The Super Bowl Halftime Show’s Awkward Blunders And Busts

By: Michael Legg | Last updated: Mar 21, 2024

The Super Bowl halftime show has also seen its fair share of awkward and cringe-worthy moments. Despite being known for its star-studded performances sometimes things don’t go as planned and not only miss the mark but create unexpected controversies and embarrassments that have left lasting impressions on audiences worldwide.

Whether it was a controversial “wardrobe malfunction” or uncomfortable lip-syncing the halftime show has sometimes been remembered for the wrong reasons, just ask Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Despite the spectacle it has created, these uncomfortable moments have been forever cemented in the history of the Superbowl not any less than the game itself. Do you remember all these unexpected twists?

Rihanna’s Super Bowl Hand Sniffing Moves

Rihanna seemingly delivered a showstopping performance during 2023’s halftime show, but according to the Federal Communication Commission, they received a whole lot of complaints from across the country that were a little too many for comfort. Countless viewers were upset at what many viewed as an “overly sexual performance” from a pregnant Rihanna.


Source: Rihanna’s Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show / NFL Superbowl / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Many concluded that the touching, sniffing, and grabbing of body parts throughout the performance was not appropriate for children to watch and quite uncomfortable for many adults. Many families gathered around to watch the Superbowl together and countless families were disappointed that this was what ended up being displayed to the audiences live and at home.

During the 2022 Super Bowl halftime performance Eminem “took a knee” after finishing his solo set which allegedly was said to be in defiance of the NFL. People may have been fishing but it garnered a lot of attention, enough so that it became the talk of audiences after the fact. Why was this so controversial?


Source: Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show (2022) / Live Broadcast / Youtube

This drop to the knee was seemingly in support of Colin Kaepernick, the now former San Francisco 49ers NFL quarterback. Kaepernick kick-started a movement in which he began “taking a knee” during the American national anthem. This gesture was meant to symbolize his protest of rising police violence and brutality throughout the U.S.A.

Shakira’s Lebanese Tribute 2020

Shakira performed at the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show, This performance was considered awkward mostly for her performance of a traditional Arab vocal expression known as a “zaghrouta.”


Shakira performing at the 2020 Super Bowl | source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Many felt the focalization was out of place for the show in particular. The awkwardness was not due to any intentional misstep by Shakira but rather the perception that the zaghrouta did not fit with the overall tone and style of the performance.

Maroon 5’s Less Than 5 Stars Performance 2019

While it may be surprising to hear, but Maroon 5’s performance was considered boring and lacked the energy typically coinciding with the Super Bowl halftime show.


Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performing at the Super Bowl | Source: Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Adam Levine’s interactions and stage presence were criticized, with some likening his performance to that of an “awkward stripper”. This performance was simply not typical and expected of Maroon 5, who is often known for the band’s style and excitement.

Lady Gaga’s Leap 2017

Lady Gaga is known for her high energy and exciting performances, and the Super Bowl was not exempt. Although one portion of the performance that was met with skepticism was her theatrical leap from the roof.

Lady Gaga at the 2017 Super Bowl | Source: Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show / NFL / Youtube

While many were led to believe this event was live, it was actually pre-recorded. This led to open criticism and questions of the authenticity of live performances.


Chris Martin's Lack of Razzle Dazzle 2016

Chris Martin’s performance at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show was one of the more awkward shows to this date. The show was criticized for its lack of energy and the perceived mismatch between the band’s style and the high-energy expectations of a Super Bowl halftime performance.

Chris Martin Super Bowl Halftime Show 2016 | Source: NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Chris Martin’s performance was seen as a “third wheel” to that of Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. It just fell short of the mark.


Katy Perry Shark Attack 2015

Katy Perry performed at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and this performance is widely considered one of the most awkward halftime shows. Most notably, the “Left Shark”, one of Perry’s backup dancers, gained attention for seemingly forgetting the choreography. This mishap leads to a quirky and unexpected moment during the show.

Katy Perry performing at Super Bowl XLIX (2015) | Source: Super Bowl XLIX / NBC / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

This incident became a viral sensation and added an element of surprise to the performance, albeit in an unconventional way.


