbowl Halftime show. It was good, but nothing screamed out at me. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were a good addition and, of course, Bruno Mars knows how to put on a show. This was the year between Beyoncé’s and Katy Perry’s halftime shows, so it kind of gets lost in the amazingness and spectacle that those shows were.

9. Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, 2020

We are officially in the section of this article where all the shows are really good and this becomes an impossibly difficult task for me. The highlight of this show was absolutely the dancing and choreography. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are amazing performers and it was fun to watch this show. My issue is that Shakira’s and Lopez’s sections felt distinct and didn’t totally work together. Honestly, they probably should have been two separate shows.

8. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, 2021

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This was an amazing show with some of the biggest hip-hop legends, so there was little way for it to go wrong. The only issue was that with so many headliners, each only got to perform one or two of their own songs, which was kind of disappointing, especially when they each have so many hits. When it comes to cohesiveness and theme, this show may be number one.

7. Katy Perry, 2015

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SHE ENTERED THE FIELD ON A GIGANTIC METAL PUPPETEERED LION! This show was an absolute game-changer for future halftime performances—she totally raised the bar. The addition of Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot as special guests was a great decision because they somehow elevated the show even more. The only issue was some awkwardness throughout, especially with the dancers who were dressed as sharks and beach balls. 

6. Coldplay, 2016

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Let’s be clear, this would be ranked a lot lower if it wasn’t for the culture-shifting additions of Beyoncé and Bruno Mars as special guests. Beyoncé had surprisingly dropped Formation the day before and then proceeded to perform at the Superbowl dressed in an outfit inspired by Michael Jackson’s 1993 halftime show outfit with dancers dressed in Black Panther Party-inspired outfits. She then proceeded to have a dance/sing-off with Mars and his dancers. This was beyond iconic and it absolutely blew Coldplay’s just-okay performance out of the water.

5. Rihanna, 2023

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Riri enters the ranking in a remarkable fifth place. Pregnant, no special guests, and yet she still provided one of the best halftime performances ever. I mean, she was literally floating in the air. When you have as many bops as Rihanna does, there’s little disengagement. I was thoroughly entertained by this show, especially with the amazing aesthetic that they stuck with.

4. Lady Gaga, 2017

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It was the right show at the right time. Just weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Lady Gaga gave us a unifying performance that started with her singing a God Bless America / This Land is Your Land medley and then jumping off the roof of the stadium. Then she went straight into her hits including Poker Face and Just Dance. The dancing, the stunts, and the sets were top-tier. Lady Gaga knows how to put on a show.

3. The Weeknd, 2021

Mark LoMoglio/AP

This was perhaps the most unique show out of this entire ranking. It was the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, so the vibes were different, and The Weeknd knew how to match it with his dark themes. Unlike most shows, the majority of the performance was not on the field until the end when he is running and dancing around with hundreds of masked dancers. In a list of performances with a lot of overlapping qualities, The Weeknd’s show stands out.

2. Beyoncé, 2013

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Queen Bey always knows what she’s doing. She is, in my opinion, the greatest performer of all time. Thematically, the show totally works. The dancing is the best of any halftime show and the vocals are excellent. Let’s be real, did we expect anything less than the best from Beyoncé? 

Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland, the two other former members of Destiny’s Child, pop out of the stage and join Beyoncé in singing Bootylicious, Independent Women Part 1, and Single Ladies. Overall, this show is amazing and one of my core memories. It was a spectacle and truly embodied what a Superbowl halftime show should look like.

1. Madonna, 2012

Michael Curry Design

Michael Jackson is credited with starting the tradition of the Superbowl halftime show with his performance in 1993. Similarly, I credit Madonna with evolving the halftime show into what we now expect. Before her, people were giving concerts. Madonna created a campy extravaganza. Almost all of the shows on this list would not have been what they were without Madonna setting the standard. This is not unexpected. Madonna is the blueprint for the modern popstar, so setting the bar for the biggest performance in music is on brand.

This performance started with Madonna being a pharaoh on a throne being pulled by a bunch of ancient Egyptian-dressed men while singing Vogue. She then brought on LMFAO which, while being kinda strange, made sense for the time. Then she completely switched themes from Egyptian to Homecoming with a marching band and cheerleaders. She brought out Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. (who were the biggest up-and-comers in hip hop at the time) to perform their verses on her song Give Me All Your Luvin’. M.I.A. proceeded to give her middle finger to the camera leading to a controversial lawsuit from the NFL.

Madonna continued singing hit after hit. Toward the end, she brought out Cee Lo Green and a gospel choir and they sang Like a Prayer. Then, as she’s about to sing the last word, she drops into the stage, smoke comes up, and she has vanished. It’s an iconic ending to an iconic performance that changed lives. Madonna solidified her place as a visionary and a trendsetter in pop culture.