Super Bowl XLIII Halftime Show - A Review
Confused? Well, in case you haven’t read my bio, a good chunk of my background is in sports media. While in college, I served as a senior sports reporter for the campus newspaper. From time to time, I also wrote about music - mainly reviews on new albums and live shows. Prior to a year-long internship with WEYI, I had a lengthy internship with an active rock radio station, WWBN. Basically, I’m a sports+music nerd and at times, it shows.
One of those times is definitely the Super Bowl. While my hometown team has never known what it feels like to be in the big game, it has hosted it once in my lifetime. For my non-sports savvy readers, the Super Bowl is different from the other three major professional sports most popular in North America (MLB, NBA & NHL) as it’s champion decided by one game, not a series. That means there is a lot of build-up for almost two weeks leading to “The Big Game.”
A big part of the entertainment of being at a game such as the Super Bowl - or a game in the championship series in the other sports - is the musical accompaniment. The National Anthem is usually sung by someone with ties to the host city: Metallica at game 4 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, throngs of country music stars representing Smashville, and sometimes it’s absolute legends bringing the house down at the World Series and Super Bowl pre-game ceremonies.
Metallica performs the national anthem prior to Game 4 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Lady Gaga performs the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl 50 in 2016.
Whitney Houston's unforgettable live performance of the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa Florida.
With halftime being present in only football and basketball, the halftime performance is one of the biggest highlights of the night. For the Super Bowl, hype over who the headliner will be starts weeks, if not months before the teams are known. The past two Super Bowl halftime shows (Lady Gaga in 2017 and Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids in 2018) have since rested in the upper echelon of the history of the event. This year, there was more of a slight rumbling of a rumor of who may be the halftime performer with no big splash of “YES! It’s true!” - like Justin did with Jimmy Fallon last year. Back in October, a headliner was still unknown, but there was still nearly three months left in the season, so no rush, right?
According to a report in mid-October from The Washington Post - with sources from US Weekly - pop icon and my personal queen, Rihanna was the NFL’s first choice but the star turned down the gig in a showing of support for Colin Kaepernick.
Eventually, that slight rumbling of a rumor was quietly confirmed when Maroon 5 was announced as the performer for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, GA. While the band sells out arena tours on the regular, it was a bit unexciting to look forward to. Many, like myself, hoped for some Atlanta flavor being thrown in closer to the day of the game.
Aside from the halftime performance, the game itself was marred with unenthusiasm. The final four teams featured a pair of Hall of Famer quarterbacks and previous Super Bowl champions against two unlikely underdogs with young QBs. The divisional finals paired the Los Angeles Rams against the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs faced New England Patriots. Eventually, it was decided that the Rams would face the Patriots for the Lombardi trophy on February 3rd.
The Super Bowl Halftime Show is tough. It’s tough to pack the look and feel of an arena show into less than 15 minutes, it’s tough to work with the elements (rain in 2007, a power outage in 2013 to name a couple) and as with so many other things in 2019, it’s tough to make everyone happy and present a show that crosses all the genres the many demographics watching can relate to. Previous halftime performances have been a mash-up of multiple genres getting together for a once in a lifetime performance of mega-stars showering viewers with a medley of hits. Most recently those mash-ups included 2001’s classic rock/pop/hip-hop hodgepodge of Aerosmith, NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige & Nelly; Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting coming together in 2003 and 2016’s Coldplay/Bruno Mars/Beyonce mega-hit medley. Other times, it’s a safe bet to go with one single headliner with so much superpower, they can easily bring the stadium down all on their own: Michael Jackson in 1993, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 2008, The Rolling Stones in 2006, Paul McCartney in 2005 and of course Prince in 2007 in what many say was the greatest halftime show of all-time.
This year’s selection of Maroon 5 hit a sour note with many football fans the both die-hard and the once-a-year viewers. In the band’s defense, they performed a wide range of hits spanning their lengthy career, not just the latest single with another artist. The big buzz was that the band acknowledged the timeless hit “Sweet Victory” by the Bikini Bottom Band. What may have started as a joke gained steam when a campaign on Change.org was started to get the halftime performer - whoever it may be - perform the song. I’ll admit - I signed it. I signed it right after I found out that Spongebob creator Stephen Hillenburg had passed. I thought it would be amazing to way to honor a man that created a character that brought smiles and laughter to multiple generations.
