Considering the high-drama lead-up to the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show, expectations were set relatively low for Maroon 5, the night’s controversial headliners, also joined by rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi.
And on Sunday night, Maroon 5 proved why they were exactly the act the NFL wanted to headline their most controversial halftime show yet, delivering a dialed-in performance with zero surprises and nothing that could add to the headache the league has already endured.
Does that mean it was good? Far from it.
Sunday night’s halftime show was preceded by a months-long public flogging for Maroon 5, who became an internet punchline once news broke that they were the NFL’s chosen performers.
Beyond big-name performers like Rihanna and Cardi B who publicly turned down the slot to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and the 100,000 Maroon 5 fans who signed a petition urging them to drop out, the band weathered brutal headlines asking “Can you name a member of Maroon 5 beside Adam Levine?,” “Will Maroon 5 give us the weakest-ever Super Bowl halftime show?,” and “The Super Bowl’s biggest question: Why are Maroon 5 so popular?”
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The performance certainly didn’t do much to highlight Maroon 5’s non-Adam Levine members, with the frontman’s knuckle tattoos alone getting more screen time than the rest of the band combined. Levine, no stranger to the screen thanks to his “Voice” coaching gig and his many random endorsements, did his very best to remain at the forefront of the performance at all times, the most gratuitous of his many camera-mugging moments coming when he launched his shirt into the crowd to reveal his sweaty, tattoo-covered torso during their groan-worthy set closer, “Moves Like Jagger.”
Beyond their final song, though, Maroon 5 didn’t give their haters much ammo to mock them with, reminding fans that they have enough solid pop hits to carry their performance. That’s mainly because they kept many of their more embarrassing recent hits out of their set list, in favor of songs from their 2002 debut “Songs About Jane” – “Harder to Breathe,” “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved” – though the paper lanterns spelling “one love” that lit up the sky during the latter track were a heavy-handed touch.
Maroon 5 also learned from Justin Timberlake’s mistakes last year, and kept their performance tightly focused on their songs, with Timberlake’s bungled set opener – showing him traversing a mock nightclub that completely muffled his sound levels – and maligned Prince tribute drawing jeers for a set that was otherwise mostly passable.
Instead, the band handed over the thrills to their two guest stars, one of whom – Big Boi, the Outkast rapper repping Atlanta during his too-short “The Way You Move” performance – was an essential presence, providing a necessary hometown tribute during a show that otherwise ignored the Super Bowl’s host city. The other guest star, Travis Scott, provided the halftime show’s only moments of genuine weirdness, as he emerged to a SpongeBob SquarePants intro, came onstage surrounded by flames, performed an approximated version of his “Sicko Mode” hit and then crowdsurfed from view, never to be seen again.
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At least Sunday night’s performance concludes prolonged nightmarish PR for the NFL surrounding the show. After months of turmoil over who would headline, news broke that Maroon 5 would be performing, sparking waves of negative press. The NFL delayed officially announcing the halftime show lineup for months, waiting until mid-January – weeks before the game – to confirm Maroon 5.
Scott’s announcement that he would be joining Maroon 5 was similarly fraught, with the rapper attempting to come out ahead of the controversy by issuing a statement that he only agreed to perform if the NFL donated to a social justice organization. He still got grief from many of his peers for signing onto the show, with Kaepernick denying that Scott consulted him about whether to perform.
And while Maroon 5 managed to clear the hilariously low bar of not being the worst halftime show of all time, the fact that the performance was mostly comprised of generic pop music – and performed by white artists, including the inexplicably mostly white drum line – during a Super Bowl held in Atlanta, one of America’s most proudly diverse cities that also serves as the nexus of hip-hop culture, shows how misguided the choice of Maroon 5 was for this night.
Somehow, the NFL thought it was sufficient to grant Big Boi a mere half a song’s worth of airtime before whisking him off the stage, with Levine stripping off his “Atliens jacket as soon as he possibly could to show off his biceps. The NFL and Maroon 5 seemed to be in agreement on what the focus should be during Sunday night’s halftime show, and it sure wasn’t the city’s cultural legacy.
Instead, viewers got a white-bread performance from one of America’s most generic groups, distinctive only for how uncontroversial it was, how wholly a missed opportunity it represented, and how much of Levine’s truly abysmal dance moves we were all forced to watch.