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Super Bowl 2019 halftime show review: Maroon 5 was fine

Not even Adam Levine’s shirtless peacocking made the show memorable.

Adam Levine shirtless at the Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Like Maroon 5’s best songs, Maroon 5’s 2019 Super Bowl halftime show was aggressively fine, with fleeting moments of slight glee.

And that’s what the NFL seemed to be going for.

Over the past two years, the NFL has been plugging along in the face of Colin Kaepernick’s knee-taking protest against police brutality and his lawsuit against NFL owners for allegedly colluding to keep him from playing. While many fellow players have supported the former quarterback, his protest has extended beyond the field — most recently with performers like Cardi B, Rihanna, and Pink declining to perform at this year’s halftime show because of how the league has treated Kaepernick.

Maroon 5, who actually have an inescapable hit song with Cardi B right now, as well as a previous collaboration with Rihanna, were a safe, apolitical pick. And the band made good on that promise when frontman Adam Levine appeared in the belly of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium singing one of the band’s early hits, 2002’s “Harder to Breathe.”

Dressed like a goth version of Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman and accompanied by fireballs, Levine crooned, warbled, and wiggled his way through Maroon 5’s custardy hits about love lost (“She Will Be Loved”), love found (“Sugar”), and love best enjoyed naked (“Moves Like Jagger”). The dancing wasn’t exactly memorable, and save for an attention-grabbing SpongeBob SquarePants segue and entertaining appearances by Travis Scott and Big Boi, there wasn’t really a standout moment of searing spectacle. Instead, perhaps the most compelling part of the performance was how Levine managed to go from wearing a long coat to shirtless over the course of the 15-minute show.

The 2019 Super Bowl halftime show started off slow

The thing about a lot of Maroon 5’s most popular songs is that, with the exception of perhaps “Moves Like Jagger,” none really snap and crackle from the start. Songs like “What Lovers Do,” “Girls Like You,” and “Sugar,” while plenty catchy, don’t really have peaks or drops in emotion. They never stray far from their emotional starting point.

They’re perfect radio songs to sing along to.

With that seemingly in mind, the band kicked things off with “Harder to Breathe” — a song that builds and builds, unlike some of their aforementioned hits. Levine’s vocals were a little dodgy to start, missing some of the short vocal bursts in the beginning. Though he found his comfort zone just as the band transitioned to their second song, “This Love,” the overall mellowness of the medley, which also included “Girls Like You” and “She Will Be Loved,” never really felt exciting until the last third.

SpongeBob SquarePants, Travis Scott, and Big Boi were energetic and exciting

Because of the show’s unenthusiastic start, the brief moments when Maroon 5 ceded the spotlight to Travis Scott and Big Boi were welcome. Before introducing Scott, the show cut to an animated interlude by SpongeBob SquarePants in homage to “Sweet Victory,” a song that the SpongeBob cast performed in 2001. The segment was a love letter to SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died in November 2018.

After the sweet gesture, Travis Scott blazed onto the stage — appearing to arrive via a literal comet in the sky and then rapping his hit single “Sicko Mode” while surrounded by flames. The shift in energy was noticeable (and probably relative to Maroon 5’s sweet cream hits), as Scott gave the performance a sense of edge and excitement. Big Boi, in a majestic fur coat, tapped into that same kind of energy, performing Outkast’s “The Way You Move.”

The change-ups helped the show along until Levine finally found his groove.

Maroon 5’s “Sugar” and “Moves Like Jagger” were highlights

As much as many people may dislike Maroon 5, it’s undeniable that they’re more than capable of serving up catchy pop bops. The best of these are “Sugar” and “Moves Like Jagger,” the two songs that ended the halftime show.

“Sugar” in particular has a chorus that sounds as if it was created in a lab specifically to wriggle into your ears, invade your brain, and find its way into your throat to make you sing along. Similarly, “Moves Like Jagger” boasts a magic combination of beat and melody that coaxes you to whistle along in synchronicity.

Levine seemed to understand this, ramping up his energy and vocals to close the halftime show and deliver Maroon 5’s familiar hits. He also managed to lose his shirt in the process — stripping off his tank top and tossing it aside to writhe and peacock around the stage half-naked. The song became secondary, eclipsed by Levine’s extensive tattoos and the results of his upper-body workouts. In that moment, for the first time in the whole performance, it felt like Maroon 5 were actually doing something memorable.

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