Red Hot Chili Peppers Unplugged 2014

One of the most highly anticipated performances was the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the 2014 Super Bowl. This also just so happened to coincide with one of the biggest disappointments. It was later revealed that their instruments were not plugged in, and only the vocals and drums were performed live.

Source: Superbowl Halftime Show 2014 Ft Red Hot Chilli Peppers | Source: CNN Live News Broadcast / NFL Superbowl

This decision was to coincide with the NFL’s policy, requiring the vocals to be live but allowed for pre-recorded instrumental tracks.


Destiny’s Child 2013 Reunion

Despite being known for their excellent on-stage presence, the reunion of Destiny’s Child at the 2013 halftime show was extremely awkward. The lack of synchronization and chemistry amongst the group led to a poor halftime performance.

Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé Knowles, and Michelle Williams performing at the Super Bowl as Destiny's Child | Source: Super Bowl Halftime Show / NFL / Live Broadcast / Pete Sekesan / Wikimedia Commons

This led to some uncomfortable moments, which were noticed by the audience and later discussed in the media.


Madonna’s Halftime Show 2012

Madonna’s halftime show at the 2012 Super Bowl was considered awkward for a few different reasons. First of all, she is widely criticized for lip-syncing, and many felt her music did not age well. Madonna was not the only issue, guest performers such as M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, as well as the use of cheerleading-themed elements, was seen as out of touch and not well-received by all viewers.

Madonna performing at the 2012 Super Bowl Halftime Show | Source: NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Furthermore, her performance in general was awkward as she attempted to do cartwheels and handstands and incorporated many unusual props and visuals.


M.I.A. Flips the Bird 2012

One of the most controversial and awkward moments in halftime history came about during the 2012 Super Bowl halftime. M.I.A. later explained that the gesture was a reference to the Hindu goddess Matangi and a spiritual gesture, rather than a profane or offensive act.

M.I.A performing with Madonna at the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI | Source: ABC News / Live Super Bowl Broadcast / NFL

This act led to a major legal battle with the NFL, which claimed the gesture was “completely inappropriate” and “obscene”.


Fergie’s 2011 Not-So-Sweet Halftime

Despite Fergie being widely known as an excellent performer, her performance at the 2011 Super Bowl alongside the Black Eyed Peas is commonly considered extremely awkward. Fergie’s version of “Sweet Child O’Mine” was often criticized for the throaty Axl Rose impression.

Fergie performing at the 2011 Super Bowl | Source: Super Bowl Halftime Show / NLF / Live Broadcast / Youtube

In addition to her impression of Axl Rose, the show overall was simply a mess, and Fergie seemed out of place oftentimes.


The Black Eyed Peas’ 2011 Performance

As previously discussed, Fergie’s performance was awkward, and the Black Eyed Peas’ performance was just as awkward in 2011. Critics and viewers noted a lack of energy and stage presence, with the group appearing static and unenthusiastic during the performance.

Black Eyed Peas performing at the 2011 Super Bowl | Source: Super Bowl Halftime Show / NLF / Live Broadcast / Youtube

To go along with the performance specifically, the sound problems, poor choreography, and lack of cohesion led to an overall negative reception of the halftime show.


Bruce Springsteen 2009 Halftime Show

Despite being a major artist, Bruce’s performance during the 2009 halftime was perceived to be unusual or off-putting. The show was criticized for having multiple corny moments, even with Springsteen making odd demands of the audience.

Bruce Springsteen Performing at the 2009 Super Bowl Halftime Show | Source: Super Bowl NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Additionally, he changed the lyrics of “Glory Days” to reflect football instead of baseball, and the show ended with a fake referee jumping in front of Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt and throwing a flag for playing too long, which some found to be an awkward and groan-inducing moment.


Paul McCartney’s Performance 2005

While Paul McCartney is widely popular and famous, his Super Bowl performance was underwhelming mainly because his traditional audience did not coincide with his typical audience. His overall performance was met with disappointment as his performance fell short of expectations.

