The Super Bowl halftime show has produced some of the most iconic moments in NFL history, including Michael Jackson’s jaw-dropping performance in 1993 and Beyoncé’s impeccably choreographed display in 2013.
Given the many public relations storms that have been wreaking havoc over the NFL’s reputation, however, such as Nike’s ad campaign supporting alienated quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the league could have used a performance to take the weight of the negative press off their shoulders.
Audiences especially needed the lift after surviving a first half in which the two teams generated an unimpressive three points. Unfortunately, headlining act Maroon 5, along with rapper Travis Scott and Outkast member Big Boi, delivered a performance as stale as the game they were offering respite from.
Following a recent trend in the NFL, the announcement of Maroon 5 as the headlining act did not go down well with fans. The decision particularly bothered residents of Atlanta, who saw the halftime show as a perfect opportunity to showcase the city’s rich hip-hop culture.
Instead of selecting rappers like the Migos, Future, Childish Gambino or T.I. — all natives of Atlanta — the league opted for a more conservative choice in Maroon 5, a group with more radio-ready songs and greater pop appeal. The NFL later compensated by adding Travis Scott and Atlanta native Big Boi to the lineup.
Additionally, many of the bands fans were against the idea of the Adam Levine band working with the NFL. In fact, a petition with over 100,000 signatures called on the group to step down. Many felt it was unjust to support a league that ostracized civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, including Cardi B and Rihanna, who publicly boycotted the halftime show.
The show’s opening was underwhelming. After a giant “M” lit up on the field, Levine emerged in the lights and kicked off the performance with “Harder to Breathe” and “This Love.” The selection of those particular songs, both of which were released in 2002, implies an attempt to evoke a pleasant nostalgia amongst the audience.
Levine, however, was quite passive, and his lackluster singing felt more appropriate for a crowd of 70, not 70,000. If anything, the song selection highlighted that the band would have been a great choice for a Super Bowl 15 years ago. The show was begging for something new and fresh.
The newer component of the show came in a very unorthodox fashion. After the second song, an animation of Squidward introducing Spongebob Squarepants played. The video was a tribute to the cartoon’s founder, Stephen Hillenburg, who passed away last year. Afterwards, an animated ball of fire crashed into the field to introduce Travis Scott. The fireball appeared to be an attempt to merge the animation with Scott’s famously eccentric concert sets. Ultimately, the animation came off as more of a perverse meme rather than a heartfelt tribute to an iconic creator.
Scott’s performance did little to ameliorate the odd nature of his introduction. As an artist known for his histrionics on a stage, the Houston native’s performance was noticeably toned down. Without the screaming and jumping that lifts his usual crowds, his performance felt extremely tame. Despite a roar from the crowd when his hit song “Sicko Mode” began, he did not match the audience’s energy. To add insult to injury, his set was only two songs long, after which he lethargically crowd surfed away.
After Scott’s exit, Levine re-emerged walking among the crowd. This part of the show added to the great sense of disappointment, as it felt more like an entrance to the Ellen DeGeneres show than to one of the biggest concerts of the year.
As Levine was singing the 2002 hit “She Will Be Loved,” lanterns rose in the sky, eventually forming the word “love.” It is unfortunate that one of the highlights of the show ended up coming from various lights, and not from Levine and his band.
In an attempt to switch up the mood, Big Boi entered in a vintage Cadillac and did an incredibly short rendition of “The Way You Move,” one of his many hits as part of the hip-hop duo Outkast. Yet the brevity of his performance meant he might as well have not performed at all. Rather than being a grateful tribute to the Super Bowl’s host city, his appearance came off as more of a footnote to the show. It seemed to be the NFL’s way of tokenizing an icon of the city.
When the spotlight was back on Maroon 5, the headliners’ performance remained incredibly bland. Levine spiced up the moment by taking off his shirt and revealing his tattoo-laden torso, a move that generated more anger than excitement. Very quickly, viewers compared Levine’s decision to the famous 2003 Janet Jackson incident, in which co-performer Justin Timberlake removed a part of her shirt to reveal her chest, and accusations of double standards regarding the response to Jackson’s and Levine’s nudity went viral.
Ultimately, this year’s Super Bowl halftime show was both unremarkable and underwhelming. Despite lazy attempts to satiate fans’ craving for hip-hop, the show was simply boring, failing to give audiences anything to remember. However, given all the negative exposure the NFL has been receiving, a forgettable show might actually be the best thing they could ask for.