When six-time Grammy Award winner Lady Gaga took the stage during Super Bowl LI back in February, it’s estimated that over 117 million people tuned in to watch her performance. Surprisingly enough, her set was only the second most watched in Super Bowl history, after Katy Perry’s performance at Super Bowl XLIX incredibly drew over 120 million pairs of eyeballs.

Given such astronomical viewing numbers, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when the Super Bowl halftime show featured mostly marching bands and the occasional magic act from someone named Elvis Presto. In order to help shed light on how these performances became such a spectacle, we’ll take a look at some of the events that helped change the history of the big game’s even bigger show.

Super Bowl I – 1967

Performers: University of Arizona and Grambling State University Marching Bands

The first ever Super Bowl halftime show featured two well-known marching bands. Halftime marching band performances have been a staple at high school and college football games for quite some time, and they were the main Super Bowl halftime show act well into the 1980s.

Super Bowl XXVII – 1993

Performers: Michael Jackson

Just two years after New Kids on the Block started the trend of big-named acts performing at half time, Michael Jackson’s performance launched half time acts into the stratosphere. The King of Pop’s set featured plenty of pyrotechnics, classic jams and moonwalking. Jackson’s performance was so widely viewed and well-received that it caused the NFL to feature more top talent in order to attract more viewers to the broadcast.

Super Bowl XXXVI – 2002

Performers: U2

Taking place just months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, U2’s iconic performance at Super Bowl XXXVI was deeply moving and is considered to be one of the best half time shows in the history of the sport. The group from Ireland closed their setlist with a performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name” with a giant backdrop behind them that featured the names of those whose lives were lost in the recent events. Towards the end of the performance, Bono unbuttoned his jacket to reveal the American flag sewn into the lining, a goosebump-inducing moment to this day.

Super Bowl XXXVIII – 2004

Performers: Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, Kid Rock, Nelly, Jessica Simpson

Chances are you remember the 2004 Super Bowl for one of two reasons: as New England’s second championship or the halftime performance that coined the term “wardrobe malfunction.” During the live broadcast of the concert at the 50-yard line, Justin Timberlake exposed a Janet Jackson’s nipple in front of an audience of over 140 million people. The incident grew to become one of the most searched terms in Internet history. After this stunt-gone-wrong received intense backlash, the NFL opted for more “safe” and family friendly halftime shows for a while, including Tom Petty, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.


Super Bowl XLIX – 2015

Performers: Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott, The Arizona State Marching Band

Katy Perry’s performance garnered over 120 million viewers and spawned the Internet sensation known as the Left Shark. The California native’s performance included dancers dressed as palm trees and the aforementioned sea creatures, and all eyes turned to Left Shark when he began performing odd, out-of-sync dance movements. He became a viral meme within minutes and was discussed on social media for days (which, in meme culture, is a lifetime). Turns out the Left Shark was punking us all along.

(Image courtesy of Huntley Paton via Flickr.)