Whether you recognize every play or have no clue what constitutes a first down (nevermind #deflategate), Super Bowl Sunday—for better or for worse—has become a cultural marker. Come for the wings, stay for the spectacle that is the halftime show. This year Beyoncé will take the stage with Coldplay (and maybe Bruno Mars).
Britney Spears, 2001
Looking back, Britney’s sweet, semi-virginal performance perfectly encapsulated Bush’s pre-9/11 America. She took the stage with the old guard (Aerosmith) and the new (*NSYNC, unofficially led by her boyfriend, Justin Timberlake) but all eyes were on Britney’s sexy and non-threatening style, from the crop top to the belly button ring.
Shania Twain, 2003
Our girl Shania was the first act to ever play both the Grey Cup and the Super Bowl halftime show. You had to love that a Canadian country/pop crossover stormed the stage in one of her trademark blinged-out outfits (that rhinestone-crusted bra was trailblazing at the time) and ended her set by being carried away by balloons.
Janet Jackson, 2004
Janet’s performance is still one of the most controversial moments in the history of television—and all because of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nipple shot (with an assist by Justin Timberlake, who ripped her blouse accidentally-on-purpose). Overnight, there was plenty of prudish hand-wringing, moral hysteria and a crackdown on network censorship. While Justin Timberlake skated away without damaging his reputation—we have him to thank (or blame?) for the term “wardrobe malfunction”—it seems that America was never quite able to forgive Janet for freeing the nipple. Ahead of her time, she was.
Madonna, MIA, Nicki Minaj, 2012
She came, she saw, she vogue’d. In a refreshing choice, the NFL put aside its post-Nipplegate skittishness and brought in some exciting performers (sorry Sir Paul, but you were kind of a snooze). Madonna said she trained like an athlete for her halftime show, which incorporated elements of the absurd (dancing with LMFAO) to the effervescent (pom-poms, a marching band) to the juicy cultural homages that have become Madonna’s trade (in this case, Ancient Rome complete with a bevy of gladiators pulling her on a chariot).
Probably the most hotly anticipated halftime show ever, Beyoncé weathered a pre-Super Bowl presidential inauguration lip-synching controversy by singing the U.S. national anthem live at an NFL press conference, followed by a quippy “Any questions?” The expectations were unreal, but Bey delivered with a 15 minute mini-concert that had it all—balls of fire, a super-size neon Beyoncé, complicated and flawless choreography, Destiny’s Child popping up out of the floor and an all-female ensemble. (A few minutes after the performance, the lights went out in the stadium—those wind machines take a lot of power.)