The Super Bowl LIII halftime show was going to be controversial no matter what happened. The gig was reportedly turned down by Rihanna (unconfirmed), Cardi B (confirmed), and Jay-Z (he wrote a song about it) in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, whose gesture of silently kneeling during the American National Anthem in support of Black Lives Matter kicked off a national conversation about social justice work and protest in the NFL and seemingly cost him his position in the league. When it was announced, much later than it usually would be, that Maroon 5 would play, along with featured guests Travis Scott and Big Boi, a good portion of America collectively rolled its eyes.
Of course, someone was going to take the slot — this is one of the largest audiences of appointment viewing left on television. But it seems awfully on the nose for that someone to be a middle-of-the-road pop band of (mostly) white men. And, of course, a petition was circulated (with 115K signatures as of the day of the Super Bowl) encouraging Maroon 5 to drop out of their halftime performance, or to at least take a knee when they perform in solidarity with the NFL players who protest.
Going into the show, Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine gave one softball interview to Entertainment Tonight (a show syndicated by CBS, the network airing the Super Bowl this year), in which he said, “It’s what it is, we expected it, we’d like to move on from it and...speak through the music.” He also admitted that he spoke to many people (guessing none of them were Kaepernick, considering his lawyer lambasted their decision to play on GMA just days before the Super Bowl) and ultimately decided to “silence all the noise” and just listen to himself. Cool way to say the rights and recognition of Black lives is not our problem, nor are the continuing attempts by large corporations to squash the rights of individuals to speak out; we just wanna jam, man.
What was the must-see spectacular that Maroon 5 brought us in 2019? The guys came out onto an M-shaped stage to sing a medley of their greatest hits, starting with “Harder to Breathe” and ending with “Moves Like Jagger” accompanied by some pyro and fireworks. Somewhere in between, Travis Scott showed up to perform “Sicko Mode.” He made things feel different for at least a moment or two by transforming his portion of the stage into a Mad Max-esque apocalyptic world on fire but then joined Maroon 5 for the end of the track in a performance that felt like something we already saw Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar do better on the Grammys years ago. At least in that performance, Levine wasn’t there dancing like a dad while clutching his mic stand.
Big Boi also popped in for Outkast’s “I Like the Way You Move,” in a performance that felt like we had ported to another world for a moment — it was disjointed and not at all related to anything Maroon 5 did, stylistically or musically. Unfortunately for Maroon 5, it was also far superior to everything they did. Somewhere around “Sugar,” Levine took off his hoodie and by the finale he was shirtless. And...that was it.
There was no acknowledgment of the protests that have caused all the controversy around their performance and certainly no appearance by Cardi B on “Girls Like You.” Just Maroon 5, trapped in a bubble created by the NFL and Pepsi where politics don’t exist.
The best way to protest Maroon 5’s halftime performance was surely to not bother watching it in the first place.