For many musicians, the Super Bowl halftime show is the chance of a lifetime.
Billed as “the biggest show of the year” and boasting a mammoth audience in the hundreds of millions, the highly anticipated sporting event is a priceless promotion and the chance for artists to give the grand slam performance of their career.
But this year, filling the headline slot proved to be difficult.
Many major artists – Cardi B, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj, to name a few – were reportedly approached to headline or give a guest appearance at the Halftime show but declined, choosing instead to stand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.
In 2016, former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick was the first NFL player to kneel during the pre-game national anthem.
The act was Kaepernick’s method of protesting police brutality and racial injustices throughout America.
The kneel garnered equal parts support and controversy, but it was a statement that ultimately halted his career: Kaepernick hasn’t played a game since 2016 and accuses the NFL of colluding against him to ensure he isn’t offered a contract from any team’s playing in the league.
Since announcing that they would be the halftime performers, Maroon 5 have reportedly struggled to find musical guests to perform alongside them.
They finally bagged Outkast’s Big Boi and Travis Scott, but the boycott of performers spoke volumes to Kaepernick’s impact on the game.
In the run-up to the show, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine told Entertainment Tonight that he isn’t “in the right profession if I can’t handle a little bit of controversy”, and that in the performance he would “honour social justice”.
In what should have been Maroon 5’s biggest performance to date, backed with their promise to “honour social justice”, Sunday night’s 14-minute show amounted to something altogether flaccid; predictably safe, lackluster, and ultimately uncomfortable.
Spongebob Squarepants made a brief cameo to introduce Travis Scott, who literally crashed on stage in a blazing comet, yet only the standout part of the rapper’s performance was how much of ‘Sicko Mode’ had been censored for audiences.
During ‘She Will Be Loved’, lanterns were set off to spell out “one love”, which was presumably the group’s attempt at “honouring social justice”,
Big Boi made his appearance in a car and a giant fur coat (a look which was, honestly, the performances highlight) to deliver a rendition of Outkast’s ‘The Way You Move’.
There’s some irony to be found in the entire train-wreck of a performance being surrounded by literal flames – although it’s hard to look at that positively when they head lead to Adam Levine’s very slow, very uncomfortable set-long striptease that absolutely nobody asked for.
The show crashed into its lowest point during ‘Sugar’, with middle-aged Levine removing his final shirt, leading into a deadly awkward, totally topless, thrust-filled rendition of ‘Moves Like Jagger’.
Twitter was, of course, on hand to milk the moment for all it’s worth.
adam levine took off his shirt like an uncle at thanksgiving when kid rock comes on
— elijah daniel (@elijahdaniel) February 4, 2019
YOU’RE TELLING ME JAMET JACKSON CANT SHOW ONE NIPPLE BUT ADAM LEVINE CAN BE SHIRTLESS?
— Ashly Perez (@itsashlyperez) February 4, 2019
That's a lot of Adam Levine shirts to pick up. https://t.co/2y8xn0Flyj
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) February 4, 2019
Adam Levine should have removed his skin and muscles and ended the show with his skeleton exposed
— Tamara Yajia (@DancesWithTamis) February 4, 2019
me remembering that i just saw 39 year old adam levine 53% naked pic.twitter.com/oiMUmPqgtw
— cammy (@_cammygreen) February 4, 2019
Yet the most glaring issue wasn’t the half-assed performance or Levine’s unsolicited striptease – it was the performing artists’ tone-deaf silence that spoke volumes.
Not one attempted to combat the backlash that came with their decidedly controversial choice to perform the event.
It’s not like 2019 was the first year the event has garnered dissension: in 2016, Beyoncé shook America awake with a Halftime Show that paid homage to the Black Panthers and a strong message that black lives matter.
Perhaps Bey’s performance was the wrong kind of controversy – and the NFL has no issue making loud and clear what segment of the American populous they’re willing to upset.
When they accepted the performance in the face of boycotts, Maroon 5 and their musical guests also accepted the responsibility of performing in the eye of controversy on one of the biggest stages in the world.
In his Entertainment Tonight interview, Levine addressed critics who urged the group to scrap the show, teasing: ‘They will be [heard] — that’s all I want to say because I don’t want to spoil anything” – it’s a comment that stands as a starkly empty promise now, when looking at their delivery of a totally apolitical show, devoid of any social substance or impact.
Unremarkable at best, a tone-deaf silence paired with a topless 39-year-old man giving a striptease that no one asked for at worst: The Super Bowl LIII halftime show was a bust.
Photo by Assosciated Press.