On Sunday night, Madonna will join an exclusive club that includes the likes of Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Diana Ross and, uh, Up With People when she performs at halftime of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Yes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger stage than the big game — last year’s Super Bowl was watched by some 111 million Americans — which is why the producers of the halftime festivities always recruit the biggest stars to perform (except for 1999, when Big Bad Voodoo Daddy inexplicably found their way into the proceedings). And Madonna most certainly fits that bill, which is why, while we’re not quite sure what she’ll bring to the Super Bowl stage — aside from her promise that it’ll be “the greatest show on earth” — we’re reasonably confident that it’ll be a performance folks will be talking about on Monday. And probably Tuesday too.
Of course, if Madge wants to secure her spot among the all-time greatest Super Bowl halftime performances, well, she’ll definitely have to deliver the goods. Over the years, some of the most prodigious talents have gotten lost in all of the ephemera that comes with a Super Bowl slot (lasers, explosions, confetti, marching bands, will.i.am), but still others have risen to the challenge, delivering performances that have thrilled, chilled and even made us forget about the game itself. Here’s a look at our favorite Super Bowl halftime performances.
Diana Ross, Super Bowl XXX: The dynamic Diana stole the show in 1996 with a classy, brassy performance that featured nearly as many of her biggest hits as it did costume changes. Her voice was in prime form, powerful enough to outshine a full gospel choir, an army of tuxedo-clad dancers and, of course, end-zone pyrotechnics. But it was her exit — lifted from the stage via helicopter, while blowing kisses as the chorus of “Take Me Higher” blasted through the stadium — that truly put this one over the top.
Prince, Super Bowl XLI: Not even a near-constant downpour could dampen this 2007 performance from the Purple One, who stalked across a custom “symbol” stage (while wearing a kerchief tied around his head), wailed on approximately 46 guitar solos, begged the audience to “take my picture,” out-watted the famed FAMU marching band, covered the Foo Fighters and even managed to freak out network censors by casting a lengthy (and quite phallic) shadow from behind a piece of fabric. So, you know, it was just your average Prince show. Oh, and then he did “Purple Rain” in the rain. Meta.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Super Bowl XLIII: They opened with Springsteen leaning on Clarence Clemons (a nod to the cover of 1975’s Born to Run), begged the viewing audience to “put down the chicken fingers,” and then absolutely, positively destroyed the stage in Tampa with a set that featured classics like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born to Run” and “Glory Days.” And then Springsteen finished things off by shouting, “I’m going to Disneyland!”As several fans have come to say, this wasn’t a halftime performance, it was a football game played around a Springsteen concert. As an added bonus, this is also the performance that gave us the now-immortal “Boss Cocked” meme.
Michael Jackson, Super Bowl XXVII: It started with the late, great King of Pop magically leaping from the Rose Bowl scoreboards to his stage on the 50-yard line, featured a staggering 3,000 dancers, some killer choreography (the Moonwalk!) and a career-spanning medley of Jackson’s hits (everything from “Billie Jean” to “Black or White”). And as if MJ’s performance wasn’t testament to his superstardom, how about the 90-second ovation he received before ever singing a word? It was almost enough to make one young writer forget the Bills were on their way to losing a third-straight Super Bowl. Almost.
U2, Super Bowl XXXVI: If there is another band on the planet more capable of seizing the moment than U2, well, we’d like to meet them. In this case, that meant performing at the first Super Bowl since the 9/11 attacks, before an audience of millions still reeling and recovering. And, in typical form, Bono and company didn’t shrink from the spotlight. Though there were more than a few highlights, their solemn, spiritual performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name” — which saw the names of all the victims of 9/11 projected behind them — was not only the most memorable of the night, it’s without a doubt the most memorable (and chill-inducing) in Super Bowl history. And then, to top it all off, Bono pulled back his jacket to reveal an American flag. Game over.
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