Who knew just saying yes to the Super Bowl Halftime Show could cause this much controversy?
As Janet Jackson can attest, the outrage from taking the field during the midway point of the biggest sporting event of the year usually doesn’t come until after the performance is said and done—if it ever comes at all. But this year, before Maroon 5 and the NFL could even confirm that they’d be taking the stage at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, Feb. 3, there were already those who were demanding that the Adam Levine-fronted band pass up the opportunity.
At first, the decision seemed like quite a safe bet on the NFL’s part. Levine’s a seasoned pro who knows how to handle live TV thanks to his years on The Voice. The band has had a near-ubiquitous presence on the radio since their debut album dropped in 2002, leaving them with a wide stable of hits to perform for the masses. And we dare you to find a mom who doesn’t love Levine. That woman just doesn’t exist.
So, it seemed like Maroon 5 checked all the boxes, most importantly the one about no controversy. After all, the NFL’s found itself in quite enough of that on its own over the last few years. But lo and behold, in the last few months, Levine and his bandmates, along with their confirmed guests Travis Scott and Big Boi, have found themselves on the wrong side of internet furor. Why? Allow us to explain.
The drama for Levine and Co. began in October when reports began circulating that the band only got the gig after Rihanna turned an offer down in order to express her support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sparked headlines and controversy in 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem at the start of every game as an act of peaceful protest of police brutality and racial inequality taking place around the country. Currently a free agent, Kaepernick filed a grievance against NFL owners in October 2017, arguing that the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”
The following May, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell instituted a new policy stating that all league and team personnel must stand and “show respect” for the flag and the Anthem. Any person who chose not to stand could remain in the locker room during the moment, but a team with personnel on the field not on their feet during the anthem would be fined.
According to Us Weekly, RiRi was offered the halftime show, “but she said no because of the kneeling controversy,” a source told the magazine. “She doesn’t agree with the NFL’s stance.”
What does this have to do with Maroon 5, aside from the fact that it means we also probably won’t get a performance of the 2008 remix of “If I Never See Your Face Again” featuring the “Work” singer during their halftime show, you ask?
Well, after Amy Schumer took to Instagram on October 19 to suggest that “it would be cool” if the band followed Rihanna’s lead and backed out, while also noting that she’d personally told her reps that she wouldn’t appear in any Super Bowl commercials this year, a petition popped up on Change.org, looking for signatures to back a request that Maroon 5 do just that.
“Maroon 5 has made music over the years featuring artists from all genres, including Rihanna, Cardi B and Kendrick Lamar — all of whom have publicly supported Kaepernick in his decision to protest the violent racism sweeping the United States. Maroon 5 must do the same,” the petition reads. “The band has a chance to stand on the right side of history. If they don’t, they will be remembered for choosing to side with the NFL over its players.”
“Until the league changes their policy and support players’ constitutional right to protest, no artists should agree to work with the NFL,” it continues. “Join me in asking Maroon 5 to drop out of the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show.”
As of press time, the petition has been signed by over 110,000 people.
“You know I think that when you look back at every single halftime show, people just can’t – it’s this like insatiable urge to hate a little bit,” Levine told Entertainment Tonight‘s Kevin Frazier this week in his only interview on the subject, following news that he and his band mates James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, Matt Flynn, PJ Morton and Sam Farrar would be forgoing the traditional pre-game press conference in favor of a “social and digital media rollout” in advance of the performance. “I’m not in the right profession if I can’t handle a little bit of controversy. It’s what it is. We expected it. We’d like to move on from it.”
Though he admitted to Frazier that he’d discussed the decision to perform with “many people,” ultimately, “I silenced all the noise and listened to myself, and made my decision based on upon how I felt about it all.”
But not before, reportedly, an exhaustive search to find someone, ideally an artist of color, to join them for the performance.
In December, Variety reported that they had put the ask out to “more than a half-dozen stars” to join them for the show, including Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000, the other half of Big Boi’s Outkast), Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj. And every last one of them said no. For a while, it seemed that the obvious choice to join them would be Cardi B, whose feature on their remix of “Girls Like Us” made the song one of 2018’s biggest hits. But, she reportedly declined the offer as well.
“The rumor circulating that she wants a million dollars and she wants her own set is false,” her rep told Page Six in December. “There was never a firm offer to begin with for a performance. There [were] talks about it, but she was not particularly interested in participating because of how she feels about Colin Kaepernick and the whole movement . . . But again, there was never a solid offer for her to say yes or no to regarding the Super Bowl. She is already confirmed to do a set with Bruno Mars that weekend.”
Soon, the reports zeroed in on Scott and Big Boi as the two stars who’d join Levine & Co., and while Big Boi has largely been given a pass on his inclusion owing to the fact that he stands at the representative of Atlanta’s thriving music scene for the Atlanta-hosted Super Bowl, Scott has drawn criticism almost as intense as Maroon 5.
Jay-Z reportedly tried to talk him out of it. Meek Mill said that his star status didn’t need the exposure the NFL was offering. The Rev. Al Sharpton told TMZ, “You can’t help people market something and then turn around and say you agree with the people protesting.”
In an effort to quell the growing dissent against his inclusion, Scott and the NFL announced mid-January that he would be making a $500,000 donation to the non-profit organization Dream Corps, among “other initiatives that he will work with the League on.”
“I back anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in,” he said in the accompanying statement, nodding to Kapernick. “I know being an artist that it’s in my power to inspire. So before confirming the Super Bowl Halftime performance, I made sure to partner with the NFL on this important donation. I am proud to support Dream Corps and the work they do that will hopefully inspire and promote change.”
After the announcement was made, Variety reported that Scott had consulted with Kaepernick before confirming his Super Bowl appearance, with sources telling the outlet that the two had at least one phone call prior to him accepting the offer. A source close to the rapper told the outlet that “while the two did not necessarily agree, they emerged from the conversation with mutual respect and understanding.”
In response, Kaepernick retweeted a statement from his girlfriend, HOT97’s Nessa, which read, “There is NO mutual respect and there is NO understanding for anyone working against @Kaepernick7 PERIOD. #stoplying.” So, while he’s never made a statement of his own on the matter, the RT implies that he did not, in fact, have that conversation with Scott.
A source close to Scott later told TMZ, “Colin doesn’t tell Travis what he can and can’t do. That’s Travis’ decision.”
While Maroon 5, aside from Levine’s sole interview with ET, have kept silent in the lead-up to the Big Game, they did announce on Tuesday that they too would be making a $500,000 donation alongside the NFL and Interscope Records to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
“Playing the Super Bowl has been a dream of our band for a long time,” Levine shared in a statement to E! News. “We thank the NFL for the opportunity and also to them, along with Interscope Records, for making this donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters, which will have a major impact for children across the country.”
“The spectacle is the music,” Levine told ET of the upcoming performance. “The way that we speak is through the music. The way that we emote and perform is through the music.”
“No one thought about it harder than I did,” he added. “No one put more thought and love into this than I did. It took a lot of looking inward, it took a lot of introspection. I thought to myself, ‘What’s my greatest tool, what’s the thing that I can use to express myself and what’s the best way for the band to express themselves, and how are we going to do it this year? What do we owe ourselves? What do we owe the people?’ And that’s what we did. And I’m beyond proud of the finished product and literally, I’ve never been more excited in my entire life to present this to people because I believe that it’s truly a reflection of all of us.”
Will it be enough to win over those who wish they’d turned down the opportunity in the first place? Stay tuned…
(This story was originally published on November 19, 2018 at 11:27 a.m. PST.)