The 5 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows Ever

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Michael Jackson performs at Super Bowl XXVII on January 31, 1993 (Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
WRITTEN BY
Peter Gaston

Sunday, February 6, a global audience of about a billion people will watch two of football's most storied franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, do battle in the Super Bowl, live from Arlington, Texas. This year's halftime performer is one with an equally global reach: chart-topping hip-popsters the Black Eyed Peas.

And while Will.i.am tells SPIN their performance will be "a spectacle," and that the design of his lavish costume helped stimulate the economy, all by itself (read more here), we thought we'd look back at the best moments in Super Bowl halftime history. Aside from an appearance by Ella Fitzgerald at Super Bowl VI in 1972, it wasn't until Michael Jackson's 1993 performance that the halftime shows started to evolve into the star-studded affairs we know today.

So check out SPIN's picks below for the five best halftime shows of all-time. Then come back after the big game on Monday and tell us what you thought of BEP's set.

1. MICHAEL JACKSON, 1993
In January of 1993, it was time to party. The first Gulf War (which spawned Whitney Houston's jaw-dropping National Anthem at 1991's game) was in the rear-view, Bill Clinton had just been elected president, and the Super Bowl was being held at the most gorgeous stadium in America, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. An appearance by the King of Pop was just icing. It began a bit awkwardly, with Jackson standing motionless onstage for a full 90 seconds, but then unfolded into a hit-filled medley, including a bit of "Billie Jean." As rad as it was, it did nothing to help the hapless Buffalo Bills, who went on to earn their third of four straight Super Bowl losses.

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2. AEROSMITH, 'N SYNC, BRITNEY SPEARS, NELLY, MARY J. BLIGE, 2001
Wouldn't you love to go backstage on this night and tell Justin Timberlake that, ten years later, he'd have starred in an Oscar-nominated drama? Or Britney that she'd be the mother of two children and attempting to jumpstart her career? Or see what Steven Tyler thought of American Idol (which hadn't even aired in the U.S. yet)? Before all of that happened, and before Lance Bass tried to blast into space, this show featured several of their world's biggest stars of the moment, smashed together onstage as only MTV could manage.

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3. U2, 2002
This was the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and the nation was still rediscovering how to enjoy its simplest pleasures. U2's show was accordingly restrained, alternating between their stirring, career-resurrecting single "Beautiful Day" and a somber version of "Where the Streets Have No Name," performed while the names of 9/11 victims scrolled on a giant video screen at the 50-yard-line. U2 would again play the role of sonic ambassador on the very same field some four years later, this time joining Green Day at the first game played in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

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4. PRINCE, 2007
With a medley of covers, including "Best of You" by the Foo Fighters and "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix, plus wild party-time tracks "Let's Go Crazy" from his own catalog, it's hard for Prince to go wrong. And he really brought the house down with "Purple Rain" as the skies over Florida opened up to a purple-light-drenched stadium. He then clutched his "phallic" guitar and soloed like nobody's business.

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5. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, 2009
On America's annual day of being, you know, as American as we possibly can be (overeating and drinking beer in front of a television), the selection of the country's most active rock'n'roller was a perfect fit. In fact, the Boss' epic renditions of classics like "Born to Run" and "Glory Days" might have even coaxed a good number of us off the La-Z-Boy for a little living room dance party. Add to that Bruce's unforgettable knee slide across the stage that found him scooting crotch-first into a TV camera, and you've got one of the most memorable halftime shows ever.
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