The Maroon 5 Super Bowl halftime controversy, explained

Many have urged the band to back out of the performance.

Adam Levine, the lead singer for Maroon 5, performs.
Adam Levine, the lead singer for Maroon 5, performs. –Rick Wilking/REUTERS

The weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are often colored with friendly rivalries between everyone from governors to doughnut-makers and hotels.

Amidst it all, the halftime show provides 13 noncompetitive minutes of bopping along to chart-toppers. This year, however, many have urged Maroon 5 to back out of the headlining act.

The controversy behind the halftime production is linked to earlier debate regarding NFL players’ right to protest. Colin Kaepernick famously knelt during the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season to make a statement against racism and police brutality, and has not been signed to a team since. The former 49ers quarterback filed a collusion lawsuit against the league in October 2017, claiming that his unemployment was a direct retaliation to his activism.

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The incident received renewed buzz when Nike premiered an ad featuring Kaepernick in September. The ad, part of the company’s “Just Do It” campaign, was met with both commendation and criticism. That same month, rumors began to swirl that the Adam Levine-led band would carry out the Super Bowl performance.

Many celebrities threw their support behind Kaepernick, including Cardi B. Last February, she told TMZ she would do the halftime show “when they hire Colin Kaepernick back.” The rapper was originally thought to be a potential supporting act for Maroon 5, based on her feature for their hit “Girls Like You.”

Rihanna reportedly turned down the halftime show in support of the football player. Amy Schumer applauded the decision, and expressed that she thought “it would be cool” if Maroon 5 backed out. In a lengthy “Friday thought” posted to Instagram in October, the comedian also announced that she would not do any TV spots for the sporting event.

Variety reported in December that Maroon 5 had reached out to more than six musicians to join them for what the publication referred to as “music’s least wanted gig” to no avail. In addition to Cardi B, Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj, and Usher were rumored to have been considered.

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OutKast member Big Boi and rapper Travis Scott were confirmed as performers on Jan. 13.

That same weekend, Variety reported that Scott had spoken to Kaepernick on the phone prior to locking in his participation. According to that article, although the pair did not entirely agree, “they emerged from the conversation with mutual respect and understanding.”

Kaepernick’s girlfriend and radio personality Nessa Diab took to Twitter to dispute the story, saying there was no mutual respect or understanding between him and Scott.

Scott agreed to the performance on the condition that the NFL would make a joint donation to a social justice organization, and convinced the league to make a $500,000 donation to Van Jones’ Dream Corps with him, according to Billboard.

“I back anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in,” Scott said in a statement. “I know being an artist that it’s in my power to inspire. So before confirming the Super Bowl Halftime performance, I made sure to partner with the NFL on this important donation.”

A Change.org petition requesting that Maroon 5 drop out of its Super Bowl slot is 114,093 signatures strong and counting at the time of this article’s publication. Last month, vice president of the Atlanta NAACP Gerald Griggs said the NAACP has asked performers who signed up to reconsider.

The controversy deepened on Tuesday when Maroon 5 cancelled the halftime show news conference. A statement from the NFL said “the artists will let their show do the talking,” and that media platforms will be utilized to show behind-the-scenes content in its place. The band did not give a reason for opting out of the conference.

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In an interview with Entertainment Tonight on Thursday, frontman Adam Levine said that the football league cancelled the press conference. He also touched on the topic of controversy, saying the band expected it, “would like to move on from it, and…speak through the music.”

“When you look back on every single Super Bowl halftime show, people just can’t — it’s this insatiable urge to hate a little bit,” he said. “I’m not in the right profession if i can’t handle a little bit of controversy.”

Mark Geragos, Kaepernick’s attorney, appeared on Good Morning America on Friday to discuss the halftime show.

“If you’re going to cross this ideological or intellectual picket line, then own it,” he said. “And Adam Levine certainly isn’t owning it.”

The halftime show will air during the Super Bowl broadcast on Sunday, Feb. 3.