OPINION: Ranking Super Bowl halftime shows

Elliott Seng, Staff Writer

Whether you love it or hate it – the Super Bowl halftime show is undeniably one of the biggest events of the year. With superstar Rihanna drawing in over 100 million views for a 15 minute show, this year’s display was certainly a spectacle. 

Considering that celebrities such as Justin Timberlake and Beyonce are in the halftime show history books, it’s pretty obvious that the standard is high and expectations are even higher, leaving the audience to wonder… how does Rihanna’s performance compare to the last couple years of performances?

I’ve made it easy for you by ranking all of the last 5 halftime shows, with everything from 50 Cent’s upside down stunner to Adam Levine’s questionable decision to strip off his shirt.

#5 – Maroon 5 2019 (with Travis Scott, Big Boi, and the Georgia State University Marching Band)

Normally, I consider myself the kind of person to see the best in all things, but the best part of the 2019 halftime show was probably when Big Boi rolled onto the stage in a Cadillac… which lasted about 20 seconds. I’m not sure who choreographed the part with Travis Scott and Adam Levine, but these two looked extremely uncomfortable with each other (intimacy coordinator required?). And of course, there was the underlying Colin Kaepernick controversy… but you can learn more about that here

#4 – The Weeknd 2021

Abel Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, did an incredible job, especially considering the show occurred right during the heat of the pandemic. However, even his artistic choreography and pristine vocals couldn’t make up for the lack of an audience under Covid protocols. Did he try to fix it by singing to the camera? Yes. Did it work? I’m not entirely sure. Despite the effort, the show just felt off. Also, I’m not sure who suggested the slightly unnerving plague doctor masks, but they are not exactly the “pinnacle of fashion” that Google claims they are. 

#3 – Rihanna 2023

Rihanna’s halftime show fits the definition of a 3rd place spot. It was good, but it wasn’t that good. Then again, what does someone like Riri have to prove? Performing live for the first time in five years is impressive, especially when you take into account her pregnancy (yep, that was a baby bump you saw under the bright red jumpsuit). The modern choreography and tight synchronization pulled the whole performance together, and the floating platforms were impressive (and slightly reminiscent of a Super Smash Bros stage). 

#2 – Shakira / J. Lo 2020 (with Bad Bunny, J. Balvin, and Emme Muniz)

There’s a reason why this halftime show has the most views on YouTube by a long shot. While that may have been because of the women’s sexual appeal (the outfits bordered on R-rated), the show was also a testimony to Latina women and their influence in culture. Although the show appeared to be all glitter and sparkles on the surface, a powerful political statement ran beneath as J. Lo’s 11-year-old Emme joined the stage wearing a shirt with an American flag on it while kids in cages were displayed around the venue. The point was crystal clear – protecting immigrant children, particularly those who have been separated from their families at the border. So, yes, the show may have been a little vulgar… but it made a statement, and it’s one to remember. 

#1 – Dr. Dre / Snoop Dogg / Eminem / Mary J. Bilge / Kendrick Lamar 2022 (with 50 Cent and Anderson .Paak)

For the first time, the Super Bowl halftime show featured a list of all hip-hop artists… and they didn’t disappoint. Set in a house atop a replica of Compton (Dr. Dre’s hometown), the set featured incredible detail and played an interactive role in the show, such as when Eminem literally broke out of the walls of Compton Courthouse. Another memorable transition included 50 Cent dropping upside down from the ceiling. Unlike the Adam Levine debacle of 2019, all of the artists genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves on the stage. With a unique combination of energy and creativity, this halftime show was undoubtedly the best from the last 5 years. 

Whether or not you agree with my rankings, one thing’s for sure. Super Bowl halftime shows are here to stay. Who knows what kind of extravaganza awaits us next year? I’m still dreaming of a Taylor Swift, Lizzo, and Harry Styles mashup. A weird combination? Maybe. But in the world of halftime shows, we’ve definitely seen weirder. (Cue that footage of Adam Levine again?)