For too many of us, Sunday night’s halftime show was a sobering reminder that the main event of the Super Bowl is, in fact, a football game.
Maroon 5’s halftime show, with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos from Travis Scott, Big Boi, and, uh, SpongeBob SquarePants, was bland mediocrity in all its tatted, half-naked glory. (Swoon over Adam Levine’s shirtless strip-down and erotic-as-hell hip-swivel choreography during “Moves Like Jagger.” I certainly did. And then, once more for the cheap seats, shout a hearty “JUSTICE FOR JANET JACKSON!” Should we all spam the FCC with nipple complaints in solidarity?)
A rudimentary cycling through of the band’s hits—and, let’s face it, those hits are pretty damned irresistible—with no stagecraft to speak of, Maroon 5’s halftime show was a 5 out of 10. It was pleasant. Inoffensive.
It was exactly like the experience of a Maroon 5 song playing on the radio: nothing you look forward to, but, in the end, you liked it enough, sure, you guess.
But in 2019, and given the impressive, bar-raised modern history of the halftime show, fine enough is tantamount to disaster. More, with the show this year doubling as a political referendum, it hardly justified the injustice, let alone silenced the debate, that has raged for the last year over the league’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, National Anthem protests, and the responsibility of athletes, artists, and fans to stand up for something—in this case, by sitting out.
(The most thrilling aspect of the show may have been the rationalization gymnastics everyone involved has stumbled through in attempting to explain why they chose to take part in the show after so many other artists had passed on the money and exposure in solidarity with the cause.)
So forget any breathless Beyoncé spectacular, Bruno Mars footwork, or even Justin Timberlake sojourn into—out of?—the woods, the undeniable main draws of previous years. This year’s Maroon 5-led halftime show was so listless and pedestrian, the lion’s share of the 100 million people who tune in for the non-football elements of the Super Bowl were left, for the first time in years, actually craving the excitement of a sporting event so lethargic that two minutes of gameplay takes 20 minutes to actually progress.
Levine teased ahead of his shot at the highest-profile gig in showbiz that, this year with Maroon 5 on stage, the spectacle was going to be the music, a wild statement to all of us most familiar with Maroon 5 from the last time we found ourselves mindlessly singing along to “Sugar” in aisle four of CVS while deciding whether or not to buy the deodorant that’s on sale.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Maroon 5’s modern brand of grocery store music, per se. Songs About Jane is catchy. “Moves Like Jagger” is a jam. Adam Levine is a fox, forever and always. Perhaps no pop act is as skilled at crafting earworms. Maybe there’s even an argument that a band deserves praise for bucking the recent trend of bombast and excess at the Super Bowl. Katy Perry entering a stadium on a 1600-pound animatronic lion is hardly subtle.
But you still want there to be a show of some kind. Maroon 5 performed their music, and the music was fine as always. I tapped my foot. I hummed along. I smiled twice.
It was a performance that matched all the intensity of a first half that ended with a score of 3-0.
Levine and the Other Ones (fun fact: there are more than five people in Maroon 5) opened their set with “Harder to Breathe,” segueing into “This Love.” Levine sounded great. The songs were as groovy as they were the first 17,456 times you heard them on the radio that one summer in high school. The vocals and Levine’s falsetto were spot on. At one point he had a guitar slung over his shoulder and did some sort of pelvic thrust while performing a “This Love” verse and the level of arousal was uncomfortable for everyone in the room.
You start to think: maybe there’s an argument that we don’t need the bells and whistles in a halftime show, especially when the artist isn’t known for them. But then you remember Diana Ross literally exited by helicopter and changed her outfit for every single song during her Super Bowl set and you remember that there’s really no excuse to not put on a show.
Things got awkward fast. Turns out Adam Levine is not exactly suited for the role of hip-hop hype man, as we learned when Travis Scott and Big Boi arrived. You would think one could have predicted that, but who are we to judge. Scott and Big Boi’s electric, all-too-brief cameos just amplified the argument that it’s absolutely ridiculous that a Super Bowl staged in Atlanta, the hip-hop capital of the country, didn’t go with a local rapper or artist as the headliner.
By the time Levine wrapped up the set with perfectly serviceable renditions of “Sugar” and “Moves Like Jagger,” there was nothing to hate. But there was also nothing to love. (Outside of those sweet, sweaty Adam Levine abs.) That’s because there was nothing attempted, not really. There was nothing visionary or even cohesive about the production, with each new number an entirely different swing. Fire! Drumline! Gospel choir! Pimped-out rides! Floating lamps! Sex! Everything was thrown at the wall, and all stuck briefly, before falling off as the band hurriedly moved onto the next thing.
It’s instinctual to compare the show to past productions. Beyoncé put on a relentless, meticulously crafted song-and-dance spectacular unlike the Super Bowl had ever seen. Madonna, at age 53, literally cartwheeled through the most elaborate stage sets that had ever been built for halftime. Katy Perry entered on a 16-story lion and exited on a shooting star. Bruno Mars danced so hard, I got tired just watching. Lady Gaga reaffirmed once and for all that pop stars are among our greatest athletes. Prince was legendary.
Maroon 5 stood still on stage, and one of them took off their shirt.