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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

The best and worst Super Bowl Halftime Shows of the past few years

After one of the biggest games and most anticipated performances of the year, reflect back on which Halftime shows were a hit.
Lexie Perez
Graphic depicting a football stadium with fireworks against a city skyline. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)

As Vanderbilt students wind down from arguably the biggest sporting event of the year, those who are less invested in the football part of the Super Bowl and more invested in the entertainment it promises should brace for the yearly resurgence of an age-old debate. Who truly had the “best” Super Bowl performance? With many student organizations, such as Vanderbilt Student Government and various fraternities/sororities, holding viewing parties for the game, already disagreement has arisen. As I watched the game from the NPHC house with several of my housemates, it was not the game itself, but Usher’s performance that got most people talking. An examination from the past few years reveals that we have witnessed some truly exceptional performers but the spot for #1 is hotly contested. Have a look at where Usher’s most recent show, or you and your friends’ favorites, fall within the ranking.

#12 – Justin Timberlake (2018)

Perhaps hoping for redemption after his infamous 2004 Super Bowl performance with Janet Jackson and following a recent resurgence in popularity thanks to “Trolls,” Justin Timberlake took to the field in 2018 to perform at the halftime show for a second time. However, the former NSYNC star’s performance fell quite flat. A stage design that was stationary and unoriginal combined with lackluster vocals and a set list a couple of decades outdated left the show largely forgettable. While Timberlake did bring back his smooth boy band dance moves, the overall performance was nowhere near memorable enough to overshadow the scandal of his first. 

#11 – Maroon 5 and Travis Scott (2019)

The popularity of Maroon 5’s halftime show among viewers was doomed from the start after a nonsensical cameo from none other than SpongeBob Squarepants took center stage to introduce rapper Travis Scott as a surprise guest. Both performers had shaky and inconsistent vocals the entire show, and while Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine had a good command of the crowd during his set, Scott ultimately stole the show right from under him with “Sicko Mode.” While the performance may have been entertaining enough for Gen Z viewers, the whole show felt disjointed and is remembered more for its absurdity than its quality.

#10 – The Weeknd (2021)

While the Weeknd’s performance can be admired for its ambition and artistic vision, its overall message was lost in the strangeness of the show. A performance of “Blinding Lights” in a dazzling, flashing room spurred a slew of internet memes poking fun at the singer’s dramatic facial expressions. While he had a bank of timeless and widely enjoyed hits to draw upon, the strength of the setlist got drowned out by the full-on choir and army of bandaged Weeknd doppelgangers. The whole show felt like a poorly written A24 movie, where the viewer could recognize that everything was immersed in several layers of symbolism but not quite explain what any of it truly meant. 

#9 – Rihanna (2023) 

In one of the most polarizing Super Bowl performances in recent years, Rihanna not only returned to the public eye with her first live performance in years but also announced the pregnancy of her second child to millions of viewers. While many fans praised her grand return to performing, in comparison with previous years the show wasn’t remarkable. For a singer with 14 #1 songs, Rihanna shockingly snubbed many of these while allocating time for several songs she was merely a featured artist on. While it is understandable that her pregnancy kept her dancing to a minimum, even the backup dancers and set were largely uncreative.

#8 – Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars (2016)

While the 2016 halftime show was absolutely spectacular and held surprises at every corner, its biggest blow is that everyone forgot Coldplay was supposed to be the headlining act. The fact that one of the biggest bands on the globe was completely upstaged and remains forgotten by audiences to this day is a testament to the star quality of Beyoncé. Not only did she make a surprise appearance featuring one of her most iconic outfits, an army of backup dancers and absolutely flawless choreography, but she also debuted the song “Formation” which remains a fan favorite to this day. Bruno Mars also made a brief pop-in to perform “Uptown Funk” complete with all of his usual swagger. However, when Coldplay returned to close the show the audience was left wondering why Beyoncé wasn’t just the main act in the first place. 

#7 – Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers (2014)

Bruno Mars’ first Super Bowl show was overall satisfying. His songs have an uncanny ability to remain timeless and nearly 10 years later, I can still sing every lyric on the setlist. Mars’ vocals were truly spectacular and his dance moves always ooze confidence. Even the live jazz band was in sync and a blast to watch. The only thing holding the singer back from a truly exceptional performance was the fact that the stage remained largely unchanged the whole show and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers appearance felt largely unnecessary. 

