Who would have thought that the Super Bowl Halftime show, an American institution watched by more than 100 million people, would become the least wanted gig in music? But thanks to the ongoing controversy concerning the NFL’s stance on a player’s right to protest, brought to the forefront by football’s top conscientious objector Colin Kaepernick, Maroon 5 are learning the precarious stance that the performance represents.
According to sources, the band has reached out to more than a half-dozen stars to appear as featured guests during the 13-minute slot midway through Super Bowl LIII, but so far, none have agreed to do it. Among those considering the appearance are Cardi B, who is featured on the Maroon 5 hit “Girls Like You,” which spent seven weeks at No. 1 over the fall (the rapper is also scheduled to appear at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10) and Andre Benjamin, AKA Andre 3000 of beloved local act Outkast. Others — like Mary J. Blige — had been approached but faced scheduling conflicts; still more, like Usher, Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj, who performed at the 2012 Super Bowl with Madonna, are names rumored to be in the mix.
Because the 2019 Super Bowl is being staged in Atlanta — arguably the capital of black music in the U.S. — Maroon 5’s team has been working to find a local act who will perform with them, says insiders (worth noting: the NFL has not yet officially announced Maroon 5 as the halftime show act). The booming Atlanta-based label and management company Quality Control — whose top acts Migos, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby will be performing at the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest at the city’s State Farm Arena on Jan. 31 — is an obvious candidate to help with that effort, and while the company’s principals, Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas, told Variety they have been speaking with reps about the halftime show, both declined to discuss further. A tag-team guest spot featuring Migos and Cardi B, whom the company also consults via its management division, seemed like a strong option until Cardi announced that she and her husband, Migos member Offset, are separating.
Other acts performing in town during the days leading up to the game include Cardi, Post Malone and Bruno Mars. In addition, local artists like Ludacris and Lil Jon will feature prominently at the Bud Light shows held on the weekend of the game.
Curiously, the Super Bowl halftime show doesn’t pay, which makes it even tricker to book an A-list act. And while the viewing audience is undoubtedly enormous, the criticism over aligning with the NFL promises to ring as loudly. “Nobody wants to be associated with it,” says one insider privy to talks about the halftime show. (That statement also begs the question of who will deliver the National Anthem at the game’s start.)
So what’s a halftime performer to do? “It’s like a movie — if you can’t cast the biggest stars, you need a high-concept,” says public relations veteran Howard Bragman of LaBrea.Media. “If other networks smell a weaker show, they’re gonna be counter-programming, so you have to come out really strong.” But considering the location and the still-lingering outcry by celebrities like Amy Schumer to boycott the Super Bowl, “there’s no question it’s going to be a challenge” for Maroon 5, he adds, though Bragman has some suggestions. “They could put a 500-person choir there or find one made up of local kids,” he offers. “Regardless, it has to be diverse. That’s who the audience is and that’s the world we live in.”
Variety has reached out to the NFL and a rep for Maroon 5 for comment.