By Kyle Anderson
Updated August 03, 2020 at 05:06 PM EDT
Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

This Sunday, in the midst of the war of attrition that will be Super Bowl XLVI, Madonna will roll her ridiculously ornate stage onto the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and attempt to blow some minds for eight or nine minutes.

Madonna can certainly do it; she has the requisite deep catalog of hits, a theatrical approach to performing, and enough bold-faced numbers in her iPhone to unleash some surprises. “Give Me All Your Luvin'” probably won’t get the job done on its own, though luckily she has “Vogue,” “Holiday,” “Ray of Light,” and “Like a Prayer” in her pocket.

So who will she have to eclipse to get mentioned in the greatest Super Bowl halftime performances of all time? The modern era of Super Bowl halftime shows began in 1991 with New Kids on the Block, though outside of Michael Jackson’s absurdly huge performance in 1993, the early years were somewhat lacking in spectacle.

Things get better at the end of the ’90s, but the real entry into the modern era came in 2001, when producers brought together Aerosmith, Britney Spears, *NSYNC, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly for a jam-packed over-the-top run through the current pop chart.

After the notorious Janet Jackson incident in 2004, focus shifted again, mostly to classic rockers going over their greatest hits. Some of those were terrible (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), while others were merely underwhelming (the Who).

So who was the best?

Like many questions, the answer to this one is Prince. In 2007, His Purpleness brought everything: Eye-singeing spectacle, incendiary musicianship (it’s possible Prince whipped out the best guitar solo in Super Bowl history), and a surprise or two (including his out-of-nowhere cover of Foo Fighters’ “Best of You.” Plus, he did it all in the midst of a ridiculous downpour. Who could possibly top that?

U2 is also in that conversation. In 2002, with the events of September 11th, 2001, still fresh in the minds of the football-watching public, Bono and company delivered their impassioned anthems while paying somber tribute to the fallen. It was touching and mighty—not something you usually get during your halftime entertainment.

And even though it is remembered mostly for the reveal of Janet Jackson’s nipple that apparently caused our economy to collapse, but it was actually a very nice turn from Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

Which Super Bowl halftime show is your favorite? And will Madonna be able to land on top?


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