Why Maroon 5 can't find anyone to join them at the Super Bowl Halftime Show
Thanks to NFL's terrible handling of players kneeling during national anthem and the ensuing backlash, the Super Bowl Halftime Show has become the least coveted gig of the year
Here's something not too many people know about the Super Bowl Halftime show: It doesn't pay.
In spite of that, for the last two decades or so, the 13-minute slot in the middle of the Big Game is one of the most coveted spots for a musical act. Prior to the early 90s, the tradition included theme-based events that usually featured marching bands and the likes. But starting in 1991, in an effort to increase viewership, the NFL started billing A-list pop acts.
In 1993, Michael Jackson took the stage during the Super Bowl XXVII Halftime Show, forever changing the nature of the event.
Ten yaers later, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson were embroiled in the now unforgettable 'Boobgate' scandal, and the halftime show suddenly turned into a sensationalistic stunt overnight.
Since then, the list of high profile acts booked for the Halftime Show has been impressive, to say the least. The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, The Who, Madonna, Prince, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bruno Mars are some of the big hitting names that have graced the stage at one of the most televised events in history.
So even though it doesn't pay a penny, the all-American tradition has always garnered a fair amount of respect and hype.
But not this time. Embroiled in political tensions and the controversy of players kneelinge during the national anthem in the last few years, the Halftime Show for the 2019 Super Bowl LIII has suddenly turned into the least coveted act of the year.
To refresh your memory, the whole issue sparked off in 2016 after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later knelt during the anthem, before his team's preseason games of 2016. Throughout the following seasons, several NFL players engaged in similar silent protests. On September 24, 2017, the NFL protests became more widespread when over 200 players sat or knelt in response to President Donald Trump's calling for owners to "fire" the protesting players.
As politics and sports got intertwined in an ugly mess, the NFL tried to appease Trump by rolling in a policy that would fine players for not standing up during the national anthem. The policy said players had the option to stay in the locker room, but everyone on the field had to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Teams would be fined by the NFL for violations. Obviously, the backlash was severe and hoardes of activists came forward to criticize the move as a suppression of the Right to Free Speech and Expression. Soon, the NFL rolled back their policy and left things back at square one, but the damage by this point had become irreparable. Understandably, any artist who would be willing to perform at the next Halftime Show will find themselves in a tough spot.
The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again - can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
As a result of all this, stuck between a rock and a hard place for The Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show performance is Adam Levine's pop rock outfit Maroon 5.
Earlier this September, word got out that Maroon 5 had landed the gig for the Halftime Show. But they weren't the first pick for the gig. Apparently, the NFL approached Rihanna, who turned the opportunity down in solidarity with the players' right to protest. In November, a Change.org petition surfaced, urging Maroon 5 to boycott the Halftime Show. As of writing this piece, the petition has garnered close to 75,000 signatures.
27,000+ people are asking @maroon5 to follow @rihanna's lead and refuse to play the @SuperBowl. Sign to ask them to take a stand. Until the @NFL lets players exercise their constitutional right to protest, they don’t deserve a halftime performer. https://t.co/L2xZJ8ZdSP— Change.org (@Change) November 13, 2018
Now, to add to Maroon 5's woes, it appears as though the band is having a particularly tough time trying to find other acts to guest-star during the performance. According to a report by Variety, the band has approached over half a dozen artists to join them for the Atlanta show in February but so far, not even a single one has confirmed. As one insider privy to talks about the halftime show revealed to the publication, “Nobody wants to be associated with it.”
Obviously, the situation doesn't arise out a lack of talent, particularly local talent, seeing how Atlanta is currently a Mecca for music, especially for hip hop and rap, with a new wave of artists dominating the scene. But sourcing local talent is going to be an enormous challenge, considering the fact that the players who have been taking a knee through the years have been doing it as a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement and against the recent spate of police brutality against persons of color. And it's no secret that the best of Atlanta's latest wave of rising superstars are all mostly black.
When Maroon 5 was announced as the leading contender for the spot, local rapper Waka Flocka Flame shot back at the NFL for ignoring the talent of the city. “I think for the Super Bowl you should have someone from Atlanta representin' Atlanta. Just cause the Super Bowl here we can give them that spice. I think they should have someone like Migos, Future, somebody I could come play ‘Hard In The Paint’, somebody I don't know. They need somebody from Atlanta in it, it’s only right,” Waka Flocka said during an interview with TMZ. “It’s not fair, but its the NFL we’re talking about,” he added.
So who can we expect to join Maroon 5 on the sure-to-be-controversial day? One name that's been doing the rounds in the rumor mill is Cardi B, who even featured on Maroon 5's 2017 hit 'Girls Like You'. Although Cardi is scheduled to appear at the Grammy's the week following the Super Bowl on February 10, sources indicate that she still remains a hopeful addition to the guest spots.
“She’s been going back and forth, but it’s a no right now,” sources told US Weekly. Back in February, Cardi said that she would only perform if “they hire Colin Kaepernick back”.
Out of the many management companies that Maroon 5's team has approached is label and management company Quality Control, which admitted they’ve been speaking with representatives of Maroon 5, but declined to discuss further.
It should be noted their top clientele, specifically Migos, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby, are already going to be in town for the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest on January 31, and will also feature local heroes Ludacris and Lil Jon. So it might not be farfetched to expect one of them at the big show. Meanwhile, a tag-team guest spot for Cardi and Migos' Offset was previously on the cards, but now that the power couple has split-up, it's highly unlikely.
A lot of the booking issues simply stem from bad timing. Apart from Cardi's aforementioned busy schedule, Mary J Blige has also been reportedly invited to join Maroon 5, but had to turn it down due to prior commitments. Well, the NFL could always turn to former Super Bowl Halftime hero Bruno Mars right? But Mars has already been hit with accusations of cultural appropriation this year and bad heat from supporting the NFL in these politically charged times is probably just a PR nightmare waiting to manifest for the 'Uptown Funk' hitmaker.
Other big names who have been reportedly approached include local hero Andre 3000, Usher, and Nicki Minaj, who shared the stage with Madonna during the 2012 edition. Also, Jennifer Lopez has hinted that she has no qualms about performing at the show. Appearing on 'Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen', J Lo revealed: "I feel like it will happen when it's supposed to happen. I don't sweat stuff like that; It would be a great thing. I would be totally open for it and we'll see. You never know."
It might also be worth noting at this point that although Maroon 5's slated appearance is an open secret, the NFL has still not made an official announcement regarding the performance. However all of this ultimately turns out, it might translate to a large drop in ratings for the Super Bowl.
“It’s like a movie — if you can’t cast the biggest stars, you need a high-concept,” says public relations veteran Howard Bragman of LaBrea Media. “If other networks smell a weaker show, they’re gonna be counter-programming, so you have to come out really strong.”
Bragman acknowledged the difficulty of the situation for the Halftime Show performers. “There’s no question it’s going to be a challenge,” he says, but he has a few suggestions to keep the show going strong. “They could put a 500-person choir there or find one made up of local kids,” he offers. “Regardless, it has to be diverse. That’s who the audience is and that’s the world we live in.”
Back in 2006, when the Rolling Stones performed the coveted gig, it was the largest stage ever assembled for a Super Bowl halftime show, with 28 separate pieces assembled in five minutes by a 600-member volunteer stage crew. The show was viewed by 89.9 million people, more than the audiences for the Oscars, Grammys and Emmy Awards combined. But something tells me that even if Adam Levine and co. find a suitable guest and some miraculous way to pull off something bigger than the rock legends, it's not going to have nearly the same effect.