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Super Bowl Sensation! Half-time musical hits and misses

Beyonce is the latest superstar to headline the biggest gig on the planet. Will it be 12 minutes of triumph or disaster

American football reaches its annual crowning glory today when the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49rs compete in the XLVII Super Bowl in New Orleans. While Brits may find it difficult to appreciate this US celebration of a legalised gang brawl, the half-time musical show has become an event in itself.

This year, Beyoncé, fresh from the flap over her lip-synching at President Obama's inauguration, steps into the spotlight. From James Brown to U2, Michael Jackson to The Rolling Stones, some of the music industry's greatest stars have striven to sizzle during the 12-minute gig. And when they haven't sizzled, then a little controversy – think Janet Jackson's malfunctioning wardrobe – has helped raise the pressure.

Madonna's performance last year shattered US TV viewing records when more than three million extra people tuned in to watch her perform on top of the 108 million already watching the game. There are high expectations that Beyoncé's show today will break new records as she appeals to a new, younger generation of music and sports fans alike.

Artists insist they do it for the love, not the money – every performance is unpaid – but the slot is the biggest branding opportunity of the year, a stage for salesmen of every kind, but especially the pop kind, to peddle their wares. David Bakula of TV ratings firm Nielsen says: "It doesn't matter if it's critically received as a great performance. You look at the money advertisers pay for Super Bowl ads and this is a commercial that reminds people how amazing these artists are. A song featured during the half-time show can yield an exponential jump in sales."

A poll of Rolling Stone magazine readers rated Madonna's Super Bowl performance the best ever. Here are the highs – and lows – of music's 12-minute cash bonanza.

The hits...

1. Madonna (2012)

After Janet Jackson and nipplegate, the offensive middle-fingered salute from British rapper MIA who was supporting Madonna at Super Bowl XLVI was the second most controversial scandal to hit the half-time show's history. The headlines that ensued overshadowed the fact that the performance smashed US television viewing records – more than 114 million people tuned in to watch, three million more than actually watched the game!

2. Bruce Springsteen (2009)

Springsteen's former manager, Mike Appel, first tried to book him at the Super Bowl in 1973. The NFL went instead for Andy Williams and the University of Michigan Marching Band. About two decades later, it was the NFL that was chasing Springsteen, but the singer declined numerous times. For Super Bowl XLIII, he finally agreed and, with the E Street Band, delivered a 12-minute party, ending with "Glory Days".

3. U2 (2002)

No strangers to big-stadium events, Irish rockers U2 entertained the Super Bowl XXXVI audience just four months after the 9/11 attacks on New York. U2 played "MLK", their tribute to Martin Luther King while the names of the 9/11 victims ran on a screen. The whole set was described as "classy and deeply moving".

4. Prince (2007)

The unpredictable Prince stunned the crowd at Super Bowl XLI with a medley of other people's songs including Bob Dylan, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and the Foo Fighters before capping it all off with his own classic hit "Purple Rain".

5. Michael Jackson (1993)

Jackson was the first true superstar to put on a spectacular show for Super Bowl XXVII. Wearing a military outfit performed "Billie Jean", "Black or White" and "Heal the World". His performance irrevocably changed the nature of the show as organisers finally appreciated what worked. For Jackson, it was a different story. Months later, allegations of child abuse surfaced and it was largely downhill from there.

6. The Rolling Stones (2006)

Sir Paul McCartney's 2005 Super Bowl set was so well received, the organisers invited the Rolling Stones for Super Bowl XL. Mick, Keef and the boys did their level best to give satisfaction as they performed on a stage the shape of an extended tongue.

7. The Who (2010)

The Who did everything they could to stuff an entire two-hour concert into 12 minutes. The performance was supposed to kick off a world tour, but Pete Townshend's hearing problem flared up and the tour got pushed back two years.

9. Janet Jackson (2004)

Her infamous "wardrobe malfunction" for Super Bowl XXXVIII is the most famous moment in the history of the half-time show. Most people don't even remember anything else about the set. The show was produced by MTV and also included P Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake. Janet's career has yet to recover, and MTV weren't left in charge again.

8. Tom Petty (2008)

The Eagles were reputedly asked to play Super Bowl XLII's half-time show, but they ultimately couldn't come to a deal. Tom Petty says they phoned him very late in the game and he happily agreed. He and his band opened with a slightly shortened "American Girl" and then tore through three consecutive hits from the Full Moon Fever album.

10. Paul McCartney (2005)

After Jackson's malfunction, the NFL went for a safe choice for Super Bowl XXXIX. Enter Sir Paul McCartney. Nearly every late-night host was cracking jokes about the possibility of him whipping out one of his man-boobs, but everyone knew Macca would put on an extremely family-friendly show. It was such a success that the NFL started looking for other A-list classic rock acts to follow.

And the misses: Disney magic hits the ice

Whoever paired Disney and Coca-Cola to produce a Super Bowl half-time show must have been some kind of evil genius. Even in 1991, it's hard to imagine whose idea of entertainment equalled New Kids on the Block and Warren Moon paired with a cardboard castle surrounded by 2,000 confused, bobbing children. A year later, it was crooners and, er, ice skaters. With performances by Gloria Estefan and Olympic skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill, Super Bowl 1992 was a weapons-grade cheese-fest. The stars were backed by hordes of baton dancers and a colossal marching band. North Korea called asking for their show back.

Name the lowest point of the Indiana Jones series. Yes, it's a trick question. Forget your Crystal Skulls and your Temples of Doom. Super Bowl XXIX (1995) gave us Indian Jones and the Forbidden Eye. It featured a Harrison Ford lookalike "raiding" the match trophy. Oh, and Tony Bennett, obviously.

These were an improvement on the 1989 show – Elvis Presto – which featured a dancing magician (Elvis) with Florida's premier drag kings and queens. Fun facts: not a single Elvis Presley song was performed and this show also featured the world's first 3D commercial (courtesy of Coca-Cola). As if the audience hadn't been through enough.

Freddie McConnell