|Date||February 3, 2019|
|Location||Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.|
|Super Bowl halftime show chronology|
The Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show, officially known as the Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show, took place on February 3, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of Super Bowl LIII. It was headlined by American pop group Maroon 5, joined by rappers Big Boi and Travis Scott as guests.
Several musicians reportedly turned down offers to perform the show due to their support for Colin Kaepernick--who has accused the NFL and its franchises of colluding against him due to his national anthem protests against police brutality. As such, Maroon 5, Big Boi, and Scott were criticized by fans and critics for accepting the invitation. In response to the controversy, Scott only agreed to participate if the NFL made a donation to a charity supporting social justice, and Maroon 5 later announced a similar donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
In response to an online petition, a brief clip featuring the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants (referencing an episode that, itself, centered around a halftime show) was shown as a tribute to the show's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, who had died in November 2018.
The show itself received largely negative reviews, with critics considering it to be boring and underwhelming, and arguing that the choice of Maroon 5 was intended to be "safe" and uncontroversial in the wake of the Kaepernick controversy.
As early as September 2018, multiple sources had reported that Maroon 5 were to headline the Super Bowl LIII halftime show, but the NFL had not yet made an official announcement. In October 2018, it was reported that Pink and Rihanna had each declined an offer to headline, the former because the negotiation process was too lengthy for her taste and the latter due to her support of Colin Kaepernick. In December, Billboard reported that Houston-based rapper Travis Scott was expected to make a guest appearance.
On January 13, 2019, the NFL officially announced that Maroon 5 would headline the show, joined by Scott and Big Boi, an Atlanta native and member of the hip-hop duo Outkast. In an interview, Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine explained that the band wanted to bring the halftime show "back to a time when it was a little more simple, when the focus was the connection to the songs."
After the death of Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, on November 26, 2018, an online petition emerged requesting that David Glen Eisley's song "Sweet Victory"--featured in the episode "Band Geeks", which followed Squidward Tentacles as he organized an ensemble to perform the halftime show at the "Bubble Bowl"--be performed at the show. By December 24, 2018, the petition on Change.org had over one million signatures, and the Twitter account of Mercedes-Benz Stadium also acknowledged the campaign. During the halftime show, a short animation featuring Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Mrs. Puff, SpongeBob, and Patrick, as well as footage of the Bikini Bottom band from the episode, was used to introduce Scott for his performance of "Sicko Mode". According to animator Nico Colaleo, the animation was completed in a few days.
Maroon 5, Scott, and Big Boi faced criticism for their decision to perform at the halftime show, due to the alleged blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick by the NFL and its franchises for protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem before games. Several artists--including Jay-Z, Cardi B, and Rihanna--reportedly turned down offers to headline the show as a display of solidarity. A petition was organized calling for Maroon 5 to drop out of the show and accusing them of "choosing to side with the NFL over its players."
In an interview, Kaepernick's attorney, Mark Geragos, compared Maroon 5's participation to strikebreaking, and argued that if the band wanted to cross the "intellectual picket line", they needed to "own it", explaining that "if anything, it's a cop out when you start talking about, 'I'm not a politician, I'm just doing the music.' Most of the musicians who have any kind of consciousness whatsoever understand what's going on here."
A week before the game, the halftime show's press conference was cancelled by the NFL. Although the league stated that Maroon 5 had wanted to focus on their preparations for the show, media outlets theorized that the band was trying to avoid the possibility of having to discuss the controversy. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Levine discussed the band's decision to accept the gig and explained, "I silenced all the noise and listened to myself and made my decision based upon how I felt... 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 and speak through the music".
