To Maroon 5’s credit, they weren’t the worst part of Super Bowl LIII.
No, the worst part of the Big Game was its lack of excitement. The New England Patriots won, again. Three and half quarters passed without a touchdown. The commercials not by Bud Light were either forgettable or not very good, or both. For all of the attention, time, energy and money spent on this game every year, this Super Bowl’s mediocrity was a stunning, nasty surprise.
The same can’t be said for Maroon 5. Since they were first rumored to be this year’s Halftime performer, the expectation was that their show would be, well, ok I guess? The only excitement came from rumors that the NFL were struggling to book guests to accompany them. Rihanna to Cardi B (multiple times) refused, in solidarity with perpetually benched player Colin Kaepernick. The struggles were effectively confirmed when rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi, who have no immediate or even cursory connection to the band, were announced as Maroon 5’s guests. The best anyone could hope for was that their performance would come and go without incident.
By that metric, you could argue that Maroon 5’s Halftime show was a success. By any other, it was the least imaginative show in years, a joyless slog through an odd assortment of the band’s sort-of biggest hits, with random, pointless cameos.
Maroon 5 kicked off their set with their breakthrough hit “Harder to Breathe”, rendered with as much energy as their low-wattage M-shaped stage. Levine isn’t a powerhouse singer by any means, but his voice registered barely above a whisper amongst the clash and clang. For a frontman who claims to have moves like Jagger, Levine had about as much stage presence as Jagger would have sleeping off a bender. The rest of the setlist was both obvious and bizarre. Songs About Jane was the source for much of their set, and while the album is objectively good, “She Will Be Loved” and “This Love” aren’t terribly exciting records for such a high-octane crowd, and it showed. Maybe if they had tweaked their numbers a bit, switching them up to play to the audience, it could’ve worked better. Their sole attempt at imagination was the inexplicable addition of a choir and marching band to their #1 hit “Girls Like You”, which only highlighted the tragedy of Cardi B not being there. Their catalog has several collaborators that could’ve added a touch of thrill: Christina Aguilera, Kendrick Lamar, Future, SZA, Rihanna, and others. The fact that none of them could be pulled spoke volumes, as did their decision to omit their post-2011 artistically bankrupt hits.
Those who did appear on Maroon 5’s behalf did them, or themselves, no favors. Travis Scott was brought to the stage by way of a CGI meteorite, introduced by Spongebob Squarepants’ Band Geeks (it was an attempt to tribute the late creator Stephen Hillenburg that proved underwhelming). He performed a Drake-less “Sicko Mode” and provided a few sparks, but barely engaged Levine, leaving him to just bounce about on stage. Levine fared better with Big Boi of Outkast and his #1 classic “The Way You Move”, but the moment was undercut by the unintentionally hilarious image of Levine doing a two-step. Both guests, lacking any real chemistry with their headliner, proved that their selection was as act of desperation on the NFL’s part, and a mid-tier PR opp on theirs.
The only spontaneous or mildly interesting moment occurred during the closing number “Moves Like Jagger”. Levine apparently worked up enough of a sweat, despite performing at the barest minimum level, to whip off his tank top and show off his surprisingly sculpted torso. It was a Hail Mary pass that wouldn’t have mattered; the show was lost from the beginning. You still can appreciate the effort: his shirtless shot could at least provide some memorable imagery from a deeply forgettable performance.
Again, I wouldn’t declare Maroon 5’s performance “disappointing” or “terrible” or “shambolic” because that would suggest I had some form of expectation. I knew it would be a largely useless affair, reflective of their standing in pop culture. I would’ve liked to be proven wrong, but in the context of the evening, it’s rather fitting. No one, including the night’s performers, wanted this, so it’s best that we file this one away and forget about it as quickly as we can, just like Super Bowl LIII.