Leading up to the Super Bowl this past Sunday, controversy surrounded the choice of artist for the halftime show. This is part of the larger controversy surrounding the NFL, which started in 2016 when former 49ers player Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem before a football game. He knelt in protest of the oppression of black Americans, specifically through police brutality. His actions received support from the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as backlash from many, including President Trump.
In the wake of Kaepernick’s protest, the NFL seems to have “blacklisted” him. No other team has signed him, despite his impressive statistics compared to other players. This controversy has sparked disagreement among activists regarding the NFL. Some activists say that the organization should be avoided and boycotted to protest its treatment of Colin Kaepernick and, by proxy, issues of racism and police brutality in the United States. Others say that football is an opportunity to build bridges and make connections and that we should use this massive event to start conversations. Bernice King, MLK Jr.’s youngest daughter, notably did not boycott the NFL, participating in the Super Bowl’s coin toss. The upshot of this controversy for this year’s Super Bowl was difficulty in finding an artist willing to perform at the halftime show.
The halftime show at the Super Bowl has long been a treasured opportunity for artists to reach an enormous audience. Each year, around 100 million Americans tune in to watch the game, advertisements, and halftime show. This show is so attractive to artists that they do not receive payment for the performance. This year, there was much difficulty in finding an artist to perform; high-profile artists like Rihanna and Cardi B turned down the event in support of Colin Kaepernick, and few artists seemed willing to contradict them. Eventually, Maroon 5 agreed to perform, but not without creating contention—a petition urging them to drop the performance garnered thousands of signatures, to no avail.
This past Sunday, after a boring first half, the long-awaited and much-discussed halftime show began. Adam Levine started out strangely, with more fire effects on the M-shaped stage than was strictly necessary. “This Love,” a veritable bop, was interrupted by a Spongebob Squarepants sequence, in tribute to the recently deceased creator of the cartoon, Stephen Hillenburg. Travis Scott and Big Boi both gave energetic performances—and were both criticized for breaking boycott lines—again, with way more fire effects than needed.
After some bewildering drummers and a fantastic gospel choir, Adam Levine gave us “She Will Be Loved,” a guaranteed success with audiences everywhere, and a slightly weak “Sugar” in his strange ‘90s-patterned tank top. He stripped off this tank top for his final song, “Moves Like Jagger,” clearly intending to play a sexy angle, but mostly shocking older audiences with his numerous tattoos.
Maroon 5’s performance was, in a word, lukewarm. Maybe that was the best they could’ve hoped for. They came into a situation already rife with controversy, on the heels of a massive petition urging them not to play, and on a stage where the standards are incredibly high. Maybe they knew they didn’t stand a chance of matching all the different expectations set for and against them. If so, they performed with the perfect level of mediocrity.