Maroon 5 and how the Super Bowl Halftime Show became music’s least wanted gig

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.

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Adam Levine and Maroon 5 through the years
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Adam Levine and Maroon 5 through the years
CARSON, CA - MAY 13: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs on stage at 102.7 KIIS FM's 2017 Wango Tango at StubHub Center on May 13, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage)
CARSON, CA - MAY 13: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs onstage during 102.7 KIIS FM's 2017 Wango Tango at StubHub Center on May 13, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
CARSON, CA - MAY 13: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs onstage during 102.7 KIIS FM's 2017 Wango Tango at StubHub Center on May 13, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 29: (L-R) PJ Morton, Jesse Carmichael, Adam Levine, Matt Flynn and James Valentine of Maroon 5 perform during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on April 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Recording artist Adam Levine (3rd from L) and Maroon 5 band members attend his being honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 10, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 639 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jesse Carmichael and Adam Levine of musical guest Maroon 5 perform on March 14, 2017 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE VOICE -- 'Live Top 10' Episode 1116A -- Pictured: Adam Levine with Maroon 5 -- (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: James Valentine and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 pose in the press room at the 2016 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: (L-R) Musicians Mickey Madden, Matt Flynn, PJ Morton, James Valentine and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 pose in the press room at the 2016 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater on November 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Singer Adam Levine (L) and Maroon 5 perform onstage during the 2016 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 28: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs on Mundo stage at Rock in Rio on May 28, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Pedro Gomes/Redferns)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 03: Musician Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs on stage during Capital One JamFest at the NCAA March Madness Music Festival Day 3 at Discovery Green on April 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Turner)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 24: Recording artists Adam Levine (L) and James Valentine of Maroon 5 perform onstage during CBS RADIOs third annual We Can Survive, presented by Chrysler, at the Hollywood Bowl on October 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 24: (L-R) Musicians Jesse Carmichael, Adam Levine, James Valentine and PJ Morton of Maroon 5 perform onstage during CBS RADIOs third annual We Can Survive, presented by Chrysler, at the Hollywood Bowl on October 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 24: (L-R) Musicians Matt Flynn, Adam Levine, James Valentine and PJ Morton of Maroon 5 perform onstage during CBS RADIOs third annual We Can Survive, presented by Chrysler, at the Hollywood Bowl on October 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 24: Recording artist Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs onstage during CBS RADIOs third annual We Can Survive, presented by Chrysler, at the Hollywood Bowl on October 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 24: Recording artists Adam Levine (L) and James Valentine of Maroon 5 perform onstage during CBS RADIOs third annual We Can Survive, presented by Chrysler, at the Hollywood Bowl on October 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs at Allphones Arena on September 29, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
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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. 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.

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