Though it wasn’t for a few years in the mid/late-2000s, the Super Bowl halftime show has long been some varying degree of a clusterfuck, an absurd pop culture free-for-all where the NFL not only books some of music’s biggest stars, but three or four of them at the same time. Often times, the combinations don’t make sense: Recently we saw Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maroon 5 and Travis Scott, Coldplay and Beyoncé. Hell, when I went to the Super Bowl in 2003—and unfortunately saw my Oakland (R.I.P.) Raiders get absolutely demolished—the league somehow smushed Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting together into a compact 12-minute show. It was entirely representative of what the Super Bowl halftime show has become over the past 20 years or so: ADD-addled romps through unrelated hits filled with as many pyrotechnics as literally possible.
But even though the NFL seemingly tries to book everyone at once, they don’t always get it right. No one particularly asked for last year’s Maroon 5 performance; ditto for 2011’s Black Eyed Peas cover of “Sweet Child O’Mine” with Slash, or Madonna’s take on “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sexy and I Know It” alongside LMFAO. For every Lady Gaga, there’s a Jessica Simpson, a Beyoncé for every Kid Rock.
This year’s performers, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, will surely be one of the better ones in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean the NFL won’t find a way to blow it next year. The Super Bowl halftime show is one of the biggest stages—if not the biggest—in all of music, an honor for the biggest pop stars of the day willing to take on the challenge (and suppress their morals and work with the same organization that destroyed Colin Kaepernick’s career and hid studies about CTE). Here are 15 artists that we think should be in contention for the gig in 2021 and beyond.
At just 18-years-old, Billie Eilish would likely be the youngest Super Bowl headliner ever, but given her recent sweep at this year’s Grammys and her status as the sixth-most streamed artist on Spotify in the world, it’s pretty safe to say she’s reserved her place in music mega-stardom. Besides having played some of the world’s biggest festivals and arenas, she’s also known as a kinetic live performer, and her genre-defying, richly-produced music would be the perfect showstopper for a production as big as the Super Bowl. She’s no Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift or Katy Perry—and that’s an asset. Few other artists represent the emotions and aesthetics of the chaotic present like Billie Eilish. —Lizzie Manno
I know this one is a pipe dream, but hear me out: Pair pop’s bubblegum queen with an already-certified superstar (Madonna again? Adele? Kesha? A fellow Canadian queen, Celine Dion? Work with me here) and I think it might just work. CRJ is waiting on you, NFL. Call her, maybe? —Ellen Johnson
She’s the one thing all of America can agree on. She’s one of the most well-known female vocalists of all time. She wrote “I Will Always Love You,” for crying out loud! We deserve a Dolly halftime show. Surround her with up-and-coming country superstars (cough cough, The Highwomen, or maybe Kacey Musgraves?), and you’ve got the recipe for the best halftime show ever. That’s a free idea right there, NFL. You’re welcome. —Ellen Johnson
He’s the most famous musician of the 2010s, the highest streaming artist on Spotify since its inception and it seems like his song “Big Rings” is played just as much as “We Are the Champions” these days, so why not bring Canada’s finest export to the Super Bowl? He’s got one of the biggest catalogues of hits to pull from of any musician alive not named Paul McCartney (and he may even give him a run for his money at this point), so a Super Bowl halftime show seems logical. File this one under: Why did we get Maroon 5 before we got Drake? —Steven Edelstone
Elton John is probably the most obvious snub for Super Bowl headliner. How has the Rocketman himself, the Grammy, Oscar and Tony award winner with record-smashing album sales, a Kennedy Center Honor and a 2019 biopic that grossed almost $200 million, not performed at the Super Bowl yet? Elton John embarked on a three-year farewell tour back in 2018, and if he really does retire from touring soon, the Super Bowl better book him ASAP. Just imagine the bedazzled suit and grand piano possibilities! —Lizzie Manno
Sure, you may not be the biggest Foo Fighters fan, but does literally anyone actively dislike Dave Grohl and co.? Forever one of the nicest guys in rock music, Grohl is friends with virtually everyone and could probably call up pretty much anyone on his contact list and come up with a crazy lineup for the halftime show. And even if he doesn’t do that, Foo Fighters put on a legendary live show, complete with fireworks, screams and Grohl’s stage antics which routinely see him run all around whatever stage he’s on and then some. Plus, could you imagine how awesome it’d be if he got Krist Novoselic to play some Nirvana songs on the world’s biggest stage? —Steven Edelstone
Maybe he’s not quite there yet, but Harry Styles is on his way to being one of the biggest—if not the biggest—male solo stars in the world. He’s Justin Timberlake’s successor, if you will: an impossibly hip, suave, stylishly dressed, slim gentleman dripping in cool who got his start in one of the best boy bands to ever do the damn thing. Oh, and he rips at guitar now. —Ellen Johnson
