Smokey Robinson, Fantasia, H.E.R. and Rob Thomas weigh in on whether Maroon 5 should listen to the online petition asking them to cancel their Super Bowl show, in order to support players’ right to protest. (Jan. 14)
During the Super Bowl halftime show, the football field becomes America’s biggest stage, a once-in-a-lifetime chance for artists to perform a half-hour set for well over 100 million viewers. With an unmatched audience and a legacy of iconic performances, scoring the halftime show slot has always been an elite achievement for artists like Beyonce, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga in recent years. It’s akin to winning the Grammy for album of the year, once a sign for artists that they’re as beloved an institution as the Super Bowl itself.
As the messy lead-up to 2019’s Super Bowl LIII halftime show has shown us, things are quite different this time around, with the confirmed performers dealing with waves of bad press in the weeks leading up to what’s supposed to be one of the most exciting gigs of their careers – proof of just how far the halftime show has fallen as one of music’s so-called biggest nights.
After months of reports that many of America’s biggest stars had turned down the halftime show slot, news broke that Maroon 5 would be performing at the game on Feb. 2. As fans wrote petitions urging the band not to play in the show, the NFL delayed officially announcing the halftime show lineup for months, waiting until mid-January – weeks before the game – to actually confirm Maroon 5 would be playing. And when the rapper Travis Scott recently announced he would be joining Maroon 5 on the stage, he affirmed that he only agreed to perform if the NFL made a donation to a social justice organization, and yet still received criticism for signing on to the show.
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Months-delayed announcements, angry fan petitions, hard-line charity stipulations – this is not how halftime shows rolled out a decade ago.
In the 10 years since Bruce Springsteen famously crotch-slid into a camera during his 2009 halftime show performance, the NFL became toxic to social-justice-minded artists and their fans – turning the once-coveted performance slot into guaranteed bad PR.
Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling controversy and subsequent absence from NFL rosters inspired many artists to speak out publicly in his favor and reportedly contributed to Rihanna’s decision to turn down the halftime show opportunity. Similarly, Cardi B’s representative told Page Six that she wasn’t interested “because of how she feels about Colin Kaepernick and the whole movement.” And Jay-Z made his feelings about the NFL clear in the lyrics of his and Beyonce’s “Ape****” single last year, rapping, “I said no to the Super Bowl / You need me, I don’t need you.”
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And while the performance certainly won’t tank the careers of Maroon 5 or Travis Scott, it’s difficult to imagine artists wanting to sign on to next year’s halftime show after the press debacle of the past few months.
Since the initial speculation about Maroon 5’s performance broke last fall, a widely publicized Change.org petition racked up over 100,000 signatures of people asking the band not to play the show. And when Scott tried to get ahead of the controversy by announcing that the NFL would donate $500,000 on his behalf to Dream Corps, an organization that backs social-justice efforts, he was publicly criticized for his decision to perform by peers including T.I. and Nick Cannon, with Kaepernick denying that Scott consulted with him about whether to perform.
Atlanta music scene could have been perfect backdrop
Most dismaying is the fact that 2019 should’ve been a landmark year for the halftime show, thanks to the Super Bowl’s host city of Atlanta – America’s nexus of hip-hop culture – whose native sons include Outkast, T.I., Migos, Future, Young Jeezy, Childish Gambino, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Young Thug, 21 Savage and Killer Mike. How many of these names the NFL approached to appear at the halftime show is unclear, but only one said yes – Big Boi, the Atlanta rapper and Outkast member, who also confirmed that he will be joining Maroon 5 and Scott onstage, and has otherwise been near-radio silent in recent weeks about the appearance.
For all the halftime show’s perils this year, that one may be the most depressing. What should’ve been a celebration of the embarrassment of riches Atlanta has to offer will instead be headlined by Maroon 5, a band whose faceless pop hits are as far from the city’s vibrant musical culture as seemingly possible. And the one Atlanta native the NFL could snag to perform, Big Boi, is seemingly attempting to keep his appearance as low-profile as possible, probably because of the toxic reception that greeted the halftime show’s headliners.
The halftime show will almost certainly get its tens of millions of viewers on Feb. 2, as it does every year. And afterward, the NFL will need to find a way to adapt to the halftime show’s newly diminished reputation, perhaps reverting to booking legacy acts instead of the younger stars they’ve chased for the last few years’ of performances – stars who , if this year is any indication, might not return their calls. As long as the Super Bowl survives, it will likely still have a halftime show. The question is whether that show will be any good after the near-fatal blow its reputation was dealt this year.
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