- What Wildfire Smoke Does to the Human Body
- Teens Are Taking Wegovy for Weight Loss
- Why Pence Launched His Presidential Bid in Iowa
- Prince Harry Breaks Royal Convention to Testify in Court
- Elliot Page: Embracing My Trans Identity Saved Me
- How a Texas High Jumper Has Earned Nearly $1 Million
- The Best TV Shows of 2023 So Far
- 7 Ways to Get Better at Small Talk
Justin Timberlake / Janet Jackson, 2004
The music for this show (which also featured the artist then known as P. Diddy, Nelly, and Kid Rock) was negligible. But the show-closing moment in which Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s detachable bodice resonated for years on a variety of levels: For Jackson, whose promotion of her new album was subsumed by controversy, it marked the beginning of the end of her career. For the NFL, it meant a temporary end to engagement with contemporary artists. And for the culture at large, it kicked off a debate over what was appropriate to air on television that was tied up in the relative cultural conservatism of the time.
It’s hard to remember now, but at the time she was booked to play the Superdome, Beyoncé was just a popular singer, not a hyper-powerful force. Her ambitious, well-executed set changed the conversation around and kicked off a year of anticipation for her fifth album, which wouldn’t come for some eleven months.
*NSYNC / Aerosmith / Britney Spears, 2001
Collaborations are a tricky beast; 2003’s Shania Twain/No Doubt/Sting lineup felt like a group of people who’d never met, for instance. But this merger of a classic act and the boys of the moment was a smashing success even before Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly came out for a show-closing group number. This felt less like an attempt to check demographic boxes than a big-tent celebration of pop at its best.
Michael Jackson, 1993
This performance basically invented the modern halftime show, with a celebrity act performing hits rather than positive-thinking musical troupe Up With People or a marching band; its huge ratings were enough reward to start pivoting the bookings more and more towards stars. Jackson’s performance of hits including “Billie Jean” and “Heal the World” helped cement his reputation, in the leaner years post-Thriller, as an enduring star.
This show was supposed to be performed by Janet Jackson (there’s an alternate history in which her 2004 duet with Timberlake never happens and she’s, today, still on top of the world). But after September 11, 2001, a more somber act was chosen; U2’s reverent three-song act, closing with “Where the Streets Have No Name,” was one of the most resonant tributes in the months following the terror attacks.
Bruno Mars, 2014
Black Eyed Peas, 2011
The most popular band on earth at the time managed to keep one-upping itself from moment to moment: You thought the robot costumes were cheesily over-earnest? Well, check out Fergie belting out “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” backed up by Slash on guitar. This was the band’s last hurrah, of sorts; they have yet to release new material since their performance.
Bruce Springsteen, 2009
The years following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” were a stretch of male legacy acts, with diminishing returns. (Neither Tom Petty nor The Who, despite their large fan bases, set pulses racing among the uninitiated.) But it was hard to fault Springsteen’s wild energy as he promoted both back-catalog hits and new material; no other performer could make sliding into a camera crotch-first seem so charming.
This article originally appeared on TIME.com