The Super Bowl Halftime Shows With The Most Star Power
Meet MARIAH, our newest metric.
Super Bowl LVII is two days away, can you believe it? While most of you will be watching the actual football going on, some of us will be keeping a closer eye on where the action really is — the halftime show! (Just kidding … mostly. One in 5 Americans who planned to watch last year’s Super Bowl said that halftime is their favorite part of the broadcast, so we’re not alone here!)
For our avid readers, you may remember FiveThirtyEight’s 2019 article on Super Bowl halftime shows, where we ranked the star power of performers according to their success on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Well, we’re bringing back the Billboard Hot 100 this year, but we’re also introducing a new metric: MARIAH, or the Metric for Appraising Records, Indexed to Analyze Halftimes. It’s named after the queen of the Hot 100, Mariah Carey, who ranks No. 1 in our metric among all artists. (Remarkably, despite her high MARIAH score, she’s never performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. Maybe she’d make an appearance if the Super Bowl were set a couple months earlier, during the holidays.)
Our main goal with MARIAH is to give artists credit for songs that land on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with extra kudos for a song’s staying power. Should a song with a 90-week run score bonus points for its endurance on the chart, compared with a song that charted for only a couple weeks? We think so. Then we used that metric to analyze Super Bowl halftime performers, performances and career arcs.
But we’ll get to all that in a bit. First, let’s break down how MARIAH works.
To assess the star power for each Super Bowl halftime performance, we looked at each performer’s success on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. We use data compiled by the Whitburn Project as well as data we gathered ourselves. (The data in this article is as of Jan. 21, 2023.)
We narrowed our focus to analyzing halftime performances since 1993, when the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, changed the show forever, giving it a shot in the arm after a steep loss of viewers during the previous year’s halftime show. To retain viewership, halftime shows have been extremely star-studded ever since.
Here’s how we calculated our MARIAH score:
- Artists gain points for each “run” of each of their songs that appears in the Billboard Hot 100.1
- In a big shift from the 2019 analysis, we considered only the artists listed on a track at equal billing — no featured artists.2
- For the base point totals, we calculated the natural log of the number of weeks that a song (1) appeared on the Hot 100 chart, (2) appeared in the top 40, (3) appeared in the top 10 and (4) appeared at its peak position.3
- We gave an extra boost in weight to songs according to how highly they charted: Songs in the top 40 got an extra weighting of 2, songs in the top 10 got an extra weighting of 5, songs in the top two to five slots got an extra weighting of 10 and songs in the No. 1 slot received an extra weighting of 15.4
- Given how streaming has changed how listeners engage with music — and therefore, their listening trends as measured by the chart — we slightly penalized songs that first reached their peak in the charts in 2007 or later (digital streams were considered in the Billboard Hot 100 after July 2007). That means that charts since the year of the incorporation of streaming were weighted at 80 percent, while charts from before then were given their full value.
- Similar to our methodology from 2019, we gave partial credit (one-third) to halftime performers who are associated with groups that also had hits. For example, Paul McCartney gets one-third credit for the Beatles songs that charted. The same also applies to performing groups whose members have hitmaking solo careers.5
Finally, to get an artist’s total MARIAH score, we added up each of their songs’ MARIAH scores.
So now that we have a somewhat objective way to rank performers, which Super Bowl was the most star-studded?6 Based on MARIAH, the winner is Super Bowl LVI, when Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem took the stage, with special appearances by 50 Cent and Anderson .Paak.
Four of the seven performers at the 2022 show were major contributors to its MARIAH score, largely based on their work from over a decade ago. Relative newcomer Kendrick Lamar also put in a fair share of points, while Anderson .Paak is just getting his career started. And Eminem has put out a steady stream of charting songs over the past 20 years or so, though his newer material has been less likely to chart as high as his early hits.
The distribution in the chart above is not particularly surprising. In general, by the time artists play the Super Bowl, many have already made their biggest hits. Here’s a breakdown of performers since 1993, according to the share of their all-time artist MARIAH score that they’d produced by the time of their halftime-show appearance (or re-appearance, in the case of a few).
Not all halftime performers were well-established, however. For instance, during the early 2000s, performers like Nelly and Justin Timberlake were relative newcomers. But it’s probably no coincidence that the number of early -career performers stopped for a while after Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s controversial 2004 halftime show, which caused the Super Bowl to revert to tried-and-true (or, some might say, past-their-prime) artists unlikely to provoke an uproar.
But for many artists with less mainstream exposure, it seems that playing the halftime show would be a good career move (though our data shows only a very weak correlation with future success).7 Looking at performers who’d earned 80 percent or less of their career MARIAH score when they took the halftime stage, we can see that many went on to rack up hits (and points) after their Super Bowl appearances.
Which songs contributed the most to these performers’ MARIAH scores? Unsurprisingly, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” took the top spot among songs that have been performed at the Super Bowl.8 That song held a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking 90 weeks!
Where will Rihanna and this year’s halftime show rank after Sunday’s game? Although we don’t know whether she’ll have special guests, Rihanna holds her own. In Super Bowl halftime shows since 1993, she ranks ninth in artist MARIAH score at time of performance, and first among individual halftime performers. And if she sings “We Found Love,” we’ll have a new sixth-place entry on the list of most successful Super Bowl halftime songs. Now, all we need is for Mariah Carey herself to perform at a future halftime show, and our metric’s destiny will be complete.
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Art direction by Emily Scherer. Additional research and copy editing by Andrew Mangan. Visual editing by Alex Newman. Story editing by Neil Paine.
CORRECTION (Feb. 10, 2023, 11:48 a.m.): A previous version of this story included a chart with the wrong point total for The Weeknd’s song “Blinding Lights.” It is actually higher than previously reported. It has been updated.