(Atlanta) Maroon 5’s half-time show, aided by appearances from Travis Scott and Big Boi, was an utterly conventional rundown of the band’s biggest hits
Let’s hope you weren’t banking on Maroon 5 to salvage a surprisingly dull Super Bowl (or is it a Punt Bowl?). With an arsenal of pop hits at their disposal, the Adam Levine-led septet gave the fans at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium a pretty forgettable half-time show, with assists from Travis Scott, Outkast’s Big Boi, and a gospel choir that added some vocal heft to Levine’s sweet but thin falsetto. Perhaps that’s what the NFL wanted, what with the league’s chronic aversion to pushing the envelope, but the show brought into sharp focus the achievements of recent half-time show acts like Prince, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga who, singing and dancing in equal measure, helmed their shows all by themselves.
Don’t get me wrong: I grew up on Maroon 5’s debut album Songs About Jane, a lovely collection of pop-rock earworms, and thankfully the band played beloved oldies like This Love and She Will Be Loved. But, as far as half-time performances go, the show itself was a pretty toothless, cookie-cutter affair, marked by the requisite pyrotechnics and some floating lanterns as Adam and co ran down a list of radio hits: Harder to Breathe, Sugar, Girl Like You, and Moves Like Jagger among them.
During the latter track, Levine threw caution to the wind and took his shirt off, revealing his much bandied-about torso in homage to the song’s titular Rolling Stone. It was a last-ditch attempt at some gravitas after several minutes of unenthusiastic guitar-strumming and hip-gyrating, but it came over as a little lame and must have elicited an eye-roll from Janet Jackson, who was crucified for her wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl exactly 15 years ago.
These days, the NFL finds itself it right in the thick of the culture wars, mired in controversy over its tepid approach to player safety (most notably the crisis of brain damage among retired players, and the NFL’s historic slow-walk on the issue) and the league’s owners’ collective blackballing of Colin Kaepernick in the wake of his decision to protest against police brutality during the national anthem two years ago. Throw in commissioner Roger Goodell’s mismanagement of about a half-dozen other controversies – Deflategate, domestic violence, and some patently racist remarks by team owners – and one can understand why merely associating with the league has, in some enclaves of the entertainment world, become verboten.
Case in point: Rihanna, Cardi B, Pink, and Jay-Z all reportedly turned down the chance to helm this year’s half-time show, a few of them pointing specifically to the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick. Travis Scott initially refused too, but agreed after the NFL agreed to donate $500,000 to Dream Corps, a social justice advocacy group focused on fighting poverty (Maroon 5 and its label Interscope donated the same amount to Big Brothers Big Sisters, a youth mentorship organization). Years ago it would have been hard to imagine anyone turning down what was once considered the biggest gig in entertainment.
Maroon 5, then, were a suitable choice for a league that has taken great pains to safeguard its status as the national pastime and maintain as broad an appeal as possible. Scott’s cameo was intended to provide a jolt, and he did indeed crowd-surf after a breathless and heavily-bleeped performance of SICKO MODE and Like a Light, but the appearance was short-lived. Then came hometown favorites Sleepy Brown and Big Boi (André 3000 is too busy starring in Claire Denis films), who performed the Outkast classic The Way You Move, clad in fabulous furs, and was gone in a flash.
The half-time show is a necessarily star-powered event, and so as long as the performer has about a half-dozen recognizable hits to play, disaster is almost always averted. But the bar should be higher than the staid, run-of-the-mill jaunt we got from Maroon 5. True, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but it didn’t have to fall this flat.