Please Bring Classic Rock Back to the Super Bowl
Maroon 5's Super Bowl halftime show Sunday proved one thing: Hardly anyone likes the band and it had no reason to be there in the first place. It also proved another thing: It's time to bring classic rock back to halftime.
Going back a decade and a half or so, Super Bowl halftime shows were performed by some of the biggest artists in the world, including Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.
Sure, most of these artists were past their primes, played their sets like they've done hundreds of times before and were pretty much forgotten by all but their most loyal fans the next morning. But at least their dozen minutes in the spotlight were familiar and safe, and generally gave viewers something inoffensive to watch and listen to between nacho bites. Nobody really hated these halftime shows.
Sunday night's Maroon 5 show was something else.
I should point out that I've never really been a fan of Super Bowl halftime performances. For the most part they seem catered to Middle America's tastes for nostalgia, songs they've heard zillions of times and the most rigid of concert performances ("I like my live shows to sound exactly like the records I know"). And honestly, I barely remember what Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen played.
I even liked some recent ones: Lady Gaga's 2017 set wasn't boring, I didn't dislike Justin Timberlake's one from last year as much as a lot of people did and I thought Beyoncé's 2016 performance of "Formation" was the sly and timely political commentary this country needed before everything went to hell.
Watch Beyoncé Perform 'Formation' at the Super Bowl
I should also point out that I'm not even a classic rock champion as far as new music goes. My favorite records from last year were by Kacey Musgraves and Janelle Monáe, and I seriously can't tell you the last time I listened to an album by a legacy classic-rock artist and thought, "This is the best album of the year." I find Kendrick Lamar way more interesting than the Stones, the Who and Neil Young these days. Way more. (That said, my shelves are about 75 percent filled with classic-rock records. My all-time favorite albums will always be by the Stones, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and many of the artists we write about at UCR.)
So it's not that I even have a problem with the Super Bowl halftime show's relatively recent move toward more popular current artists.
But last night's Maroon 5 show was something else.
They played six songs; I knew part of one of them (and even that one, "This Love," I thought was called "That Girl," and have always confused it with Stevie Wonder's 1981 song by that name). And I don't think I'm exaggerating much when I say most people watching last night couldn't name more than one or two Maroon 5 songs.
They're just that sorta band. Nobody loves them. Not even the middle-aged women who apparently make up their fan base and find singer Adam Levine's messily tatted body and awkward but still totally douchey dance moves "hot." Judging by the internet's reaction to their performance, and Levine's post-show Instagram note that reads like a sort-of explanation/apology, it was a disaster. Not even SpongeBob SquarePants' appearance could save it.
Watch the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show
Maroon 5 even being there was a controversial move (and this is before Levine took off his shirt). Several artists turned down offers to appear at the halftime show in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sat during the national anthem at games in protest against racial injustice in 2016 and has been essentially blacklisted by the NFL ever since.
That probably explains why a C-level band like Maroon 5 were there in the first place.
Other artists called for Maroon 5 to bow out. Some asked them to take a knee to show their support. Maroon 5 did neither (though the band, its record company and the NFL each donated $500,000 donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in response to the criticism).
Instead, they played a boring halftime show that was offensively bad on so many levels.
Rapper Travis Scott's brief performance didn't help matters. In his minute or so onscreen, he was censored by CBS twice. Seriously, dude, you couldn't even switch up a word or two? You're being watched by millions of people, including lots of families with young kids. I get it, you're edgy. But the Super Bowl halftime show is no place for a performance like this.
Which is exactly why the Super Bowl halftime show needs to get back to music most people watching the show are familiar with. No, not the "Celebration of Soul, Salsa and Swing" and "Be Bop Bamboozled" embarrassments that used to fill the spaces between game halves back before U2 played a solo set in 2002.
Watch U2 Perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show
It's not that I would even enjoy the shows played by classic rock artists. I may not even watch them. I sure won't remember them weeks later. But at least they won't put a band like Maroon 5 in the middle of a firing line, no matter how much they may deserve it.
But is it too late to go back down that musty path? Maybe. Hip-hop, pop and country are more vitalized genres these days, at least when it comes to sales and popularity, and most younger viewers probably care more about Travis Scott than they do the Eagles.
Still, there are plenty of classic rock and pop crossovers (like Taylor Swift and Def Leppard, who did a CMT Crossroads show together in 2009) and even classic rock and hip-hop collaborations (Aerosmith and Run-DMC?) that can be dusted off and would be perfectly acceptable for Super Bowl audiences.
People would know the songs, wouldn't be offended and maybe nod along to a tune as they force another three-alarm wing into their mouths. And most importantly, we wouldn't have to endure the scarring image of Adam Levine's nipples on our 55-inch screens.