Music

The 10 best Grey Cup halftime shows

From Justin Bieber to Nelly Furtado, we're looking back at the most memorable performances.

From Justin Bieber to Nelly Furtado, we're looking back at the most memorable performances

Shania sings into a mic while wearing a red outfit, and Chad is dressed in black and playing guitar.
Shania Twain, left, and Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, right, delivered memorable concerts during halftime. (Fred Chartrand/CFL, Getty Images; design by CBC Music)

American rock band Green Day will headline the CFL Grey Cup halftime show on Nov. 19. Over the years, various Grammy winners, Juno winners and international superstars have graced the stage, and to mark this year's 110th match, we're looking back at the 10 best Grey Cup halftime performances.

From Shania Twain's show-stopping run of hits (not once, but twice!) to Justin Bieber's carefully choreographed performance, look below for CBC Music's ranked selections.


10. Black Eyed Peas (2005)

Six years before the Black Eyed Peas would play the Super Bowl halftime show, the group ventured to Vancouver for a medley of its biggest hits, ranging from "Pump It" to "Let's Get it Started." It was an amusing display, as Fergie provided dramatic vocals and will.i.am delivered rapid-fire verses. Their performance made them the first non-Canadian act to play the Grey Cup halftime show, and based on their song selection alone (who doesn't want to hear "Don't Phunk With My Heart" live?) they proved why they were one of the biggest bands of the aughts.


9. Arkells (2021)

For the 108th Grey Cup, the game took place in Hamilton, making it a homecoming show for rock band Arkells. With a marching band in tow, the group pulled off an outfit change during the six-song set, playing a mix of their infectious, upbeat songs and relaxed, slow tracks. The crowd was visibly excited to sing along to "Leather Jacket," jumping and clapping along during the chorus. For "Quitting You," Arkells were joined by Grammy-nominated band the Lumineers for a pared-down acoustic rendition, before a duet of the hit "Ophelia." It was an unexpected collaboration but one that was a highlight, to see a band with a different sound join the hometown group to create a rich performance. "The best part of being in a band is finding projects we love that will consume us, and that's what this experience has been," frontman Max Kerman told the Hamilton Spectator. "Hundreds of hours of work goes into pulling off 15 minutes of chaos on live television!"


8. Nickelback (2011)

Grey Cup halftime performances in the late 2000s leaned more on rock acts like Lenny Kravitz, Theory of a Deadman and Bachman–Turner Overdrive. That trend continued in 2011 when Nickelback headlined the halftime show with a raucous set of three songs: "Animals," "When We Stand Together" and "Burn it to the Ground," which by then had become best known for being the WWE Raw theme song. In addition to the band's signature pyrotechnics, which were out in full force that night at Vancouver's BC Place Stadium, there were also a number of cheerleaders dancing around the stage. Overall, it went much smoother than Nickelback's appearance at the Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving Day game halftime show a few days prior, where the band was met with boos and a petition to have it removed as a performer.


7. Nelly Furtado (2006)

If there is one album that is synonymous with 2006, it's arguably Nelly Furtado's pop magnum opus, Loose. That year, she relished in her success during her performance in wintry Winnipeg, delivering crisp vocals and equally crisp winter attire. Surrounded by an army of puffer-jacketed cheerleaders, Furtado beamed as she belted out "Forca," "Promiscuous" and "Maneater" during her set. The selection of songs was the perfect mix, symbolic of her transformation from folksy singer-songwriter to bona fide pop star. Although Furtado's Loose collaborator Timbaland wasn't on hand for the show, she was instead joined by rapper Saukrates for "Promiscuous" and the two traded verses effortlessly, enthralling the crowd. He remained onstage as a hype man for "Maneater," helping Furtado close out the show with a bold firework display.


6. Céline Dion (1992) 

The early '90s marked Céline Dion's breakthrough in the U.S.:  it's when she earned her first Grammy Award for the Beauty and the Beast theme, and performed at the Academy Awards where it won best original song. Back in Canada, Dion was already a household name with 11 albums, multiple Juno Awards and more than 10 Félix Awards. In between performances on The Tonight Show and Good Morning America south of the border, and Top of the Pops in the U.K., Dion headlined the 80th Grey Cup halftime show at Toronto's SkyDome (now named the Rogers Centre). Wearing a bright red dress, Dion was accompanied by a band and three backup singers as she gave a soulful rendition of her 1992 single, "Love Can Move Mountains." While the stage design and pyrotechnics were minimal, Dion's own vocal theatrics were big enough to fill the stadium — an understated but memorable halftime show. 


