Adam Levine, Maroon 5

Playing the Super Bowl to fight for social justice

The controversy about who would perform and what they would do during Super Bowl ended on Sunday night. To show support for the movement started by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick many artists bowed out. Some who agreed to play felt justified in doing so.

During Sunday’s Pepsi Super Bowl LIII half-time show, in which the The New England Patriots battled the Los Angeles Rams and the Patriots would turn out to be the eventual winners, headliners Maroon 5 performed a list of hits leading off with Harder to Breathe, Girls Like You, backed by a gospel choir, She Will Be Loved, while lead singer Adam Levine moved among audience members carrying white Chinese lanterns with candles inside.

Rapper Travis Scott who was introduced by a SpongeBob montage, seemingly descended from the heavens in a flaming supernova to perform one song, Sicko Mode, and exited the stage by falling backward into the crowd.

Cut to a marching band of drummers in period uniforms halfway through Maroon 5’s set, with their kettle drums strapped to their waists followed by a gospel hailing choir outfitted in blue robes. Then, looking pimped out in furs, Outcast member Big Boi rode in on a plush interior vehicle with an over-sized Super Bowl LIII licence plate on the front, and made his way through the audience onto the stage.

Levine sang Sugar, and strutted his way around the stage like Jagger. “I swear I’ll behave,” he says, then stripped his shirt off during the song The Way You Move.

“What do you say, Atlanta?” screamed Levine,  standing there shirtless, covered in tattoos, looking like he spent some time preparing his body for the event. The audience screamed. Pop-rock turned to heavy metal and the stage lit up with pyrotechnics. The camera pulled back and the entire stage was encircled in engineered fire torches. A long shot showed an explosion of firecrackers over the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and the halftime show was over in less than 14 minutes.

The pre-game show was full of regalia, pomp and circumstance, much like a presidential inauguration, people dressed to the hilt standing at attention, flags waving and airforce planes flying in formation overhead. It seemed important to be present and accounted for at an event that showcased the country’s best athletes and artists. It’s a cultural display much like the parades put on by other countries to show their pride.

To honour America, the announcer said, the NFL chose “The Empress of Soul,” seven-time Grammy award winner and civil rights activist Gladys Knight to sing the American National Anthem

Grammy-nominated sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey from Atlanta sang America the Beautiful.

While artists like Rihanna, Adele, JAY-Z, Pink and Cardi B rejected the offer to perform at the halftime event to show solidarity with Kaepernick, Billboard said that Scott agreed to perform at the Super Bowl if the NFL made a joint donation to a social justice organization.

Scott and the NFL gave $500,000 to Dream Corps, founded by social entrepreneur Van Jones to fund social, legal, technological and environmental projects that promote positive social change.

Maroon 5 and their label, Interscope Records, also donated $500,000 to Big Brothers Big Sisters America. The band managed to avoid making any statements on the issue. 

In a video, Georgia-born performer, Knight, says she remembers performing the song On the Midnight Train to Georgia at a time when her career was just taking flight. That song made it to number one on the music charts. She toured the country making her way to Carnegie Hall with The Pips and went on to have many other hits.

About playing the Super Bowl LIII, she said, it felt like “coming home.”

During the civil rights movement, Knight said they encountered situations that “were even more harsh than they were at home,” her voice speaking over an image of Black passengers sitting at the back of a bus and white passengers sitting in the front, and another image of a smiling, White uniformed police officer with his hands on a sign that says, “WAITING ROOM FOR WHITE ONLY” written in marker.

“If we played a concert that did two shows,” says Knight, “we played one for the Caucasian people upstairs and one for the African American people and people of colour in the basement.” 

They were looking for ways to change the situation in the country to bring about equality and started to march with Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I hope that this anthem will touch people in a different way,” says Knight. “We’ve been singing it forever. But, this time I would hope that they will feel it so deeply that it will lift them to a higher place.”

Some chose to protest the treatment of Kaepernick and other players who knelt down during the national anthem at NFL games to bring attention to the large number of Black men being killed and mistreated by police in America in statistically high numbers. Some people tuned out during the Super Bowl, some during the halftime show, some decided not to watch at all and others chose to do a complete “blackout” of the games by not purchasing tickets or memorabilia associated with it, in addition to not watching it on TV or streaming it online.

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