In the moments after its Super Bowl halftime headlining performance, Maroon 5 had to consider the cold reality that it was just upstaged by Travis Scott’s comet, Big Boi’s prodigious fur coat and SpongeBob SquarePants.
A Who’s Who of artists turned down an opportunity to perform Sunday at the Super Bowl showcase in a civil-rights protest. But Maroon 5, a band never noted for its socially conscious approach to profit-making opportunities, stepped into the vacuum to put on an empty-calorie display of corporate-pop competence.
The Adam Levine-led septet performed a snippet of its most recent hit, “Girls Like You.” But notably absent was rapper Cardi B, who was featured on the 2018 No. 1 single. She was among the A-list artists who declined to perform in solidarity with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. The bi-racial quarterback has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season, in which he kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against people of color.
The artists who weren’t there overshadowed those who actually did perform. In contrast to recent high-wattage headliners such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce, and a list of Super Bowl boycotters -- including Rihanna, Cardi B, Outkast’s Andre 3000, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj -- Maroon 5 felt like a hand-me-down.
Travis Scott and Outkast’s Big Boi were given only brief cameos, but they fared much better. Levine’s band packed a half-dozen of its hits into the set medley-style, but were upstaged by Scott, who arrived on a virtual comet after being introduced by perhaps the greatest cartoon emcee of all-time -- SpongeBob SquarePants.
Big Boi managed to squeeze in the hook for his Outkast hit “The Way You Move,” but his fur coat was garish enough to provoke a nationwide PETA protest all by itself. Finally, Levine ripped off his shirt to reveal an impressive array of tattoos, but the strip tease wasn’t enough to salvage one of the most inconsequential halftime performances since Up With People.
For years the Super Bowl had been seen as a you-exploit-us, we’ll-exploit-you quid pro quo between artists (who play for free) and the National Football League (which provides a 12-minute international showcase for the performers in front about 100 million viewers). Artists have seen significant boosts in sales of recorded music after performing: Last year, Justin Timberlake saw sales zoom 534 percent after his headlining appearance, and in 2017 Lady Gaga benefited from a 1,000 percent boost.
But this year, even if Maroon 5 sees a sales uptick, the inconsequence of its performance will overshadow all. Levine’s crew was criticized for accepting an offer that so many other artists had declined, and its performance only underlined its credentials as a band with more play-it-safe hits than scruples.
Gladys Knight, the Atlanta-born soul great, was in superb form as she sang the Super Bowl national anthem Sunday. Dramatic orchestral flourishes didn’t diminish Knight’s gliding rendition, smooth yet tinged with her trademark soul. At 74, the singer seemed not to have lost an inch of range, as she sang with understated grace before belting out the closing “brave.”
R&B duo Chloe X Halle – Atlanta sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey – performed “America the Beautiful” as a duet, merging their voices to powerful effect at the close.