“Seven Nation Army” is sung at sports games around the world any given night, so why not let the guy who wrote the song play it on sports’ biggest stage? It’s a bit surprising that White hasn’t even guested on anyone else’s halftime show to date, being his generation’s greatest guitarist and all. The former White Stripe, sometimes solo act and sometimes Raconteur has headlined nearly every festival and arena the world has to offer at this point, so a Super Bowl would be a logical next step. He’d easily be the best guitarist to play since Prince, and it’d be face-meltingly awesome. —Steven Edelstone
A Super Bowl Halftime Show doesn’t really seem like his speed, but perhaps the biggest musical intermission in sports could use some relaxed vibes courtesy of the King of Chill? Think about all Mayer’s hits: “Gravity,” “Your Body is A Wonderland,” “Waiting On the World to Change”...the list goes on forever! My only request to you John, if you’re reading this, is if you ever land this gig, please for love of all things sexy, bring back “In Your Atmosphere” for the main event? It would sound positively perfect sung from the field while thousands look on from the darkened stands. —Ellen Johnson
How has this not happened already (maybe because of the Colin Kaepernick boycotts, but still)? He’s long been rap’s most critically adored artist as well as one of music’s biggest stars, so few artists could command that big of a stage quite like him. And he’s already showed he can do it: He already crushed it at the college football national championship halftime show in 2018. With a festival date already in tow for 2020 and a potential new album on the way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Pulitzer Prize for Music winner(!) take headline duties in 2021. —Steven Edelstone
Grammy-winning and Golden Globe-nominated pop star Lorde put out two of the most significant pop albums of the decade—2013’s Pure Heroine and 2017’s Melodrama. With three years since her last album, the 23-year-old has fans all over the globe dying for the tiniest morsel of new content. Just last week, a less-than-one-second clip of Lorde appearing in Taylor Swift’s new documentary trailer was shared by fan accounts—simply put, Lorde is adored. She has mega-hits that casual fans will know (even your mom will know “Royals”), and her collaborations with Run the Jewels, Post Malone, SZA and Khalid are perfect opportunities for guest performers. Her artful electro-pop has mainstream appeal, and it would be infinitely more interesting than last year’s bland Maroon 5 showing. —Lizzie Manno
Metal is in a weird place right now. Its visibility in the mainstream has fluctuated by the decade, but in 2020, it doesn’t seem particularly zeitgeist-y despite its biggest artists still playing arenas. Metallica have been heavy metal royalty for a long time now, and metalheads haven’t gone anywhere. If Metallica are big enough to perform at the Grammys with Lady Gaga or star in an episode of Carpool Karaoke, they’re definitely big enough to grace the Super Bowl halftime stage. Paste caught their Austin City Limits headline slot back in 2018, and the massive U-shaped stage and backdrop of stacked retro TVs created the exact kind of spectacle that one could envision at the Super Bowl. —Lizzie Manno
There aren’t that many bands that could reunite today and break the internet, but it’s obvious that underestimating the Killjoys is a fool’s errand. Most beloved groups have already reunited or their key members have passed away or are well beyond their prime. But My Chemical Romance are one of few reunited bands that don’t fit that criteria. A social media frenzy broke out among their massive army of emo faithful (often dubbed Killjoys) when MCR began to tease their return. While they’re not as culturally relevant as they once were in the ‘00s, imagine the visual possibilities of an MCR Super Bowl performance—not to mention what it would represent for that often-ignored corner of music. Plus, if you’re going to book a rock band to headline the Super Bowl in 2020, it shouldn’t be a boring, safe choice like Pearl Jam or Panic! at the Disco—it should be bold enough for capture viewers’ attention and spark conversation. —Lizzie Manno
Like Foo Fighters, it’s kind of shocking Pearl Jam has never performed at the Super Bowl. They’ve been playing arenas and stadiums since before most players in the NFL were alive, and seem to be one of those bands universally beloved by nearly every generation in America. Plus, Eddie Vedder is famously one of the biggest sports fans in music, and with a new album coming out this year and an arena tour on the books, it just makes a lot of sense—maybe a bit more in the period following the Janet Jackson-Justin Timerblake incident when the NFL would only book older rock acts, but it’d still make for a great show in the 2020s. —Steven Edelstone
This one should be obvious by now. Maybe she’s still a little young (whereas many Super Bowl acts are legacy artists), but what she lacks in age, she makes up for in pure power and sway. Swift has more Grammys, chart clout and hits than she knows what to do with. She was the American Music Awards Artist of the Decade (having won more than anyone else in the 2010s), a title she very well could aim for again in the 2020s. Her arena show is already legendary—why not take it to the Bowl? —Ellen Johnson