Super Bowl Halftime Show 2023: 15 Biggest Shockers Ever Ahead Of Rihanna's Performance

Including bold political statements, surprise A-list guests and international scandals.
Super Bowl
Super Bowl
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You know you’ve made it as an A-list music star when the NFL invites you to perform during the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

In the past few years alone, massive names as varied as The Weeknd, Jennifer Lopez, Eminem and, of course, the Queen Bey herself have all wowed with their performances, but there have been a fair few shocking moments along the way.

This year, the honour falls to Rihanna, and the world is sure to be watching, not least because it marks the groundbreaking singer’s first live performance in almost seven years.

But as history shows, the Super Bowl Halftime Show hasn’t always been just about the music – with plenty of shocking and headline-grabbing moments taking place at the annual sports event.

As we get ready for what’s unquestionably going to be an unmissable performance, here are 15 more of the biggest Super Bowl shockers from years gone by...

15. Blackout Bowl (2013)

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This shocking moment didn’t come during Beyoncé’s Halftime Show but shortly after it, with the football game that followed (snooze…) having to suspend play for a full 34 minutes due to a power outage.

Evidently, the power of the Queen Bey is so strong, it can even plunge an entire stadium into darkness. Bow down, bitches indeed.

Watch the full performance here.

14. #LeftShark Bowl (2015)

She’s not always the first person you think of when it comes to great live performers, but Katy Perry proved a massive point when she really brought it at the Super Bowl.

Over the course of her Halftime Show, Katy entered atop a giant lion, floated through the air while singing Firework, introduced Missy Elliott and convincingly rocked out to I Kissed A Girl with Lenny Kravitz.

And yet… the next day all anyone seemed to want to talk about was the “Left Shark” incident, when one of her dancers lost their way in the middle of a routine, while dressed as a shark.

It’s a pity, really, because Katy’s was one of the most impressive and elaborate Super Bowl shows of the 2010s.

But also… what was that shark doing?!

Watch the full performance here.

13. Madonna Bowl (2012)


There were plenty of shockers during Madonna’s Super Bowl show (one of which we’ll get to a bit later on in this list).

Her entrance? Iconic. Her guest performers? Alarming. Her choreo? Near perfect, even if she did trip just a little bit while shuffling with LMFAO.

Luckily, this would be the last time Madonna ever had to worry about a slip-up on live television. Apart from this, of course. Oh, and this.

Watch the full performance here.

12. Hip-Hop Bowl (2022)

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If nothing else, the 2022 Halftime Show will be remembered for the epic level of stars that took part, with singer Mary J Blige and rappers Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and 50 Cent among those sharing the stage in a celebration of hip-hop music throughout the years.

There were some big headline-grabbing moments, too – not least when 50 Cent recreated his upside down entrance from his In Da Club music video, and Eminem made a show of solidarity by taking the knee in the middle of the performance.

Watch the full performance here.

11. Boss Bowl (1996)

via Associated Press

Diana Ross’ Super Bowl performance was jam-packed with hits, dating back from the music legend’s days in the Supremes right through to her solo success.

Arguably the most iconic moment of the lot came right at the end, though, when she left the field in a helicopter. There’s travelling in style, and then there’s this...

Watch the full performance here.

10. Prince Bowl (2007)

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Nobody would question that Prince is one of the greatest live performers in pop history, but he really cemented this at the 2007 Super Bowl. As well as covering tracks by Queen, Foo Fighters and Bob Dylan, he effortlessly performed his own songs Let’s Go Crazy and Baby I’m A Star.

He closed the show with a version of his signature hit, Purple Rain, made all the more significant by the literal downpour that accompanied it – the real shocker being that Prince still managed to retain his cool throughout. What a man.

Watch the full performance here.

9. Disney Bowl (1991)

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If you want to talk about shockers, just wait.

Before it was so commonplace for huge musicians to perform at the Halftime Show, organisers used to think a little more outside the box. That’s why in 1991, they handed over the reins to the Walt Disney Company.

Disney’s show is not one that’s looked back on particularly fondly, with a wave of local child performers sharing the stage with the company’s iconic characters (as well as New Kids On The Block, for some reason), while also somehow shoehorning in a tribute to those fighting in the Gulf war, and a message from then-president George Bush.

Fortunately for everyone involved, this was also the year Whitney Houston blew everyone away with her rendition of the National Anthem, which is what most of us remember about the Super Bowl that year.

Watch the full performance here.

8. Gaga Bowl (2017)

Known for making a statement in some way or another whenever she performs live, we were curious to see how Lady Gaga would kick things off when given the massive platform of the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

And really, what better way is there to make an entrance than a pre-recorded patriotic tune sung from the top of a stadium, before leaping off it to perform your hits on the field below?