There was a collective gasp when the news broke that it would be a reality. Maroon 5 was listening and if anyone can pull it off, at least it’s an actual band that can bring in a local high school or college marching band as backup. Truth is, we got hosed. When the TV screen filled with animation and we saw Squidward in his conductors uniform, everyone thought “This is it! It’s really happening!!”
What we got was the 2019 equivalent of the comet that destroyed the dinosaurs (or did it?). Travis Scott arriving on a joke of a comet onto the stage to perform ¼ of his most popular track. Honestly, I thought “either let him perform the song in its entirety or don’t have him at all.” Why have him for such a short blip compared to the rest of the show? If anyone was watching simply because they’re a fan of Scott, I’m sure they were disappointed. And Adam’s dancing? Okay, I get it: he’s a white dude dancing. But he’s never gone on record to say he actually has moves like Jagger. Let’s face it, he may be a Dad like Timberlake now but he’s certainly no dancer like Timberlake.
As we were all taking in Levine’s moves with Travis Scott, Atlanta’s very own Big Boi came riding in on a chariot/antique Cadillac convertible looking just as baller as ever. While deep down in my early-2000s hip-hop loving heart, I hoped Andre 3000 would be joining him and all of ATL would cry tears of joy at the Outkast reunion (Hello! Destiny’s Child mini-reunion in 2015 anyone?!), he was simply joined onstage with Levine to perform “The Way You Move” and all of Mercedes-Benz Stadium was happy… for that moment.
Probably the biggest controversy of this year’s halftime show was the fact that Levine went shirtless for the last two songs (Maroon 5’s recent hits “Sugar” and “Moves Like Jagger”) and bared his nipples. Many were outraged that this was allowed when the NFL stands by its decision to ban Janet Jackson from performing after “NippleGate” in 2004.
May I remind those that are trying to make a martyr of Levine for doing this of one quick thing:
That’s bassist Flea and lead singer Anthony Kedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they performed with Bruno Mars at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. I’m betting the look on Bruno’s face isn’t saying “Dude! Your nipples are out! People are going to go nuts about this because Janet got in so much trouble for a fraction of a second!” but more “OMG we’re at MetLife Stadium at the Super Bowl halftime show in a genre-crossing performance! How epic is this!?”
I highly doubt either Flea, Kedis or Levine went shirtless for any type of political statement. If anything, I’m guessing they were hot and wanted to be as comfortable as possible on the world’s biggest stage. So… let’s just… put that one to rest, okay? Okay.
I am doing my best to take on 2019 as an optimist. So while so many people (keyboard warriors mostly) are reaching for torches and pitchforks, let’s look at the pros of this year’s halftime performance:
Maroon 5 and Scott donated their entire $500,000 paycheck for the performance to children's charities - with Scott only agreeing to perform if the NFL partnered with him on a charitable donation.
Atlanta got an amazing nod from an icon of the city in Big Boi’s performance. Hopefully, this means a break in the hiatus OutKast took in the mid-2000s.
Maroon 5 performed hits from multiple albums from multiple years across their career showing some recent fans a that may only know Levine from The Voice that they have more music to download (like my co-worker that had never any tracks from Songs About Jane).
Bruno Mars and Beyonce didn’t show up as they did to Coldplay’s performance (Mars & Beyonce joined the band in 2016 after Beyonce headlined the show in 2013 and Mars performed in 2014 with the Red Hot Chili Peppers). No offense to either artist, but… enough is enough and it’s time to chillax and step back for a while okay?
At the end of the day, it’s one show for one night. While millions of people watched, the vast majority watched at home and didn’t pay $7,000 for a ticket to see the lowest-scoring game in Super Bowl history and a pop band - that has recently called out Rock music - tease a Spongebob tribute.
All told, it honestly could have been worse and yes we have seen worse.
My final thoughts on this year’s Super Bowl:
Game: 2 out of 5 stars (homygawd it was so bad)
Halftime: 3 out of 5 stars
Commercials: 3 out of 5 stars
Overall: 2.75 / 5 stars