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Whether they’d like to admit it or not, for many people, the only reason to turn on the NFL Super Bowl is to catch the annual halftime show. This televised live show has evolved since the very first Super Bowl in 1967. In the years since, we’ve seen a myriad of pop divas, hip-hop giants, and classic rock legends take the stage to entertain audiences across the country – all for 30 minutes or less. We’ve put together a collection of unforgettable performances that keep football and music fans alike tuning in every year to see the next performer.

Here are our picks for the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

Prince

The late, great “artist formerly known as Prince” took the Super Bowl halftime stage in 2007 and delivered an unforgettable performance. Heck, he performed his number one hit “Purple Rain” on a purple electric guitar, in the pouring rain. Prince took to his colossal stage in the shape of his own logo and started the set riffing on Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before launching into “Let’s Go Crazy.” With a nod to Super Bowl halftime shows of the past, the Florida A&M University marching band entered the field to accompany Prince on “Baby I’m a Star,” giving the song an entirely new sound. The band donned light-up uniforms that coordinated with the beat of the music, adding to Prince’s already elaborate light show on stage.

Prince then continued with covers of both Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower,” paying tribute to the artists that inspired him to pick up his guitar and pursue music. His performance ends with a bang, with fireworks flying from the venue and Prince soloing over “Purple Rain” as the audience sings along to its final chorus.

The Who

In 2010, The Who proved to America that even though they’re not twenty-somethings anymore, they’ve still got it. With all its members well into their 60s at the time, they took the stage with the same gusto and liveliness as they had in their heyday. They started off their set with the chugging guitar riff to “Pinball Wizard,” dripping in inevitable nostalgia. “Baba O’Riley,” or more commonly referred to by its chorus, “Teenage Wasteland” features frontman Roger Daltrey’s performing his famous harmonica solo. “Who Are You” allowed renowned guitarist Pete Townsend to perform his signature windmill strum. The band wrapped up with “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” putting the spotlight on an impressive drum solo from Zak Starkey, son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.

Diana Ross

Twent-three years ago, our country was graced with Diana Ross’s show-stopping, jaw-dropping Super Bowl halftime show performance. With such a high caliber of production, it’s hard to keep track of everything that’s going on onstage throughout. While opening with her hit “Stop in the Name of Love,” Ross is lowered from a podium that’s simultaneously showering low-grade fireworks below her. Meanwhile, an entire football field full of dancers parades toward the stage with synchronized choreography, matching outfits, and props galore. (And we can’t forget to mention that Ross somehow pulls off an outfit change for every single song.)

If that weren’t enough, the train of Ross’s red and gold gown grows increasingly longer and longer, until she is again lifted back up on the podium three stories high while belting out fan-favorite “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” To top it all off, mid-“I Will Survive,” a helicopter lands in the center of the field and Ross casually hops in, continuing to sing as she waves the audience goodbye to take a ride in the sky. Miss Ross did the most, and for that, her fans are forever grateful.

Lady Gaga

Fans expect nothing less than fabulous from Lady Gaga, and the pop goddess bestowed upon the audience just that. Her performance includes everything from a skydive off of the stadium walls, acrobatics, a drone-powered light show, and in true Gaga fashion, lots of dancing.

Historically, halftime shows average around 20 to 30 minutes in length. While her halftime show was only 13 minutes long, it broke records, garnering over 150 million viewers and claiming its well-deserved spot as the “most-watched musical event of all-time.” Gaga performed her LGBQT+ anthem, “Born This Way,” making an unexpected, subtle, yet equally as powerful political statement that was anticipated by many. She closes out with a highly choreographed rendition of “Bad Romance,” tossing the microphone to the side to take a stage dive to catch a rhinestone-embellished football. Now that’s a way to go out in style.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers reminded football fans and music lovers alike that rock and roll is indeed alive and well. Following Prince’s flashy and glamorous performance the year prior, the late frontman Tom Petty brought the halftime show back to his musical roots with a good ol’ fashioned rock concert. They kicked off their halftime performance with “American Girl,” and then continued to play the rest of their beloved hits. “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” and Runnin’ Down A Dream” rounded out the band’s setlist. While they did receive some criticism for the lack of glitz and glamour in their performance, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’s more stripped-down show showed America that when it comes down to it, it really is all about the music.

Honorable Mention: Whitney Houston

While the late pop icon never played the Super Bowl halftime show, Whitney Houston gave one of the best renditions of the National Anthem of all time. In our humble opinion, it will never be topped. Houston made her vocal stylings appear absolutely effortless, setting the precedent for singers to follow. Houston recorded her live vocal performance and released it as a single shortly thereafter. In 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Houston re-released the recording, donating all profits from its sales to New York City’s first responders.

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(Image by Lorie Shaull via Flickr. | CC 2.0)