No matter who’s performing, or whether their performance is a triumph or a flop, there’s always an undeniable WTF-moment during the Super Bowl halftime show. It almost seems to unfold in slow motion: You rise from the couch in disbelief, Doritos pouring from your gaping mouth as your eyes widen, your chicken wing-stained fingers point, and you scream, “WHAT THE F**K!!!” It’s as dependable as death and taxes.
Here, I compile the seven most notable WTF-moments in Super Bowl halftime history, from the good to the bad and everything in between. Enjoy.
7. Detroit, 2006: Rolling Stones’ False History
Introducing the Rolling Stones’ lackluster set was a video reel that cut vintage images of the Stones from their 1960s glory days with football highlights from that era, lending some understanding that the Stones and American football have a long and intimate relationship. Um… are you kidding me? They’ve never intersected with football. Where they’re from, North London, football is an entirely different sport. Also, have you seen the scrawny, drug-addled, glitter-and-tights-wearing members of Stones, then or now? They’d fall from a flick of a linebacker's finger. Just tell us the truth, NFL: here’s a band to entertain you during halftime. Their connection to football is, well, nil, but they rock. End of story. Thanks.
6. Miami, 2010: The Who’s Late Life Crisis
After Janet Jackson’s “nipplegate,” NFL producers opted for a series of safe legacy acts for halftime performances, which worked and didn’t work. The Who’s appearance is staunchly the latter. Like your dad buying a motorcycle in attempt to rekindle his youth, their performance was, well, embarrassing and certainly lacking the spark of their past. The WTF-moment: Pete Townshend’s big grin doing the windmill on his guitar. You know he practiced that in the mirror for weeks. It was the equivalent of your dad, sitting on that new Harley of his, revving the engine and then crashing into the garage.
5. Houston, 2004: Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” Moment
I had to include it—no list is complete without it, natch. But more than it being a WTF moment, it’s more like, “Ewwwwwww.” Don’t believe me? Revisit Janet Jackson’s star-studded breastestest close up and in slo-mo.
4. Arlington, TX, 2011: Black Eyed Peas Embarrass Themselves
There are too many WTF moments here to count. In fact, this is one continuous WTF. First off, a medley of five horrible songs doesn’t make any of those five songs any less horrible. The sound was uninspired, just like the group themselves, who didn’t move much onstage. Then Slash appeared playing “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Fergie’s Axl Rose impression is cringe-worthy. Poor Axl. You know it’s a horrid performances when you feel bad for that dude.
3. San Diego, 2003: Shania Twain Insults Your Manhood
When Shania Twain strutted out onstage and sang, “Man, I feel like a woman,” millions and millions of men, who were watching from around the world, clutching their beers and feeling manly, quickly escaped the couch for a bathroom break. The collective flush flooded parts of Northern Mexico.
2. Pasadena, CA, 1993: Michael Jackson Burns Precious Advertising Dollars
Now this is straight gangster. In one of the first major Super Bowl halftime shows, Michael Jackson rises to the stage, in his signature Dangerous-era black slacks, wind-blown white shirt and black fedora, and proceeds to stand perfectly motionless for 98 seconds (I counted). That’s about nine bagillion in advertising dollars (a rough estimate). He then proceeded to straight kill it with versions of “Jam,” “Billie Jean” and “Black and White.” Only Michael can get away with that.
1. Miami, 2007: Prince Plays God
If there were any remaining slivers of doubt as to whether Prince was a musical god or not, he put them to bed with his Super Bowl halftime show when he SUMMONED THE RAIN FROM THE HEAVENS ABOVE!?!?!!?!?!? Oh yes, he did. After an eclectic, badass set that includes covers of Foo Fighters (“Best of You”) and Bob Dylan (“All Along the Watchtower”), Prince closed with “Purple Rain.” As he played the opening chords, the sky over Florida opened up and dropped rain over massive purple lights. It was mesmerizing, a true ‘WTF I-can’t-believe-this-happening’ moment. When the solo came, he asked the crowd a rhetorical question: “Can I play this guitar?” He proceeded to answer anyway with a very, very solid “yes.”