Who knew just saying yes to the Super Bowl Halftime Show could cause this much controversy?
As Janet Jackson can attest, the outrage from taking the field during the midway point of the biggest sporting event of the year usually doesn’t come until after the performance is said and done—if it ever comes at all. But this year, before Maroon 5 and the NFL could even confirm that they’d be taking the stage at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, Feb. 3, there were already those who were demanding that the Adam Levine-fronted band pass up the opportunity.
At first, the decision seemed like quite a safe bet on the NFL’s part. Levine’s a seasoned pro who knows how to handle live TV thanks to his years on The Voice. The band has had a near-ubiquitous presence on the radio since their debut album dropped in 2002, leaving them with a wide stable of hits to perform for the masses. And we dare you to find a mom who doesn’t love Levine. That woman just doesn’t exist.
So, it seemed like Maroon 5 checked all the boxes, most importantly the one about no controversy. After all, the NFL’s found itself in quite enough of that on its own over the last few years. But lo and behold, in the last few months, Levine and his bandmates, along with their confirmed guests Travis Scott and Big Boi, have found themselves on the wrong side of internet furor. Why? Allow us to explain.
The drama for Levine and Co. began in October when reports began circulating that the band only got the gig after Rihanna turned an offer down in order to express her support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sparked headlines and controversy in 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem at the start of every game as an act of peaceful protest of police brutality and racial inequality taking place around the country. Currently a free agent, Kaepernick filed a grievance against NFL owners in October 2017, arguing that the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”
The following May, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell instituted a new policy stating that all league and team personnel must stand and “show respect” for the flag and the Anthem. Any person who chose not to stand could remain in the locker room during the moment, but a team with personnel on the field not on their feet during the anthem would be fined.
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
According to Us Weekly, RiRi was offered the halftime show, “but she said no because of the kneeling controversy,” a source told the magazine. “She doesn’t agree with the NFL’s stance.”
What does this have to do with Maroon 5, aside from the fact that it means we also probably won’t get a performance of the 2008 remix of “If I Never See Your Face Again” featuring the “Work” singer during their halftime show, you ask?
Well, after Amy Schumer took to Instagram on October 19 to suggest that “it would be cool” if the band followed Rihanna’s lead and backed out, while also noting that she’d personally told her reps that she wouldn’t appear in any Super Bowl commercials this year, a petition popped up on Change.org, looking for signatures to back a request that Maroon 5 do just that.
“Maroon 5 has made music over the years featuring artists from all genres, including Rihanna, Cardi B and Kendrick Lamar — all of whom have publicly supported Kaepernick in his decision to protest the violent racism sweeping the United States. Maroon 5 must do the same,” the petition reads. “The band has a chance to stand on the right side of history. If they don’t, they will be remembered for choosing to side with the NFL over its players.”
“Until the league changes their policy and support players’ constitutional right to protest, no artists should agree to work with the NFL,” it continues. “Join me in asking Maroon 5 to drop out of the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show.”
As of press time, the petition has been signed by over 110,000 people.
“You know I think that when you look back at every single halftime show, people just can’t – it’s this like insatiable urge to hate a little bit,” Levine told Entertainment Tonight‘s Kevin Frazier this week in his only interview on the subject, following news that he and his band mates James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, Matt Flynn, PJ Morton and Sam Farrar would be forgoing the traditional pre-game press conference in favor of a “social and digital media rollout” in advance of the performance. “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.”
Though he admitted to Frazier that he’d discussed the decision to perform with “many people,” ultimately, “I silenced all the noise and listened to myself, and made my decision based on upon how I felt about it all.”
But not before, reportedly, an exhaustive search to find someone, ideally an artist of color, to join them for the performance.
In December, Variety reported that they had put the ask out to “more than a half-dozen stars” to join them for the show, including Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000, the other half of Big Boi’s Outkast), Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj. And every last one of them said no. For a while, it seemed that the obvious choice to join them would be Cardi B, whose feature on their remix of “Girls Like Us” made the song one of 2018’s biggest hits. But, she reportedly declined the offer as well.
“The rumor circulating that she wants a million dollars and she wants her own set is false,” her rep told Page Six in December. “There was never a firm offer to begin with for a performance. There [were] talks about it, but she was not particularly interested in participating because of how she feels about Colin Kaepernick and the whole movement . . . But again, there was never a solid offer for her to say yes or no to regarding the Super Bowl. She is already confirmed to do a set with Bruno Mars that weekend.”
Watch E! News Monday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. for the biggest highlights and OMG moments from the 2019 Super Bowl!
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