In response to the controversy, Scott agreed to participate in the halftime show only if the NFL joined him in donating $500,000 to Dream Corps, an organization founded by Van Jones that supports social justice efforts. Maroon 5 subsequently announced that they had joined with the NFL and their label Interscope Records to donate the same amount to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
Dominic Patten of Deadline Hollywood called the show "terrible" and stated it lacked "lift-off or soul." Writing for Yahoo! Entertainment, Lyndsey Parker called it the "dullest ... most underwhelming and instantly forgettable halftime show of all time." Alex Suskind of Entertainment Weekly called it "lackluster" and "boring". Greg Kot of The Baltimore Sun called it an "empty-calorie display of corporate-pop competence." Clémence Michallon of The Independent gave it two stars out of five and stated it "failed to impress."
Jon Caramanica of The New York Times felt that "in a performance that was dynamically flat, mushy at the edges, worthy of something much worse than derision: a shrug. It was an inessential performance from a band that might have lost some moral authority if it had any moral authority to lose." Rhian Daly of NME said it was "surprise-free, trite, and soulless" and "with Maroon 5's set, [Levine]'s given the world an easy target - one that's boring, trite, and saying absolutely nothing of any value whatsoever." Jake Nevins of The Guardian also gave the performance two out of five stars, writing "Adam Levine's torso can't save tedious affair." However, Kevin Coffey of the Omaha World-Herald said "it was exactly what it needed to be."
Maeve McDermott of USA Today observed that the performance felt "safe" and "dialed-in", with "zero surprises and nothing that could add to the headache the league has already endured", and noting that Maroon 5's portions of the show relied heavily on early hits from their debut album rather than newer material (aside from "Sugar" and "Moves Like Jagger"). Feeling that the guest artists were more exciting (although noting Scott's portion, due to the SpongeBob SquarePants introduction and crowd surfing exit, was the only "genuinely weird" moment of the show), she wrote that the choice of Maroon 5 as headliner was "misguided" for a Super Bowl held in Atlanta, the "nexus of hip-hop", and that the show was "distinctive only for how uncontroversial it was, how wholly a missed opportunity it represented, and how much of Levine's truly abysmal dance moves we were all forced to watch."
The short clip featuring the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants was noted as a highlight of the show by several news outlets. However, fans of the animated show had a mixed reaction, with many expressing disappointment on social media that Maroon 5 did not play the song "Sweet Victory" as requested by the online petition.
Fifty-five complaints were sent to the FCC over the halftime show, due to a sequence in which Levine removed his shirt. The complaints, however, alleged that it was a double standard for CBS to be fined for briefly showing a female breast on-air during a previous halftime show, but not receive equal or greater punishment for showing male breasts on air (which, however, are not considered indecent).
Maroon 5, who have been announced as half-time show performers, have also faced criticism over their appearance alongside rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi.
The list of artists who have declined to perform during the halftime show, to stand in solidarity with Kaepernick, includes Jay Z, Rihanna and Cardi B. (Adele and P!nk also declined for different or unspecified reasons.) The NFL finally made its halftime lineup official this week, confirming months of speculation that Maroon 5 will headline the show. But the additions of featured performances by hip-hop stars Travis Scott and Big Boi have only further escalated public criticism. Both Jay Z and Common have reportedly attempted to dissuade Scott from performing. An online petition that originally urged Maroon 5 to decline the invitation is now pushing for all three acts to take a knee during the performance in symbolic support of Kaepernick.
But some fans of Big Boi, who made his name in Outkast, were less positive about his decision to appear when he shared a news story about his performance online... Other fans supported his decision to perform while some said the rapper should kneel during his slot to support the protesting NFL players.
Scott's involvement, specifically, has prompted criticism from some. In an interview with TMZ, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he thought Scott 'should do what a lot of other major artists have done -- say, 'I'm not going to participate.' You can't fight against Jim Crow and then go sit in the back of the bus,' he added. In a pair of tweets, the rapper Meek Mill responded to the news that Scott would be performing with, 'For what?' and 'He don't need that he on fire already!'
Some fans are happy that the show - and thus its late creator - got acknowledged. Others say it wasn't enough.