5. Gordon Lightfoot, Marianas Trench, Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber (2012)

The year was 2012, and Justin Bieber's album Believe had just gone multi-platinum. For the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, it made sense to have the pop star hit the stage for the celebration, with a show that spotlighted him alongside several other chart-toppers including Gordon Lightfoot and Carly Rae Jepsen. Lightfoot kicked it off with his hit "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" while standing centre stage with an acoustic guitar. It was a simple yet memorable way for the then 74-year-old to get things started, before pop band Marianas Trench performed its earworm "Stutter." Jepsen, who was riding the wave of virality, belted out "This Kiss" before launching into the chart-topping "Call Me Maybe," getting the crowd to sing along. 

But it was Bieber who ultimately brought the star power to the halftime show. Strutting out onstage with a crew of backup dancers clad in black, he seamlessly pulled off the choreography for "Boyfriend," complete with a thrilling dance break, and also gave a high-energy rendition of "Beauty and a Beat." It was undeniably entertaining. Although Bieber's performance drew boos from the audience at the time, he kept his head up while dancing and singing his heart out, giving no indication that the crowd had shaken his confidence.


4. Lenny Kravitz (2007) 

The 2000s introduced non-Canadian headliners to the halftime show, and in 2007 rocker Lenny Kravitz took the stage at the 95th Grey Cup in Toronto. Kravitz performed three songs: "Bring It On," his cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman" (the Canadian band performed at the Grey Cup halftime show in 2000), and his 1993 hit, "Are You Gonna go My Way." While some fans were divided on the idea of bringing international acts in to perform — homegrown rockers Sloan played a free set outside the Rogers Centre that same night — those in attendance were energized by Kravitz's bombastic set filled with fiery guitar solos and sing-alongs. "Tonight was amazing," Kravitz said after the performance. "I haven't been to Canada in a while and what a welcome I got. An incredible crowd and event." 


3. Alessia Cara (2018)

2018 was the year that pop singer Alessia Cara nabbed a Grammy Award, making history as the first Canadian to win best new artist. She brought that momentum to her halftime performance, where she showcased her silky vocals on every song. Opening with "Here," the track that put her on the map, Cara's vocals stayed on point over the course of seven songs. Her performance had something for everyone: dazzling pyrotechnics, a drumline, figure skaters and fireworks. Yet, it was her ability to effortlessly show off her beautiful voice that brought the wow factor to the show, proving just how far Cara's star had risen from her early days of singing covers on YouTube. It was polished from start to finish, becoming one of Cara's most unforgettable live shows.


2. The Tragically Hip (2004)

The Tragically Hip rocked out during the band's halftime show, delivering a passionate performance of "Gus, the Polar Bear From Central Park" and "Courage." It was a short and simple set that gave the fun, joyfully carefree feel of a tailgate. "Courage" proved to be a hit with the crowd, with fans jumping up and down, bobbing in unison. Frontman Gord Downie turned around partway through the song, singing to the fans all the way up in the nosebleeds. Downie was a known sports fan — a number of Hip songs contain references spanning hockey and football, from "Heaven is a Better Place Today" and "Fireworks" to "Lonely End of the Rink" and "Little Bones." When Downie died in 2017, the CFL tweeted that the band's Grey Cup halftime show was a "performance for the ages," reminding everyone that a halftime show doesn't need to be glitzy to be memorable.


1. Shania Twain (2002 and 2017)

Shania Twain is the only person to perform the Grey Cup halftime show twice, and she really brought down the house when she was invited back for a second appearance. (Technically Randy Bachman also qualifies, but with different bands: first the Guess Who, and second with Bachman-Turner Overdrive.) 

Twain's 2002 Grey Cup performance came just five days after she released her album Up!, and she sang two new hits for the revved-up (but very cold) Edmonton crowd: "Gonna Getcha Good" and the title track. But it was her 2017 performance that people still remember. After 15 years without releasing an album, the pop-country superstar had just come back with a new album (Now), and entered Ottawa's TD Place Stadium with appropriate fanfare: in the middle of a blizzard, on a dog sled and greeted by a Mountie. She belted out hits including "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "Man! I Feel Like a Woman," as well as her new single at the time, "Life's About to Get Good." Twain's bedazzled outfit was a significant step up from her 2002 yellow puffer jacket — and when she said, "I feel like a Canadian" to a raucous crowd to close the set, she solidified her No. 1 Grey Cup performer status. 

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