#6 – Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent (2022)

Dr. Dre’s Superbowl performance managed to do the near impossible — captivate and charm viewers across every single generation. The show effortlessly balanced all six hip-hop legends giving each enough individual time to shine while ensuring that no one stole the entire show. The thought and ingenuity behind the set, styled to look like different rooms in a mansion, elevated the whole show to another level. From 50 Cent singing “In Da Club” upside down to the towering vocals of Mary J. Blige, there was truly a part of the performance for viewers of every age. 

#5 – Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Bad Bunny (2020)

Jennifer Lopez alone is a triple threat of a performer having ventured into singing, dancing and acting. Teaming up with Shakira, arguably one of the most influential and successful Latin artists of all time, made for an unforgettable show. Performing a slew of global hits in both English and Spanish, they brought the fiery passion of Latin dance to one of the biggest stages in America. It was revolutionary during a time in America when Latinos faced heightened harassment and hostility. Bad Bunny’s brief appearance only increased the star power of the show but did not detract from the moment of female empowerment and success that this show stood for. 

#4 Usher, Alicia Keys, H.E.R, Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Jermaine Dupri (2024)

Surpassing almost all expectations, Usher delivered an elaborate and electrifying show that has already taken social media platforms by storm. While many predicted at least one special guest appearance, mainly Alicia Keys, few expected Usher to seamlessly incorporate a remarkable number of six guests into his show. At 45 years old, he proved age is just a number as he boasted flawless footwork, still-decent vocals and even managed to work in an entire section of choreography on roller skates! Although some of his songs may be lesser known by younger viewers, Usher’s stage presence made up wherever the set list lacked. 

#3 – Lady Gaga (2017)

As soon as the iconic Pepsi logo on the TV broadcast disappeared to reveal Lady Gaga standing on top of NRG stadium rather than on the field, the world knew they were in for a treat. Gaga brought us through every iconic era of her career, performing massive hit after hit and never letting her vocals waver. An elaborate set, outfit changes and incredibly crisp choreography only topped off the already flawless show. The powerful symbolism of starting with “God Bless America” and then later singing “Born This Way” was a self-love anthem dedicated to those who have been marginalized in this country and should not be overlooked either. 

#2 – Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child (2013) 

Out of every halftime performer on this list, none can compete vocally with Beyoncé. As soon as the stage lit up and the pyrotechnics went off, Beyoncé’s incomparable vocals echoed throughout the entire stadium as she opened with “Love on Top.” Song after song, Beyoncé delivered an immaculate performance, complete with endless energetic choreography. Her surprise team-up with her former Destiny’s Child companions was the perfect tribute to her roots and provided a heartfelt dose of nostalgia without drawing away from the fact that the main event here was Beyoncé. It should be unsurprising then that this year, as soon as she announced she would be dropping two new singles via a Verizon commercial, Beyoncé was once again the talk of the night. 

#1 – Katy Perry and Missy Elliot (2015)

Until Rihanna upstaged her last year, Perry boasted the most-watched Super Bowl halftime show of all time and for good reason. As soon as she entered the show on a giant lion and quite literally made us hear her “Roar,” the singer captured everyone’s attention. Breezing through four outfits, elaborate sets and whimsical choreography, the singer truly put on the show of her career. If her impact was not already evident, the viral “left shark” meme circulated months after the game. Yet the crowning moment of the night had to be when Perry performed “California Girls.” As she hit the opening line “I know a place…” you could hear the entire stadium shout “where the grass is really greener” and finish the iconic lyric for her. To top it off, every single song that Perry performed hit #1 on the charts — a feat that to this day, no one has been able to duplicate. 

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About the Contributors
Marques Watson
Marques Watson, Staff Writer
Marques Watson (‘26) is majoring in elementary education in Peabody College. He is originally from Dallas, Texas. When not writing for The Hustler, Marques can be often found studying Spanish, reading a good mystery novel or scouring the internet for new vinyls to collect. He can be reached at [email protected]
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (9)

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5 months ago

Great List! I loved Dr. Dre’s performance

5 months ago

Weekend should be before #5

5 months ago

Shocker 95% of them are Jive hip hop artists ….wamp waaah🫤

5 months ago

You must be joking. This year’s was THE worst of all time and any list not containing Prince or Michael Jackson is pure clickbait. I want the 45 seconds back I spent reading it and the 15 seconds back responding. It had ro be said.

5 months ago

The fact that Prince wasn’t on this list invalidates the list.

5 months ago

2022 was probably the best of all time the shakira was pretty good too usher was 10 at best

Lisa Salvati
5 months ago


5 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Salvati

In the (purple) rain

5 months ago

I feel like 2022 should be higher and not #6 it should be top 3