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Helena Senior discusses the controversy surrounding performances at the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show

Photo Credit: Justin Higuchi

The Super Bowl is arguably the biggest event of the USA’s sporting calendar. It is an international platform for American Football, or so I’ve heard, as well as a celebration of popular culture. The Super Bowl halftime show is often one of the most highly anticipated, and most talked about, performances of an artist’s career.

This year, however, the Super Bowl half-time show has been embroiled in controversy from the very beginning. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably know the name Colin Kaepernick (he’s literally the only American Footballer I can name). He famously kneeled during the national anthem at an NFL game in 2016 and he’s been dominating news coverage of the NFL ever since. Following his original protest, Kaepernick told NFL Media “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour” sparking
widespread debate about whether his peaceful protest was disrespectful. Since 2017, Kaepernick has not been signed to a team, but has continued to work as an activist, and became the face of Nike’s Just Do It campaign in September 2018. So, what does all of this have to do with the Super Bowl halftime show?

Many artists, including Jay Z and Cardi B, have supposedly said no to playing at this year’s halftime show in solidarity with Kaepernick. Playing the Super Bowl halftime show has become almost as unpopular as hosting the Oscars. Maroon 5, despite adversity, said yes. The primarily white pop group agreed to play the halftime show in the predominantly black city of Atlanta, known for its hip-hop scene. The response has been overwhelmingly negative, with activists even setting up a change.org petition encouraging the band to step down from the show claiming, “until the league changes their policy and support players’ constitutional right to protest, no artists should agree to work with the NFL.”

The petition hasn’t changed anything though, and on Sunday night (or early Monday morning), Maroon 5 took to the M-shaped stage for an underwhelming show, alongside Travis Scott and Big Boi (of Outkast). The set opened with a surprise hit from the very early days, ‘Harder To Breathe’ quickly followed up by the significantly more popular ‘This Love’. A brief
guitar solo by Adam Levine is then interrupted by none other than SpongeBob SquarePants. It was a moment that thousands of SpongeBob fans have been waiting for; would ‘Sweet Victory’ from the 2001 episode ‘Band Geeks’ finally be played at the Super Bowl? Well, no. The clip was instead used to introduced rapper Travis Scott to the stage via crash landing. In the year following the death of SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg, more of a substantial tribute would have meant a lot to fans, but at least the band decided he was worth a brief nod.

Surrounded by fire, Travis Scott gave an electrifying performance of ‘Sicko Mode’ that really lifted the show and woke up those of us who were watching live from the other side of the Atlantic! It was one of the show’s highlights, and I’m glad that the show was able to feature tributes to hip hop culture, no matter how awkward Adam Levine looked next to Scott. ‘Girls Like You’ featured appearances from Equinox Percussion and Atlanta Gospel Choir, who absolutely stole the show. Not only was it amazing to see local talent included, they were son incredibly talented and the choir’s lead vocalist was sublime. The staging of ‘She Will Be Loved’ was basically a tribute to the lantern scene in Disney’s ‘Tangled’, with lantern drones spelling out the phrase ‘One Love’ in the sky above the performance.

Cue Big Boi driving onto the field in a classic Cadillac convertible to perform ‘The Way You Move’. The pure essence of cool just entered the field with an oversized fur coat on, to perform just one song, and many have been saying since that Big Boi won Super Bowl 2019 with that brief performance. I would have to agree. After that, Maroon 5 struggled to really live up to the outstanding performances of their guest stars, closing the show with ‘Sugar’ and ‘Moves Like Jagger’. Not even Adam Levine removing his shirt for the final song could save them from ‘The Coldplay Effect’ (remember when Coldplay were upstaged by Beyoncé at their halftime show?). Overall Maroon 5 squeezed eight songs into just thirteen minutes, along with all the crazy fireworks and pyros that come with doing the Super Bowl halftime show, and it was nothing special. After Justin Timberlake’s unfortunately underwhelming performance last year, is the Super Bowl halftime show dying out?

Coldplay may have been upstaged but at least their halftime show will be remembered as something extraordinary! Gone are the days of spectacular stunts and larger than life performances, instead replaced with mediocre performances that will no doubt be forgotten in a few years. If Maroon 5’s performance is remembered for anything, it will be for its controversy and ignorance of the modern political climate.

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