Paul McCartney’s Performance Halftime Show | Source: Super Bowl Halftime Show / NFL / Youtube

McCartney is considered music royalty, but his rock show was not well-received by a majority of viewers. This perception led to disappointment and awkwardness.


The "Messiest" Halftime Show 2001

The 2001 halftime show was a mash-up of artists, leading to a lack of cohesiveness. The show featured *NSYNC, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige, creating a mix of performances that some found to be disjointed and lacking a clear direction. The show was considered awkward due to a performance by the band Creed, which was criticized for its production and presentation.

2001 Super bowl Halftime Show: Britney Spears and Aerosmith | Source: Super Bowl NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

While the halftime show is typically energetic and upbeat, the band attempted to include a memoriam for the 9/11 attacks. While the sentiment was good, it led to an awkward crowd. The many artists and varying genres didn’t help either. The performance was also described as “deeply, truly messy” and “organized by some dude in a ‘how do you do, fellow youths?’ t-shirt,” reflecting the show’s perceived lack of a unifying theme or direction.


Nipplegate 2004

Nipplegate is arguably the most awkward moment in halftime history, which refers to the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII incident. This occurred during which Janet Jackson’s breast, adorned with a nipple shield, was exposed by Justin Timberlake. The incident led to a significant crackdown on perceived indecency in broadcasting and sparked widespread discourse.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Super Bowl Performance 2004 Source: CBS / Live Broadcast / NFL / Youtube

This awkward moment resulted in a high number of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and a major legal battle.


Shania Twain, Sting, And No Doubt, 2003

The Super Bowl XXVII halftime show featured three major music groups: Shania Twain, Sting, and No Doubt. This performance was underwhelming, Rolling Stones magazine even called it a “career-freezing” bomb.

Shanya Twain performing at the Super Bowl | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

Twain’s portion of the show was marred by accusations of lip-syncing, which was later confirmed by the sound producer, Paul Liszewski.


Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, and Tina Turner, 2000

With the star power featured for this Super Bowl, it was a highly anticipated event. However, it was overly produced and disjointed leading to a poor halftime performance.

Tina Turner Performing at the Super Bowl | Source: ABC / 2000 Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The performance was criticized for being too pastiche and not cohesive enough. The artists sang original songs written for the show, which made it difficult for the audience to engage with the music. Additionally, the show included a large set piece that was considered confusing and distracting.


Boyz II Men, 1998

The 1998 halftime show featured Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, the Temptations, and Queen Latifah and was widely disappointing. Boyz II Men was particularly disappointing as they used the stage to promote their new single “A Song for Mama.”

Boyz II Men, 1998 | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The audience was severely disappointed as they were expecting their hit single “End of the Road”. Additionally, the show’s focus on a tribute to Motown and the performance of lesser-known songs led to a lack of engagement from the audience, contributing to the overall disappointment.


Blues Brothers 1997

The Blues Brothers were an iconic group during the 80’s and 90’s but is widely considered to be one of the worst halftime shows during the 1997 Super Bowl. The show was not prepared for a large stage and featured performers who were not well known.

The Blues Brothers - Super Bowl Halftime Show, 1997 | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The show was also criticized for being a confusing and awkward mess that was neither entertaining nor interesting.


50 Cent’s Lip-sync Fail of 2022

50 Cents’ halftime performance during the 2022 Super Bowl is widely considered one of the most awkward halftime moments in Super Bowl history. The performance, which was part of a love letter to the hip-hop and rap genre, was criticized for the perceived lip-syncing issue.

50 Cent Performing at the 2022 Halftime Show | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

50 Cent was performing his 2003 hit “In Da Club,” which left many viewers to debate the authenticity of the vocals.


Patti LaBelle’s Lip Sync 1995

While performing at the 1995 Super Bowl halftime show, Patti struggled with lip-syncing during her performance, which was part of a show that also featured unusual elements such as stuntmen in flaming parachutes and laugh-out-loud campy Indiana Jones sketches.