Watch the full performance here.

7. Timberlake Bowl (2018)

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After a great run of successive mega-stars performing at the Super Bowl , beginning with Madonna and ending with Lady Gaga, the stakes were high when it was announced that Justin Timberlake would be taking the stage for the first time since 2004.

Regrettably, his performance didn’t quite live up to expectations, with many criticising his unusual fashion choices, as well as the decision not to invite Janet Jackson to perform with him following their ill-fated performance more than a decade earlier (more on that later, unsurprisingly).

Watch the full performance here.

6. Diva Bowl (2020)

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In 2020, the NFL lined up two legendary artists to share top billing with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira teaming up for the Halftime Show.

The pair’s performance was packed full of memorable moments, with Shakira showing off her famous belly-dancing skills, crowd-surfing and paid homage to both her Colombian and Lebanese heritage.

Meanwhile, J-Lo sneaked in a cameo appearance from her teenager Emme, and turned her hit Let’s Get Loud into a unifying (and surprisingly effective) protest anthem.

However, some more conservative critics took issue with the star when she showed off some of the pole-dancing skills she’d honed while making the film Hustlers. There’s clearly just no pleasing some people...

Watch the full performance here.

5. Weeknd Bowl (2021)

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Given that The Weeknd’s Halftime Show performance came pretty much slap-bang in the middle of the pandemic, there was a big question mark over exactly how he would be able to pull it all off.

True to form, he managed just fine.

Embodying the “lounge lizard” character that he took on while promoting his After Hours album, the singer put an unusually eerie spin on the Super Bowl Halftime Show, at one point getting lost in a creepy maze before heading out onto the pitch, where he was met by an army of identically-dressed backing dancers in facial bandages.

Watch the full performance here.

4. Reunion Bowl (2013)

It had been one of the worst kept secrets in music, but we still did a little squeal when the other two members of Destiny’s Child popped up during Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance (and what a pop up it was, we could happily watch Michelle Williams finding her feet after shooting up from the floor for a good two hours without getting bored).

The trio whizzed through Bootylicious and Independent Women before joining Beyoncé for Single Ladies, complete with the video’s original choreo.

Watch the full performance here.

3. Middle Finger Bowl (2012)

Madonna was the main event during the 2012 Halftime Show, but it was M.I.A. who wound up generating the most headlines.

Upon finding out that her pre-recorded vocals would be cutting out the word “shit” as she appeared during Give Me All Your Luvin’, the British rapper decided to take matters into her own hands, or rather fingers, by flipping off the camera at the end of her part of the performance.

Although the incident only lasted a split second, it had big repercussions for M.I.A., who wound up facing a lawsuit for millions of dollars from the NFL over the unplanned incident.

Watch the full performance here.

2. Formation Bowl (2016)

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Beyoncé had already begun addressing social issues, specifically feminism, on her self-titled album at the end of 2013, but she cranked things up a good few notches when she kicked off the Lemonade era.

This stage of her career began with a guest spot during Coldplay’s Super Bowl show, where her first ever live performance of Formation wound up creating a buzz thanks to its allusions to Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Beyoncé’s fans lapped it up, and her empowering Super Bowl performance built anticipation for when Lemonade arrived a few months later, following similar themes.

Watch the full performance here.

1. Hey Jude Bowl (2005)

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Just kidding...

1. Janet Bowl (2004)

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“Play at the Super Bowl,” they told Janet Jackson. “Invite Justin Timberlake along,” they told Janet Jackson. “This will give your career a massive boost,” they told Janet Jackson.

The story goes that Justin went to tear off the front of Janet’s outfit at the end of their performance, but also wound up ripping her lace bra too, exposing her breast, which was covered by a nipple shield.

Although the so-called “wardrobe malfunction” didn’t even last a full second, it had the power to bring Janet’s career to a temporary halt, and while she’s certainly enjoyed success since, we can’t help but wonder how far the talented and unique star could have gone had this scandal not defined her for so many years.

In more recent years, Janet and Justin’s Super Bowl performance has been used as an example of gender double standards in the entertainment industry.

Janet had her performance at the 2004 Grammys – which took place just seven days after the Super Bowl – unceremoniously dropped in the fallout. Justin, meanwhile, not only performed during the show but took home Album Of The Year, even cracking a joke about the Super Bowl during his acceptance speech.

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In early 2018, Justin disclosed that he and Janet were on good terms despite the scandal, but sadly those “good terms” didn’t extend to an invitation to join him on stage, which is unfortunate, because that would certainly have livened up what was ultimately a fairly poorly-received performance.

Three years later, Justin publicly apologised to both Janet and his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, stating: “I care for and respect these women and I know I failed”.

He added: “The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success. It’s designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn’t recognise it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again.”

Watch the full performance here.


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