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When it was first announced that this year’s Super Bowl halftime performer would be Maroon 5 — a choice so bland, it made 2016’s halftime headliner, Coldplay, seem like GG Allin by comparison — the news was met with a collective yawn. But it wasn’t long before Adam Levine and company found themselves at the center of the biggest halftime show controversy since Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s “Nipplegate” scandal 15 years ago.
Maroon 5’s decision to play the Super Bowl — at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, one of the American capitals of black music (and specifically hip-hop) — didn’t sit well with some detractors, who saw the move as a snub against ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who is currently suing the NFL, claiming team owners conspired to keep him out of the league for protesting police brutality against people of color). Nearly 115,000 people signed an online petition urging Maroon 5 to drop out, and celebrities ranging from Amy Schumer to Meek Mill to Ava DuVernay blasted the band. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters actually asked the band to take a knee during their halftime show, and Kaepernick’s attorney, Mark Geragos, accused Maroon 5 of “crossing the picket line.”
Maroon 5 could have silenced their many haters and doubters with a spectacular performance — just like Gladys Knight, who’d also caught flak for appearing at Super Bowl LIII, did with her gorgeous national anthem performance earlier on Super Bowl Sunday. But Maroon 5 didn’t do that. Instead, they played it safe with what just might be the most underwhelming and instantly forgettable halftime show of all time.
There was a rumor, sparked by Levine’s exclusive Entertainment Tonight interview, that the band might honor Kaepernik during the halftime show. They didn’t. There was a rumor that Christina Aguilera might show up during “Moves Like Jagger.” She didn’t. There was a rumor that Travis Scott would propose to his girlfriend, Kylie Jenner, onstage. He didn’t.
There was even a rumor that Maroon 5 would pay tribute to a hero the entire nation could get behind — SpongeBob Squarepants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died in November — with the beloved SpongeBob theme “Sweet Victory.” (Another online petition, begging the band to perform that song, actually gathered more than 1.2 million signatures.) Maroon 5 could’ve paraded the SpongeBob characters out for a “Sweet Victory” finale, or at least performed the song, and viewers of all political persuasions would have loved it. But Maroon 5 didn’t do that either. (A quick, misleading SpongeBob clip used to introduce Scott only angered SpongeBob fans who’d hoped for more.)
Really, the most exciting thing that happened during the entire show was when Levine stripped bare to the waist and wiggled his chiseled, tatted-up torso like a Chippendales dancer — but that just seemed desperate, pandering and downright embarrassing, much like his dorky dad-dancing. (And many tweeters, including Aisha Tyler, pointed out the hypocrisy that Levine was allowed to flash his chest at the Super Bowl without consequences, but Janet Jackson’s 2004 halftime “wardrobe malfunction” was a major, career-derailing debacle.)
Scott’s heavily CBS-censored “Sicko Mode” and fellow guest performer Big Boi’s “The Way You Move” brought a little fire (Scott literally, via a cheesy, flaming-comet not-so-special effect), but those rappers’ appearances were blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em brief. And Maroon 5’s perfunctory and soulless run-through of their requisite wedding-band hits (“Harder to Breathe,” “This Love,” “She Will Be Loved,” “Sugar,” “Moves Like Jagger,” “Girls Like You” — the latter sans duet partner Cardi B) simply wasn’t enough in a post-Prince/Beyoncé/Gaga halftime age.
Twitter was unimpressed. And understandably so.
Viewers can only imagine how much more compelling this year’s halftime show would have been under different circumstances. Rihanna, P!nk and Cardi B all reportedly turned down offers to play Super Bowl LIII, in a show of solidarity with Kaepernick. (Cardi B later told People, “There’s a man [Kaepernick] who sacrificed his job for us, so we got to stand behind him.”) Variety additionally reported that “more than a half-dozen stars” declined to join Maroon 5 onstage at the halftime show, including Outkast’s André 3000, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj. Eventually Scott and André 3000’s bandmate, the ATL’s own Big Boi, signed on, but that seemed to do little to ease the outrage. Jay-Z even reportedly tried to talk Scott into reconsidering. (Scott agreed to perform if the NFL joined him in donating $500,000 to Dream Corps, a nonprofit that aids diverse communities; Maroon 5 and their label, Interscope Records, followed Scott’s lead and made a joint donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.)
This week, the NFL canceled its traditional pre-Bowl press conference, explaining that Maroon 5 would “let their show do the talking” instead. But Maroon 5’s keyboardist PJ Morton, who is black, did tell People last month, “I think there are plenty of people — a lot of the players, to be honest — who support Kap and also do their job for the NFL. I think we’re doing the same thing. We can support being against police brutality against black and brown people, and be in support of being able to peacefully protest and still do our jobs. We just want to have a good time and entertain people while understanding the important issues that are at hand.”
In Levine’s only exclusive pregame interview last week, with Entertainment Tonight, he said he’d consulted with many advisers, and he assured people of color that they would “be heard” during Maroon 5’s halftime show. (“We got you,” he vowed.) But instead, this performance was a missed opportunity — not just to “honor social justice” with the grand sociopolitical statement that Levine had seemingly teased to ET, but to entertain the general masses with a genuinely great concert.
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