Maroon 5's moves haggard during flat halftime show

Travis Scott, Big Boi show up during disjointed show but don't add any magic to the mix

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Sunday’s disjointed Super Bowl halftime show took the super out of the Super Bowl.

The performance was perfectly representative of the disastrous lead-up to the show and the unsure ground on which both the NFL and our country currently stand.

There was Maroon 5, fronted by a winded-looking Adam Levine, offering up lifeless versions of the group’s hits. There was Travis Scott, cueing up a verse from “Sicko Mode,” bleeped into incoherence by the censor-happy suits in the production truck. There was a fur coat-clad Big Boi, popping up for a run-through of “The Way You Move,” because someone needed to represent host city Atlanta. And there was a feeling of “so what?” about it all, like everyone was running through dress rehearsal, not the real thing.

Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs during halftime of the  Super Bowl.

There was no magic, no excitement; nothing in the way of memorable moments. And even the promised tribute to Spongebob Squarepants and creator Stephen Hillenburg — which amounted to a quick cartoon cutaway — felt out-of-place, because nothing about the performance made sense.

Last year, fans ragged on Justin Timberlake’s performance, partially because in our social media-powered times, negativity sells better than positivity. But Timberlake’s heavily choreographed, technically precise performance was more realized and more fun, something Maroon 5’s time on stage never approached.

In fairness, the group was in a bit over its head. Halftime of the Super Bowl is the biggest stage in entertainment, but this year it was the gig no one wanted. Controversy over the NFL’s handling of Colin Kaepernick has hung like a dark cloud over the job for months, and caused backlash for Maroon 5 simply for accepting the offer. Cardi B, who guests on the group’s No. 1 hit “Girls Like You,” turned down an offer to cameo, and there were reports others didn’t want to come within several football fields of the performance.

In past years, Super Bowl halftime performances have helped us heal and brought us together as a nation. U2 took the stage in 2002, the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and lifted the spirits of viewers in a heartfelt tribute victims of the terrorist attack. Prince rocked halftime in a rainstorm in 2007 and became the talk of the game, even more than the game itself. Two years ago, Lady Gaga made a big statement by not making any political statement at all, working overtime to entertain the audience — and succeeding. 

There was no hope of that happening with Maroon 5, which was going to be divisive either way. The best Adam Levine and his faceless bandmates could hope for is that they didn’t fall down on stage, and they achieved at least that much.

In our current politically toxic climate, ultra high profile positions like halftime at the Super Bowl or hosting the Oscars have become so hot button that no one wants them. (This month’s Oscars, fittingly, are set to unfold without a host.) Credit Maroon 5 for at least throwing themselves into the fire. They knew they were in a lose-lose position and still showed up. Years from now, they can at least say they took one for the team.

But the performance won’t read like anything more than an oddly representative reflection of a strange time in our culture and in pop music.  

Maroon 5 – which has proved its longevity by morphing from a lightly funky pop-rock band to an outfit able to expertly replicate whatever sound is currently popular on radio – spun through six of its singles, from “Harder to Breathe” and “This Love” to “She Will Be Loved” and the Mike Posner-penned “Sugar.”

After Travis Scott was beamed to the stage — production made it look like he crashed in on a comet from outer space — Levine and Scott briefly vibed together, with the charisma of a duo that was paid to look like they were friends.

Big Boi rolled in on the back of a Cadillac, bringing some OutKast funk with “The Way You Move,” his biggest hit and the legitimate option for him to perform, since Andre 3000 clearly wasn’t showing up. Levine helped out in the song’s chorus, alongside Sleepy Brown, and things were briefly on track.

Big Boi performs during halftime.

Then Big Boi was whisked away and Levine slowly lost his clothing, performing “Sugar” in a tank top which showed off his heavily tattooed arms and going shirtless for a closing “Moves Like Jagger.” “I don’t give a… shhhh,” Levine teased, teasing a cuss word, a toothless attempt to throw some danger into the mix.

“What you got, Atlanta?” Levine asked the crowd, flatly, as fireworks lit up around the stadium. But those were the only pyrotechnics on display. Maroon 5 took the job that no one else wanted. And they performed like they didn’t want it either.