You don’t have to be a football fanatic to love the Super Bowl. That’s because this event transcended sports a long time ago.
Some people simply tune in for the expensive (and very memorable) commercials. Others just want to have something to talk about at work the next week. But for most of us, the biggest draw is the halftime show.
These star-studded performances help bring an energy and character to the annual football showdown. And some of the performances end up going viral — often, for completely unexpected reasons!
What kind of memorable moments are we talking about? And how do the players factor into these wild events? Here are the most viral Super Bowl moments of all time!
Legendary coach Vince Lombardi comes back to life as a hologram
For 2021’s Super Bowl LV, the NFL decided to resurrect Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi in a pre-game “It Takes All Of Us” video. Featuring a CGI Lombardi, the video ended with a hologram of him coming out on stage delivering a pep talk to the competing teams.
The moment was meant to be inspiring. After all, Vince Lombardi was a legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers who led his team to five NFL Championships. On top of that, the Super Bowl trophy is named after him.
But despite the technological advancements of the past few years, bringing the dead back to life as a hologram just looks and feels creepy. The bizarre moment instantly went viral on Twitter.
It’s tough to enjoy the big game when you’re still struggling with the uncanny valley effect of that hologram!
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Beyoncé reunites Destiny’s Child
Regardless of the performer, Super Bowl fans are always expecting each year’s show to be bigger and better than the year before. And this presented a major challenge for Beyoncé at the 2013 show. Not only would she have to top Madonna’s stunning performance from the year before, but she’d need to take her own legendary performance to the next level.
Her solution? Reunite Destiny’s Child, of course. The band had broken up over a decade before as Beyoncé became a breakout star. But former bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams ascended the stage to help Beyoncé sing hits like “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”
How viral did this event go? According to Twitter, users were sending a furious 257,000 tweets per minute while the trio was performing! But we’re pretty sure the next celeb wishes people would just put down their phones.
Eli Manning looking miserable
Not every viral Super Bowl moment concerned the halftime show. Some focused on the players… and, in the case of Eli Manning, on the player’s family!
For the 2016 Super Bowl, Eli Manning reserved a luxury box. And he seemingly had a good reason to do so. After all, his brother Peyton Manning was the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
Eli certainly had a great view later in the game. That’s when Peyton managed to get the ball to C.J. Anderson, who then scored a touchdown. After that, Peyton declined to kick for the extra point and instead pulled off a run-and-throw two-point conversion.
It was a hell of a play, but you might need to convince Eli. Cameras caught his face when his brother made the play, and he looked downright miserable. He later told TMZ he was simply “focused on whether they’d go for two,” but the moment sparked endless conversations about jealousy and sibling rivalry.
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Madonna and M.I.A. ruffle some feathers
The 2012 halftime show was a real showstopper. That’s in large part because it was powered by Madonna and some awesome musical guests.
M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj appeared to help Madonna perform her latest song, “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” Things were going well enough until it got to M.I.A.’s verse. As she sang the lines, “I’mma say this once, yeah, I don’t give a ****,” the rebellious singer extended a middle finger to the audience.
While they could censor the profanity, there was no way to censor the offending gesture. This caused a major stir as people online shared the viral moment.
Meanwhile, ESPN reported that the NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy quickly criticized that moment in a statement that read, “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans.”
The next moment in a performance was also “completely inappropriate” and “very disappointing” for completely different reasons.
Justin Timberlake’s awful Prince tribute
What if you were trying to honor a great musician and you simply made the whole world mad? That was the reality for Justin Timberlake and his failed attempt to honor Prince during the 2018 Super Bowl.
Long story short, Timberlake incorporated a hologram of the late Prince while singing “I Would Die 4 U.” This might have gone over better if fans didn’t already know how Prince would feel about such things.
In a 1998 interview with Guitar World, Prince described this kind of technology by saying, “That’s the most demonic thing imaginable.”
It seemed clear that Timerblake was doing this more to draw attention to himself than to honor Prince. And this caused Prince fans to loudly criticize Timberlake all across social media for his poor choices.
Jennifer Lopez and Shakira bring the house down
Fortunately, not every viral Super Bowl moment involves a mistake or a scandal. Some moments were just downright awesome, including the insane performance of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira at the 2020 Super Bowl.
