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The Conservative Critic

If Not Rihanna, Then (the) Who? Which Super Bowl Halftime Show Was The Best Of All Time?



President Trump did not like Rihanna’s Halftime performance at this weekend’s Super Bowl LVII and many others are debating its merits. Some liked the floating stages and others didn’t care for how obviously Rihanna was singing with a track (most Super Bowl performers do this). 

But if not Rihanna’s performance, who holds the title for best Super Bowl performance of all time? 

Here’s the Conservative Critic ranking:

7. Beyoncé – Super Bowl XLVII  

Say what you want about Beyoncé but that performance was lit. She brought Destiny’s Child back together for the first time since they parted ways and this was at the height of her “Sasha Fierce” era (think Single Ladies) when her music was just undeniably great. 

There was genuine power to her command of the stage. She performed the first half of her first song totally solo and nothing about it felt empty or hollow. Once her dancers joined, the audience was treated to power choreography and lots of hair flipping. 

The reunion with Destiny’s Child had been long rumored and the crowd was hungry for it. So when it happened, it went off like gangbusters. It was nostalgic. It was well performed. It was exactly what the Super Bowl is meant to be. 

6. Bruno Mars – Super Bowl XLVIII

There’s always something so pure about Bruno Mars. The game was a total blow out with the Seattle Seahawks absolutely dominating the Denver Broncos. This was an unpopular outcome since Peyton Manning was appearing in what would be his last Super Bowl and most Americans were rooting for him (there was just nothing he could do against the Seahawks extraordinary defensive line which enjoyed an era of domination well after this game). 

So by halftime, viewers really needed something to engage with. Undaunted by the pressure of a boring game, Bruno Mars came out with his signature style and swagger. He kicked the whole thing off with an impressive drum solo before his brass band joined him on stage in signature vintage attire. 

Though the remainder of the performance including the interlude with the Red Hot Chili Peppers was relatively straight forward, there was something so satisfying about the light choreography of his band and Mars just leading the crowd to dance with catchy music. It was polished and sincere. It was like a little shiny moment of joy. 

Bruno Mars was so good he took a guest spot with Beyonce the next year when Coldplay headlined an otherwise uninterest show.

Watch the whole performance here: 

5. The Who – Super Bowl XLIV

There was a Super Bowl era in the late oughts where the show organizers insisted on iconic artists from the classic rock genre. They had The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and others all one right after another. None really lived up to people’s expectations. Except, much to viewers delight and surprise, The Who. 

In 2010 The Who broke from the pattern of the previous more scaled back more classically envisioned rock performances and had an interactive, flashy show that included a really neat rough light up stage and a really high energy set complete with one of the dopest harmonica solos of all time. They did not hold back and they had the crowd of all ages. It was one of the greats for sure. 

See the whole performance here: 

4. Madonna – Super Bowl XLVI

Madonna was reportedly warned pretty aggressively by the network and NFL to keep her performance clean and family friendly. Dawned in an unusually conservative black dress and boots with an Egyptian Goddess theme, Madonna proceeded to give her best televised performance in a decade. Stripped of the gimmick of uncomfortable sexualization, Madonna was free to truly perform unbound by her own age and beauty hang ups. She rode in on a giant golden chariot pulled by half naked men dressed as roman soldiers. Somehow this transitioned to a cheerleader theme and then also a church theme and it all 100% worked. She was joined by LMFAO, Nikki Minaj, and Ceelo Green (three of the most relevant artist of that moment in time) for an intensely satisfying modernization of her iconic work. There was choreo. There were surprises. It was incredible. 

By the time she was singing Like a Prayer, America was truly gobsmacked. I have chills thinking about it. Never have we underestimated Madonna so greatly. With her recent controversial filler episode at the Grammys, I hope Madonna looks back at this iconic performance fondly and gets back to basics where she really shines. 

Watch the whole thing here: 

3. Lady Gaga – Super Bowl LI

Lady Gaga was facing a ton of pressure at the time of her performance to do something political and make some statement against President Trump who had taken office just days before. Not only did she refuse, but she kicked off her set standing on top of the stadium singing God Bless America. She then proceeded to leap off the top of the stadium and lower herself to the stage doing a now iconic but truly bizarre dance move that is only describable as a “spider crawl.” 

