This Sunday, we will bask in the glow of an event that annually makes a profound and lingering impression on the national psyche: that day at the end of the football season when we observe ridiculously overpaid, ridiculously self-aggrandizing idols engaging in the ultimate spectacle. No, not the Super Bowl itself. The Super Bowl Halftime Show. And so, in celebration of America's favorite diversion from America's favorite pastime, here's a look back at the notable Halftime Shows of the last decade, from Prince to The Rolling Stones to, yes, Janet. Enjoy.
To kick things off, Bono strode through a crowd of suspiciously attractive women and sauntered onstage in the middle of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium while singing the opening lines of "Beautiful Day," and a beautiful day it was indeed. Riding high from their Elevation Tour, which pulled them out of the career sinkhole that was Pop, the band closed with a convincing rendition of "Where the Streets Have No Name" to honor the victims of the September 11th attacks. As if that weren't impressive enough, The Edge sported a T-shirt featuring a skull and crossbones with butterfly wings. USA! USA! USA!
2003: No Doubt vs. Shania Twain
Although the 2003 Super Bowl technically involved a clash between the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this battle of female megastars was far more feral and violent. Both sex symbols enjoying career highs, Gwen Stefani and Shania hit the stage in sparkling brassieres: Gwen's was coupled with jogging pants, while Shania went big and added a leather cape. Who won? Depends on if you favor "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" or "Just a Girl." Sting concluded the set, oddly enough, though his undergarments were judiciously covered.
2004: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake
Doubtless the most infamous Halftime Show in recent memory, 2004 featured a star-studded roster including Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock. Yet it was J.T. and Janet's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" that created a succès de scandale. The ensuing investigation by FCC Commissioner Michael Powell -- a fiasco dubbed "Nipplegate" by cheeky bloggers -- was settled seven years later when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that it was indeed an accident, and no fines should result. Justice was had that fine day!
2005: Paul McCartney
Given the conservative backlash that followed the, ahem, titillating Janet Jackson kerfuffle, event organizers next invited a performer with no chance of inducing a racy scandal: Sir Paul. Although the benighted Beatle was about as scintillating as low-fat yogurt, he joined the staff of the Hollywood Guitar Center in pitch-perfect renditions of Wings and Beatles favorites. Our parents loved it.
2006: The Rolling Stones
Detroit, home of the 2006 Super Bowl, is a city with too many musical revolutions to list, from Motown to house music to Eminem to Insane Clown Posse. Defiantly, the Super Bowl imported Mick and Keith and the boys, who performed on a giant wagging tongue. Bob Seger is still pissed off about this.
A minute and a half into Prince's 2007 halftime performance, he asked, "Are y'all ready to get nuts tonight?" Whereupon, under a fine mist of (possibly purple) rain, he writhed and pranced, romanced the fly girls and humped his guitar with adolescent vigor. (He also covered Foo Fighters.) It was like the "November Rain" video, except real. Doves cried.
2008: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
"American Girl," "I Won't Back Down," "Free Fallin'" and "Runnin' Down a Dream": Who could imagine a better soundtrack to crushing ice-cold cans at halftime? Leading the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty may have looked like a bearded version of Janice from the Muppets, but he rocked like Animal.
2009: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
What could be said here that Bruce didn't say himself? "For the next 12 minutes, we're going to bring the righteous and mighty power of the E Street Band into your beautiful home. I want you to step away from the guacamole dip, put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up." Amen!
2010: The Who
Super Bowl 44 resurrected another reliable cadre of classic rockers for a set of their big hits. "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" met the roar of the crowd, though two things were notably absent (aside from Keith Moon, of course): a guitar-smashing finale and "My Generation." (Perhaps the line "Hope I die before I get old" hit too close to home?) Even so, the elder statesmen sounded monumental.
2011: The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Slash
This was something of an all-you-can-eat buffet, mashing up no less than eight songs in under 13 minutes. They pulled out all the stops: robotic costumes, a spectacular light show, and hundreds of backup dancers in glowing attire. The high/low point? Fergie's screeching rendition of "Sweet Child O' Mine," accompanied by Slash himself. Paradise City this was not.
2012: Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Cee Lo Green, LMFAO
Madge made a fine queen, of course, but LMFAO held their own as court jesters. Oh, and M.I.A. gave the world the finger, not for the first (or last, probably) time.
2013: Beyoncé, Destiny's Child
Queen B crashed the testosterone party to prove who really runs the world (girls!), and brought back Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams for a "Bootylicious" good time -- showing us, in the process, what "tight end" really means.