Part of what made their performance legendary was the sheer passion and energy that brought to the event. When you see Shakira crowd surfing and letting loose a fierce zaghrouta, a cry of joy in Arabic culture, it’s tough not to get caught up in the moment. And the fact that Lopez (50) and Shakira (43) looked just as amazing and energetic as their younger colleagues had people all across the internet talking.
Of course, the performance was a little too spicy for some viewers. CNN reported that over 1,300 people made complaints to the FCC that the performance (which includes skimpy clothing, twerking, and even pole dancing) was too sexy.
In a weird way, this must be flattering to the performers. How many people can say they were so sexy that more than 1,300 people came crying to the government for help?
Whitney Houston’s National Anthem
Being asked to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl is really a mixed blessing. On one hand, it’s awesome to receive an invitation to perform. On the other hand, singers must know their performance will inevitably get compared to the famous performances from across the decades.
Nonetheless, Whitney Houston’s 1991 performance of the anthem was one for the ages. Some of this came from the intense sense of patriotism in the moment. The song was performed in the wake of the United States entering into the Persian Gulf conflict.
“If you were there, you could feel the intensity,” Houston recalled in a 2000 interview for her “Ultimate Hits Collection” DVD. “A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting. I could see in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up.”
She added, “It was hope, we needed hope, you know, to bring our babies home and that’s what it was about for me. That’s what I felt when I sang that song, and the overwhelming love coming out of the stands was incredible.”
Houston’s natural talent made the song come to life, and in a pre-YouTube era, Billboard reports that her rendition of the National Anthem sold over one million physical copies as a single!
Prince makes it rain
We all know that Prince was an out-of-this-world talent. But is it possible that he also had superhuman powers? According to viewers of the 2007 Super Bowl, that’s a distinct possibility!
Prince’s performance was absolutely phenomenal. He gave killer renditions of songs like “We Will Rock You” and “All Along the Watchtower” along with some of his own famous tunes. The most famous was “Purple Rain,” which was also his final song.
Aside from his unforgettable talent, what made this last song so memorable is that it actually began pouring rain from the heavens. In that moment, nobody could be exactly sure whether Prince was making this happen or it was just an exciting coincidence.
Left Shark upstages Katy Perry
For Katy Perry, we can only imagine that memories of the 2015 Super Bowl are bittersweet. After all, she pulled out all the stops by riding onto the field atop an animatronic tiger and teaming up with Lenny Kravitz for a duet of her iconic song “I Kissed a Girl.”
Despite these efforts, Perry’s performance is mostly remembered with two simple words: “Left Shark.” As she sang “Teenage Dream,” performers in matching shark suits flanked her. While the shark on the right seemed to have all of the moves and timing memorized, Left Shark adorably kept missing cues, moving a bit too slow, and even missing entire moves.
Some people felt bad for the man inside the costume, but it turns out that this was all part of his plan. A few years later, that man (named Bryan Gaw) explained on NPR Morning Edition that he was engaging in “free-style choreography” and sought to “play a different character.”
Well, mission accomplished! When it comes to that performance, the word “different” certainly springs to mind.
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Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, and the wardrobe malfunction
What’s the fine line between “fame” and “infamy?” If you’re really curious, just ask Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson!
The two performed in the 2004 halftime show, produced by MTV. While MTV was known for pushing boundaries, these two performers ended up pushing things a little too far.
Their performance of Timberlake’s hit single “Rock Your Body” went viral for all the wrong reasons. Most of the song went off without a hitch. But at the very end, as Timberlake sang the lyrics “Better have you naked by the end of this song,” he pulled off part of Jackson’s bodice. Unfortunately, the bra that was underneath accidentally became ripped off as well, exposing her right breast to the world.
Jackson was clearly distraught by the wardrobe malfunction, which made headlines around the world. Mortified, she issued an apology video. “Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry if I offended anyone, that was truly not my intention.” But the backlash was huge and she was not allowed to attend the 2004 Grammy Awards.
Timberlake, strangely, emerged from the incident unscathed. In a legendary example of double-standards, he was allowed to attend the Grammys. When accepting the award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, he referenced the Super Bowl incident. “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable and I apologize if you guys are offended,” he said.
But the Super Bowl’s biggest viral moment was also a historic event for another reason. When a computer programmer named Jawed Karim had trouble finding video of the incident online, he decided to create a little video hosting service known as YouTube!