From political petitions to nip slips, PEOPLE rounds up the most controversial Super Bowl halftime moments of all time

By Nicole Sands
January 29, 2019 02:30 PM
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The Super Bowl halftime shows are consistently the most viewed broadcasts of the year, but with lots of eyes comes lots of opinions. When you throw in the unpredictability of live television, there’s a lot that can go wrong, transforming the annual sports showdown into a cultural clash that’s remembered for decades.

This year the prestigious performance was fraught with controversy long before the kickoff as thousands urged the musical headliners — Maroon 5 and Travis Scott — to back out of the event before they were even announced, to support Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who founded the #TakeAKnee movement in an effort to protest racial injustices.

The Super Bowl LIII halftime show seems destined to draw criticism, but it’s certainly not the first occasion that the big game has ruffled feathers. From displeasing collaborations to political petitions and even the odd nip slip, here’s a list of the most controversial Super Bowl halftime performances of all time.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye (1995)

Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle and jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval took the centerfield for an Indiana Jones-themed performance produced by Disney, ostensibly to promote the movie’s new attraction which opened at theme parks later that year. The climax came when a Harrison Ford impersonator appeared alongside a crowd of shirtless, greased up male dancers who worshipped the trophy like a god. Yeah, it got weird, and fans didn’t quite know what to make of it. The production has gone down in Super Bowl lore as one of the most bizarre and puzzling halftime shows ever staged.

Nipplegate (2004)

It all started innocently enough when Justin Timberlake took the stage with Janet Jackson to perform his hit “Rock Your Body.” Memorably, at the end of the sexy track’s closing lyrics — “I bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song” — the singer went to remove Jackson’s corset and accidentally exposed her bare breast. Timberlake and Jackson issued apologies, and the Federal Communications Commission charged CBS, the network that broadcast the game that year, with a $550,000 indecency fine for the incident, dubbed “Nipplegate.”

Prince’s Projection (2007)

Some questioned whether Prince’s guitar was really just his guitar during his Super Bowl LXI performance. In the midst of the artist’s epic mid-storm rendition of “Purple Rain,” his shadow was projected onto a large, flowing beige sheet during his guitar solo. The silhouette thrown by the spotlight appeared to have some rather phallic connotations — at least in the mind of some viewers.

Where Was the Love? (2011)

After opening the Super Bowl XLV halftime show with their hit song "I Gotta Feeling," the Black Eyed Peas were joined onstage by Usher and Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Slash for what some felt was a confusing collaboration. As Slash rose through the stage strumming the famous opening sequence from "Sweet Child O' Mine," Fergie’s rendition of the ’80s hit was mocked as she tried to mimic GNR frontman Axl Rose’s voice.

M.I.A.’s Middle Finger (2012)

When a legend like Madonna takes the Super Bowl stage, all eyes should be on her … right? Instead, the British rapper stole the show with a single digit. Her Madgesty later dismissed the gesture as “such a teenage irrelevant thing to do,” but it was clear the only person to “strike a pose” that stuck in viewers’ minds was M.I.A.

Left Shark (2015)

We can only imagine the conversation between Katy Perry‘s dancer and his parents before the halftime show – “Mom, I’ll be on the left. In the shark costume” – which was both a victory for choreography and sea creatures around the world. But it was the left-finned dancer’s rogue moves that made him the night’s MVP (ahem, most valuable predator).

Black Lives Matter (2016)

Most were crazy in love with Yoncé’s Black-Panther-inspired guest spot at Super Bowl 50, when she debuted her new single “Formation” alongside headliners Coldplay and Bruno Mars. But the performance drew controversy as she offered support for the Black Lives Matter movement and sang with a bandolier of bullets strung across her chest to draw attention to the killing of black men by police in America.

Hologram Hoax (2018)

Justin Timberlake just can’t catch a break on the Super Bowl stage. Years after the Nipplegate incident, the “Say Something” singer was slammed for attempting to bring Prince onstage via hologram as a way to honor the late singer in his hometown of Minneapolis. Ahead of the show, Prince’s one-time fiancée and longtime friend and collaborator, musician Sheila E., weighed on the hologram rumor on Twitter, writing, “Prince told me don’t ever let anyone do a hologram of me. Not cool if this happens!” Instead, Timberlake sang Prince’s "I Would Die 4 U" during the tribute as footage of the musician played behind him and the arena was bathed in purple light.

Will the Gig Be Loved? (2019)

Months after a source confirmed to PEOPLE in September that Maroon 5 will perform at the 2019 halftime show, more than 75,000 people added their names to a Change.org petition asking the band to back out in order to support Colin Kaepernick and the #TakeAKnee movement. Prior to this, Rihanna turned down the opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl when the slot was offered to her. “Yes, they asked her, and yes, she declined,” a source told PEOPLE in October, noting that her decision was likely linked to her support of Kaepernick.

Maroon 5, joined by the NFL and Interscope Records, later opted to make a $500,000 contribution to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America ahead of their Super Bowl headlining performance. Similarly, Scott revealed that he agreed to sign on for the event on the condition that the NFL would join him in a joint donation to a charitable cause. In partnership with the league, the “Sicko Mode” rapper will make a $500,000 contribution to Dream Corps, a non-profit organization that champions social justice.