“That should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame.”
The Super Bowl halftime show has become as culturally significant as the uber-expensive commercials and even game day snack options.
And with millions of eyes on the performance, there’s bound to be some iconic moments — as well as some major controversies. From accidental nip slips to multi-million dollar lawsuits, there’s no telling what will happen on the Super Bowl stage.
Here’s the most controversial things that have happened during the Super Bowl halftime show…
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1. Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake
In 2004, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake made headlines for their Super Bowl halftime show — but it wasn’t because of their incredible performance. Instead, viewers were stunned by what happened in the final moments of their last song. Justin reached across Janet and ripped off half of her top, exposing her breast on live television. Janet took most of the backlash in the aftermath of the incident and was even disinvited to the Grammy Awards. Looking back on it years later, Janet said it was all an accident that got blown out of proportion.
“Honestly, this whole thing was blown way out of proportion. Of course, it was an accident. That should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame, and that’s got to stop. Justin and I are very good friends, and we will always be very good friends. We spoke just a few days ago, and he and I have moved on, and it’s time for everyone else to do the same,” Janet said during her 2022 Lifetime docuseries.
2. Madonna & M.I.A.
When Madonna took the stage at the 2012 Super Bowl, she brought along M.I.A. for the performance. While things started off strong, M.I.A. ended up flipping off the camera which was not a planned part of their live televised performance. She ended up getting sued by the NFL for over $16 million but eventually settled with the organization for an undisclosed amount. Madonna later said the gesture was “such a teenage irrelevant thing to do.”
“I was really surprised. I didn’t know anything about it. I wasn’t happy about it. I understand it’s punk rock and everything, but to me there was such a feeling of love and good energy, and positivity, it seemed negative…It’s such a teenager…irrelevant thing to do. There was such a feeling of love and unity there. What was the point? It was just out of place,” Madonna said.
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3. New Kids on the Block
Before the Super Bowl halftime show became a yearly pop culture moment, New Kids on the Block were the first contemporary pop act to take the stage. Previously, the slot had been reserved strictly for marching bands. While the group helped start a tradition that has gone on for decades, their performance wasn’t actually broadcast when it was supposed to. Instead of their segment airing in the middle of the big game, ABC chose to share a news report about the Gulf War. Looking back on the show, which included a rendition of “It’s A Small World,” Donnie Wahlberg admits it wasn’t his favorite performance.
“I don’t know how much pride I take in the actual performance,” Donnie told Playboy. “But I take pride in the fact that we were the first ones to do it.”
Beyoncé put on an incredible show alongside Coldplay at the 2016 Super Bowl but not everyone approved of the political statement she made during her time on stage. Following the release of the politically-charged “Formation” music video, Bey took the stage with a bandolier of bullets across her chest. Meanwhile, her dancers dressed as Black Panthers. Some viewers weren’t happy about the racial justice theme, calling the performance a “race-baiting stunt” that was a “slap in the face to law enforcement” and even later organizing protests against the NFL for allowing it to happen. Thankfully, the performance was mostly celebrated by legions of fans.
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5. Maroon 5
Maroon 5 took the stage for the 2019 halftime show but it almost didn’t happen. Prior to the performance, more than 75,000 people signed a Change.org petition that asked the band to back out of the show in support of Colin Kaepernick and the #TakeAKnee movement. Instead of declining the opportunity, Maroon 5 joined their record label and the NFL to make a $500,000 contribution to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
The group was joined on stage by Travis Scott, who also requested the NFL join him in a charitable donation, partnering up to give $500,000 to Dream Corps, a non-profit organization that champions social justice.
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In 2007, Prince took the Super Bowl stage in the middle of a rainstorm. During his performance of “Purple Rain,” some fans caught a glimpse of a slightly suggestive moment. In the middle of the song, the late musician’s shadow was projected onto a large sheet — and the silhouette of his guitar had some people doing a double take. While he never revealed if it was intentional, the placement of the guitar definitely looked a little phallic.
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers may be one of the biggest rock bands in the world but it turns out that they weren’t actually playing their instruments during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2014. When fans pointed out that none of their instruments were plugged in, bassist Flea admitted that the NFL had given them no other choice but to pre-record things.
“I understand the NFL’s stance on this, given they only have a few minutes to set up the stage, there’s a zillion things that could go wrong and ruin the sound for the folks watching in the stadium and the TV viewers. There was not any room for argument on this, the NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period,” Flea wrote on the band’s website.