Sometimes, the NFL really gets things right with their choice of Super Bowl halftime show performers. Or even makes the halftime show feel like the main event by adding a surprise guest who overshadows the headliner and the game — who would argue the 2016 Super Bowl, where Coldplay performed at halftime, will be remembered for anything other than Beyoncé completely stealing the show?
That, uh, wasn't the case this year for Super Bowl LIII. The championship game itself, won by the New England Patriots, will go down as one of the worst in NFL history. And it still might have been better than the halftime performance put on by Maroon 5 — a messy effort that was thoroughly dunked on by viewers on Twitter throughout the night.
But to understand what went wrong, we have to go back to what led us here in the first place. Finding an artist to even agree to perform this year proved difficult. Stars such as Jay Z and Rihanna reportedly turned down offers in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked controversy in 2016 with his decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest the oppression of people of color in America. (Kaepernick, who drew the ire of conservatives and President Donald Trump for his protests, explained that the issue was much "bigger than football.") Since the end of the 2016 season, Kaepernick has remained unsigned, leading many to speculate he's been blackballed by the league. "There's a man who sacrificed his job for us, so we got to stand behind him," said Cardi B recently, another artist who turned down overtures to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show this year to stand with Kaepernick.
When Maroon 5 was announced as the Super Bowl halftime performers in September, numerous petitions sprung up to protest the choice. One called for Maroon 5 to drop out; another called for the performers to "take a knee" to show support for Kaepernick and other athletes who protested during the national anthem. The choice of Maroon 5 was also slammed because Atlanta has such a rich culture of musical talent — and having local artists represent the city during its biggest moment of the year would have been more appropriate. In the end, Maroon 5 didn't drop out and didn't protest but did later add some additional guests to the show: Outkast's Big Boi (the sole Atlanta native) and Travis Scott.
All of which was a prologue to Sunday's bust of a halftime show. When Maroon 5 comes up in casual conversation, the dialogue often falls short after Songs About Jane. Their 2002 debut album is loved by many for its string of hits, including "Harder to Breathe," "This Love" and "She Will Be Loved." Adam Levine and his bandmates performed these singles during their performance in a way that felt like a strategic move to win over some early doubters. It didn't really work and the sweet haze of nostalgia swiftly cleared away as Travis Scott made his abrupt entrance — introduced by way of a clip from the fan-favorite SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Band Geeks." (Memes, come alive!) If that unexpected intro wasn't enough, Scott appeared on stage with a bang by way of a CGI meteor before launching into "Sicko Mode."
The crowd of teens who were probably still infants during Maroon 5's peak appeared noticeably more energetic and eager to bounce along with Scott. For weeks, Travis faced a backlash from peers and fans for agreeing to a Super Bowl performance amidst a strong NFL boycott. And even though he used his platform positively by donating $500k to the non-profit organization Dream Corps, the resulting short performance barely felt worth the effort; Scott was gone just as quickly as he arrived.
How does one successfully transition from love songs to mosh pits to smooth two steps? The NFL tried to answer that question Sunday as they used the Voice of Atlanta choir to move from "Sicko Mode" into Maroon 5's "Girls Like You" while throwing in a drumline to help match the effortless cool of Big Boi and Sleepy Brown's "The Way You Move" entrance. The outcome looked like two opposing worlds colliding in a dramatic way.
A Super Bowl halftime performance that feels out of touch is nearly guaranteed. Still, the list of artists we would have loved to see represent their city is incredibly long; Migos, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Future, Gunna, and so many more. But would the performance be more important than having Kaepernick's back?
So instead, we were left with a rather underwhelming halftime show that was too unfocused and will likely be the butt of jokes for years to come. But perhaps, the biggest fumble of them all was the missed opportunity to have Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris perform "Welcome to Atlanta." Not only is the title fitting for the occasion and says it all, but the chorus ("Welcome to Atlanta, where the players play") couldn't have been any more perfect and a great save for this otherwise awkward situation.