Like most other young millennials/old Gen-Zers, I remember singing along loudly to songs like “Payphone,” “She Will Be Loved” and “One More Night” at slumber parties and on car trips.
Despite those fond memories, I was disappointed when I heard Maroon 5 had been chosen to perform at the halftime show of Super Bowl LIII. Their only major hit in recent years is 2018’s “Girls Like You,” which is more notable for Cardi B’s verses than anything Adam Levine contributes. Though the band is arguably better than Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5 didn’t live up to fans’ expectations after Beyoncé’s 2013 performance or Lady Gaga’s 2017 show.
When the show started, I visibly winced at the first bars of Levine’s high-pitched, nasally voice. It’s uncommon for a band to sound considerably worse live than on their album, but Maroon 5 pulls it off. For the rest of the performance, Levine continued to sing poorly, danced and hopped awkwardly around the stage, and gave a brief, unimpressive guitar solo.
A drumline and a gospel choir made an appearance during “Girls Like You,” which, while interesting to look at, didn’t really fit with the vibe of the song. During “She Will Be Loved,” lanterns floating in the sky above the stage spelled out the words “ONE LOVE.” I appreciated the break from lasers and columns of flame, but staring at the floating lanterns and trying to make out what they said distracted me and took my attention away from what was, in my opinion, the band’s best song of the night.
Finally, during the closing performance of “Moves Like Jagger,” Levine stripped off his tank top and started moving his body in an attempt to be “sexy.” I was so busy trying to make out the confusing tattoos covering his chest and arms that I almost didn’t notice he is not sexy at all. Watching him squirm around onstage while belting lyrics that were cringeworthy when the song first came out — and have not gotten any better in the subsequent nine years — made me wonder why I ever liked Maroon 5.
What could have made the show marginally better is if Travis Scott had stayed onstage longer. “Sicko Mode” is a certified banger, and I wish Scott had been allowed more than a few short verses. The giant plumes of flames that shot up from the stage right before he appeared (not to mention the slightly disorienting SpongeBob clip) made the audience think they were in for something more exciting and dramatic than what they got, making Scott’s performance even more underwhelming.
One also has to consider the fact that the NFL only brought on Maroon 5 after their first picks for the halftime show — most notably Rihanna — turned down the opportunity. She reportedly refused because she supports Colin Kaepernick, who was released from his NFL contract after he chose to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice. Although the NFL currently does not require athletes to stand during the anthem (though a policy barring it is still on the books), Kaepernick faced considerable backlash at the time and has not returned to the NFL.
The NFL also had trouble finding an artist — specifically an artist of color — to appear with Maroon 5. Cardi B would have been the ideal choice, considering she is featured on “Girls Like You,” but she turned down the job along with Mary J. Blige, Usher and Nicki Minaj. Scott himself encountered backlash when he agreed to do the show, which may explain why his stage time was so short. Still, the NFL’s decision to feature primarily white artists and the lack of performance time given to the two artists of color who did sign on is unfortunate.
Super Bowl viewership has decreased over the past few years, down from 114.4 million viewers in 2015 to 100.7 million in 2019. This could be due to the Kaepernick controversy, the fact that LIII was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, a distinct hatred of the Patriots or a combination of all three. Now that fans can no longer count on the quality of the halftime show, viewership will likely drop even more.
I unapologetically count myself among those who will no longer be tuning in. I was never really a football person, and in the past I’ve only watched for the commercials and the halftime show. Now that I can’t even rely on that for entertainment, along with the fact that I don’t feel any desire to support the NFL, I’m confident that I won’t be missing anything by not watching the Super Bowl next year. Besides, there’s only so many times I can watch the Patriots win, and I say that as a lifelong New Englander.
Perhaps there is some good that can come out of the Maroon 5 fiasco, if the NFL can learn from their mistakes. The League could formally apologize to Kaepernick and officially revoke their policy against kneeling during the national anthem. They could even go the extra mile and make a donation in support of racial justice efforts. When the NFL has made sufficient amends to convince Rihanna to do the halftime show, I’ll turn the TV back on.