Patti LaBelle Super Bowl 1995 | Source: NFL / Disney / Youtube

LaBelle’s overall performance is widely considered a trainwreck, making it one of the most disastrous shows in halftime history.


Indiana Jones Goes Awry 1995

To promote the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland, Disney produced the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye show for the 1995 halftime show. The show featured actors playing Indiana Jones and his girlfriend Marion Ravenwood, a performance by singers Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle, jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and the Miami Sound Machine.

Source: / Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast

Despite the effort to promote Indiana Jones, the show ended with everyone singing “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from the hit movie the Lion King. This created an awkward disconnect from the Indiana Jones theme of the show.


Michael Jackson's Waiting Game 1993

While Michael Jackson is known for being an incredible performer, he did begin his performance on an awkward note on the world’s biggest stage. Jackson started by standing completely still in absolute silence on stage for about two minutes before beginning his set.

Source: Super Bowl XXVII 1993 Halftime Show / NFL / Youtube

This unconventional and attention-grabbing start to the show was a departure from the typical high-energy beginnings of previous halftime performances.


Gloria Estefan Miami Sound Machine 1992

While the 1992 halftime show was already awkward with the ice skaters, Gloria Estefan did nothing to turn the show around. Despite Gloria dancing and singing her heart out, the audience was simply not impressed.

Gloria Estefan Miami Sound Machine 1992 | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The TV audience even decided to tune into the In Living Color live comedy special, which was not expecting any viewers.


A Bit Too Frosty 1992

The 1992 halftime show featured a shocking twist, Olympic champion skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill aimed to entertain the crowd. The winter-themed showcase, titled “Winter Magic,” was criticized for being a mismatch between the football audience and ice skating fans.

1992 halftime show skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

For those who do not know, olympic skaters use a full skating rink to go through their routine, and the synthetic ice rink for the show was considerably smaller. This is one of the main reasons for the awkward show.


A Disney Disaster 1991

Many people remember the 1991 Super Bowl, for its halftime show, but not for the right reasons. This performance featured performers such as the New Kids on the Block, which was produced by Disney. While the performance was meant to be a major moment in the history of the halftime show, it was largely unforgettable.

1991 Super Bowl | Source: Super Bowl NFL / Disney / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The Disney-sponsored event, featuring the New Kids on the Block at the peak of their popularity, was not well-received due to the public’s focus on the Gulf War and other significant events at the time.


Pete Fountain, Irma Thomas, Doug Kershaw and Snoopy, 1990

The collection of Pete Fountain, Irma Thomas, Doug Kershaw, and Snoopy culminated in an awful halftime show. The show was created in order to pay homage to New Orleans and the 40th anniversary of the Peanuts comic strip.

1990 super bowl halftime show | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

However, the show received criticism for its lack of a coherent musical theme, the use of 3D glasses for a “world’s largest card trick,” and a performance that was considered confusing and not entertaining.


Elvis Presley Impersonator Fails to Impress 1989

Elvis had many impersonators after him, and one even made an appearance at the 1989 Super Bowl halftime show. The impersonator was Elvis Presto and is coincidentally one of the worst Super Bowl halftime shows of all time. Despite being an impersonator of Elvis, he didn’t even play any Elvis songs!

Elvis Presley Impersonator at the 1989 super bowl | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The show, titled “Be Bop Bamboozled,” was a 1950s-themed extravaganza that included a musical card trick, 3-D presentations, and audience participation. The impersonator, Alex Cole, had a very short time to prepare for the show and never performed again on stage after the Super Bowl.


Up with People 1986

The American nonprofit organization, Up with People, was a disappointing halftime show for a few different reasons. Some people even pointed out their overly cheerful and cult-like demeanor, which many people found unsettling. The audience was simply disengaged from the music and entertainment.

1986 Superbowl XX | Source: Super Bowl / NFL / Live Broadcast / Youtube

The 1986 show, titled “Beat of the Future,” was particularly panned for its mix of slower-paced songs and upbeat tunes, which was perceived as bizarre and not futuristic as intended.