Super Bowl halftime show: Maroon 5 realise too late that this was a bad career move

The ‘picket-crossing’ band’s tepid performance is ridiculed on social media

Maroon 5 perform at the Super Bowl halftime show in Atlanta, several high-profile music acts reportedly turned down invitations to play the Super Bowl in protest against the NFL's treatment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Video: NFL

 

Once upon a time, the Super Bowl halftime show consisted of little more than marching bands and drill teams. It then became a coveted platform for some of the leading figures in music with the likes of U2, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Lady Gaga and Coldplay all gracing the stage over the years to perform in front of a live television audience that regularly exceeds one hundred million viewers.

But this year, it has become a poisoned chalice of sorts. Pop stars who would have once fought tooth and nail to land the slot instead sought to distance themselves from the NFL over its treatment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick is the initiatior of the “take a knee” protests that involve kneeling during the US national anthem – a public statement against police brutality towards black people and by extension against the Trump administration. The NFL has banned such protests, and has been accused of blackballing Kaepernick.

As a result, stars like Rihanna, Cardi B, and Pink all reportedly turned down invitations to perform at the show.

Enter Maroon 5. The pop-rock septet were announced as the headliners in January and immediately faced backlash for their decision to perform at the event in light of the NFL’s pushing back against players protesting the national anthem.

Colin Kaepernick’s attorney accused them of “crossing the picket”. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters called upon them “to ‘take a knee’ on stage in full sight”.

Such was the level of controversy that the group declined to participate in the traditional press conference, instead granting an exclusive interview to Entertainment Tonight.

“I am not in the right profession if I can’t handle a bit of controversy,” lead singer Adam Levine told the programme. “It is what it is. We would like to move on from it and speak through the music.”

And so, amid furore and backlash, the group took to the stage in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta last night. They dutifully went through their back catalogue to perform hits like Harder To Breathe, This Love, and Girls Like You.

Attempts were made to elevate it beyond a run-of-the-mill medley. There was a gospel choir and pyrotechnics aplenty. At one point, paper lanterns emblazoned with words like “overcome” and “smile” were launched into the night sky.

While recent halftime shows have typically included special guests, Maroon 5 reportedly struggled to convince other acts to join them on stage. Eventually, hip-hop star Travis Scott agreed to perform on the condition that the NFL donate $500,000 to a “social justice accelerator” founded by CNN’s Van Jones. He performed the anthemic Sicko Mode with an assist from none other than Spongebob Squarepants.

In a nod to Atlanta’s rich hip-hop heritage, Outkast’s Big Boi performed The Way You Move before quickly getting out of dodge in a bid to evade some of the criticisms levelled at his fellow performers.

Maroon 5 closed out the 13-minute set with Sugar and Moves Like Jagger. In a move that reeked of desperation, Levine removed his vest and smouldered in front of the crowd. It prompted a tongue-in-cheek conversation online about why Levine’s nipples were suitable for primetime viewing when Janet Jackson was famously punished for accidentally flashing hers.

At its best, the Super Bowl halftime show can be rousing, moving and even political.

In contrast, this was something of a damp squib; a tepid and underwhelming performance from an act who didn’t seem fully convinced that their professional calculation had really paid off.

Critics and fans alike lambasted the performance. The New York Times called it “an inessential performance from a band that might have lost some moral authority if it had any moral authority to lose,” while The Guardian labelled it “a pretty toothless, cookie-cutter affair”.

Colin Kaepernick retweeted the following from actress Amber Tamblyn. “Hi there while you’re enjoying this mediocre Maroon 5 halftime please remember a football legend was blacklisted from this entire sport for merely putting his knee on the ground in protest of black people being murdered. Enjoy your pop music!”

Online critiques were just as scathing.

Maroon 5 said they would “speak through the music”. The only problem was that they had nothing meaningful to say.

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