In a lot of ways, Maroon 5 stands for everything the National Football League is trying to coax within its own public image. After all, M5 is unpolitical in the most basic sense—no one either loves or hates them enough to form any kind of strong opinion. In an era of rising public tensions about brain injuries, the national anthem and systemic suppression of black voices, the NFL desperately needed the assist here.
Indeed, if the NFL were looking for a performance that nobody would either talk about or remember, well, then Maroon 5 was truly on-message. The only thing shakier than frontman Adam Levine’s vocals was the brief, noncommittal tribute to late “SpongeBob SquarePants” creator Stephen Hillenberg. Because Levine had already slaughtered God, a rapper named “Big Boi” (who had, prior to that moment, not existed in my consciousness) materialized onstage wearing a fur coat large enough to make all nearby vegans burst spontaneously into flame. Further anguish ensued. Overall, the entire spectacle felt less like a Super Bowl halftime performance, and more like outtakes from a season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” where all of the contestants were straight men.
Somehow, though, it feels as if nobody expected anything different. Maroon 5 shrugged into the void, and the void shrugged back. Our collective awareness seems to have suppressed the entire incident the moment it was over. While this might protect us from having to confront that trauma, it also clears Maroon 5 from the consequences of their crimes. We simply cannot be bothered to hold them accountable.
This begs the question: Does Maroon 5 even have any hardcore fans? Bar, perhaps, middle-aged white women who think that ranch dressing is “spicy,” few among us can claim any sort of personal allegiance to Levine and his posse. While several M5 tracks are indeed cultural touchstones (think “Misery,” “Payphone,” or “This Love”), they serve more as Starbucks ambiance than as music for the sake of listening.
Previous Super Bowl halftime performances, such as Lady Gaga or Bruno Mars, dug their heels deep into triumphant pop anthems and absurd production value. In comparison, M5’s reliance on Adam Levine’s shirtless torso speaks to either poor taste, or insecurity about their ability to pull off the kind of performance that the context called for.
In a society fracturing at the seams from political strain, “boring” seems to be the safest manifestation of commercialized art. The NFL’s desire to shield their performance from divisiveness, though, speaks more to their fear of criticism than of any commitment to neutrality.
As the latest addition to a modern legacy of tepid Super Bowl halftime performances, it should surprise no one that Maroon 5’s act was disappointing. Even an appearance by megastar Travis Scott descending from the heavens via a meteor wasn’t enough to float Adam Levine from his self-dug pit of mediocrity. But hey: if there’s one thing that this Super Bowl ensured, it was that at least the expectation matched the outcome.
Tom Brady can kiss one more season goodbye, and he can do it on the lips.
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