Once down- she kicked off her show with high flying acrobatics like she was cast as the lead in America’s most expensive production of Peter Pan. She played her biggest and highest energy hits with an army of back up dancers doing full choreo on a stage that can only be described as “heavily outfitted with pyrotechnics.” 

Lady Gaga sang at least partially live which was quite the feat while running around doing such high level dancing. But midway through her set she sat down at a giant grand piano and live sang her hit song, A Million Reasons to a softly lit audience and it was powerful. 

But knowing to end on a high, she sprung up from the ballad, put on some football pads and sparkly underwear and closed with her most iconic boppy hit, Bad Romance, complete with the signature  “broken down doll” creepy dancing that everyone loves.

Watch the whole performance here: 

2. Michael Jackson – Super Bowl XXVII

Michael Jackson is arguably the first performance of the modern Super Bowl halftime show. Before him, the shows tended to be smaller in scale and often featured marching bands and dance teams more like those found in a traditional football setting. They would have some kind of theme and for a long time were sponsored by Disney so they’re be promoting some film or attraction. 

So when Michael Jackson took the stage at the height of his celebrity and gave a bold pop performance complete with pyrotechnics, choreo and an elaborate stage, America was awoken to what was possible and the show was really never the same. 

Beyond innovating the experience, Michael also  put on an absolutely incredible show show that stands as a legacy reminder to why he will forever be called the King of Pop. 

He started the set by tricking the audience with a lookalike a top the score board and then burst from beneath the central stage and hit a pose which he held perfectly, painfully still for minutes, building tension and allowing a crowd to gather at the base of the stage before beginning to sing. 

Singing live, Michael had a high energy dance performance which slowly stripped down from start to middle giving us the iconic imagery of his white shirt and black hair blowing in the wind as he danced around the open air arena. By the end he’d brought on stage children dressed from nations of the world and a massive choir complete with a giant globe to finish on a note of unity. 

He was that day as much a showman as he was his entire career. Stunning. 

Watch the whole performance here: 

  1. Katy Perry – Super Bowl XLIX

Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance was so good and so iconic that it may actually be one of the greatest live musical performances of all time. Like Madonna – but even more so – Perry was facing extreme skepticism as headliner for the Super Bowl. Many at the time were challenging her singing chops claiming she was mainly a product of “autotune” and algorithmic melodies. People thought she was only as famous as she was at the time due to her major following with young teen girls. 

It’s unclear today if the negativity fueled Perry to put on the show of her life or if she was always intending to shut the whole world down but my God to she perform. 

To start, Perry sang 100% live which is extremely unusual for Super Bowl performers (it’s not a great setting acoustically). And she did not miss a note. She absolutely crushed her vocals. 

She also made four full costume changes. It wasn’t just taking off a cape or skirt. She went from a dress made of flames to a 1950s swim suit to a hip hop jacket/dress to a floor length sparkling gown. She did it all somehow on stage like magic. 

Perry also invited very surprising but satisfying guest performers to liven up her already high energy pop hits. She kicked off her set riding in on a giant lion solo but her first guest was alongside Lenny Kravits (who is in the dictionary next to the word “cool”) shredding his guitar. Toward the end   she surprised everyone when she brought out Missy Elliot who performed not one, not two, but three of her own iconic songs alongside Katy Perry. 

Meanwhile throughout the performance was signature quirky, colorful background dancer choreography complete with wild costumes which spurred still relevant memes and pop culture references (left shark lives forever). 

At the end of her set, she mounted a floating stage and soared across the entire stadium in a shimmering star spangled gown belting her most popular song, Firework, with all of her heart and soul. The very thought of it brings me to tears to this day. 

Katy Perry set an impossibly high bar for all Super Bowl performances to come and truly none have come close. 

Watch the whole performance here:–_Y 

Bonus: Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem 

This was not a halftime show but Whitney Houston singing the national anthem is the greatest performance of the national anthem of all time and is one of the most inspirational sounds on planet earth. Everyone is talking about how Chris Stapleton absolutely crushed the anthem this year (he 100% killed it) but I doubt anyone will ever do Justice to the anthem like Whitney did. Her version of the anthem that day is what I personally consider the official version of the anthem. 

Watch the performance here and try not the cry: Whitney Houston – Star Spangled-Banner – YouTube