6:18pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Critic's Notebook: Maroon 5 Delivers Non-Offensive Halftime for Offense-Free Super Bowl
There were fireworks and gouts of flames from the stage and even a silly fake meteor falling toward the stadium in Atlanta.
Maroon 5 also performed, in what effectively ended up being a 10-minute striptease from Adam Levine, which is like bringing disrobing coals to The Cheetah Newcastle. As a city, Atlanta has birthed both better musical acts and many, many better strippers.
Playing on a giant "M" and dodging the aforementioned fireworks, Maroon 5 was OK. Everything they sang seemed mostly in tune? The crowd seemed very excited when Levine was standing out in the audience? The Japanese lantern-drones that spelled out "One" and "Love" were kinda cool?
But what you had was a Los Angeles-based pop band taking center stage at a Super Bowl in a city with no lack of local and organic musical talent that could have toplined what Pepsi and CBS kept saying, over and over again, was the concert of the year. I know that's promotional hyperbole and they've got to say something, but I have to believe that my year will eventually include a better concert than that. Heck, PBS' Television Critics Association press tour included a two-song acoustic set by the legendary Charley Pride that was a much better concert.
Maroon 5 basically played the hits. A little "Moves Like Jagger" here. Some "She Will Be Loved" there. They insisted on continuing to do "Girls Like You" even though Cardi B declined to appear, one of many musical acts who reportedly let the NFL know they wanted no part of this extended commercial. In lieu of Cardi B, the number featured an appearance by a gospel choir, which was pretty certainly the highlight of the halftime show.
Both of the high-profile cameos fell flat. Travis Scott decided he had no interest in censoring a song for the Super Bowl audience, and much of his performance was bleeped. Big Boi rolled out in a vintage automobile and, absent Andre 3000 and with Levine providing flimsy backup, it didn't feel like they even know what to do with him. Having Big Boi in the house made sense. He's a Georgia guy. Arranging half-an-Outkast song for him as his only contribution was not very well considered.
And, again, by the end, Levine was just removing articles of his clothing and sweating. Make no mistake: There's an audience that will probably be perfectly happy with that. And I'm probably referring to "executives at CBS." Once upon a time, a female singer having a small piece of her top removed by her halftime partner for a 10th of a second was considered the end of broadcast network decency and left CBS embroiled in decades of absurd controversy. Nobody's going to get worked up about Levine stripping and sweating, just as nobody's going to get worked up about anything that happened in that halftime show.
Maroon 5 weren't indecent. They weren't political. They were available and willing to appear in a spotlight that nobody wanted a piece of this year. I don't think that the Super Bowl halftime show has become like hosting the Oscars, a gig that is perceived as doing more harm to the chosen comic than it helps. We're only a year removed from Justin Timberlake being perfectly serviceable, only a few years removed from Lady Gaga and from Beyonce upstaging Coldplay and even from Katy Perry and the introduction of Left Shark.
I think there have been worse Super Bowl halftime shows, but usually by virtue of an artist overreaching or setting the musical bar too high. I don't know if we've seen a less interesting Super Bowl halftime since the glory years when Up With People made this event their personal playing field.
In football terms, the NFL and Maroon 5 punted on Sunday, an appropriate interlude for this particular Super Bowl.