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Even With Rappers Set To Perform, Super Bowl's Halftime Show Remains Tone-Deaf

Jan 18, 2019
Originally published on January 18, 2019 3:19 pm

Normally, the bookers of the Super Bowl halftime performance don't have a lot of trouble finding talent for the big show. Superstars like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Beyoncé have all performed. But for this year's upcoming game, nailing down a halftime act hasn't been so easy.

In the months leading up to the February game, one high profile act after another — Jay-Z, Rihanna, Cardi B — rejected the NFL's offer to perform. Each artist rejected the gig to stand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who knelt during the national anthem in 2016 in protest of racial injustice in America and subsequently filed a grievance against the NFL in 2017 alleging that they colluded to keep him out of the league because of his protests. The NFL confirmed on Jan. 13 that pop band Maroon 5 would be the halftime performers and would be joined by rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi.

NPR Music hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael points out that with the NFL holding the Super Bowl in Atlanta this year, organizers lost out on a great opportunity to make the halftime performance an Atlanta-themed show because of the amount of hip-hop artists who stand in solidarity with Kaepernick.

"In a lot of ways, it says what we already know, which is that hip-hop is cooler than the Super Bowl," Carmichael says. "Jay-Z made this point. He said now that rap is the most consumed genre in America, artists don't really need the halftime show to play stadiums."

Certain artists making the decision not to perform also shows that they know their core audience is rooting for Kaepernick as well.

"It's not just a political play if you think about it," Carmichael continues. "Playing that stage, it really has the potential to hit black artists in the pocket, especially if they lose cool points with their fans."

A Change.org petition that started in November 2018 asked Maroon 5 to back out of the performance. That same petition has now been updated to ask the members of Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi to take a knee during the halftime show. To date, the petition has over 80,000 signatures.

Super Bowl LIII takes place Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 in Atlana.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, normally, the Super Bowl halftime show does not have any trouble finding talent. Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Beyonce - I could go on here. But that has not been the case this time. One act after another has rejected the NFL's offer, and most are citing the way players have been treated for taking a knee during the national anthem. The pop band Maroon 5 finally accepted the job. And recently, two hip-hop stars agreed to join them onstage, Big Boi and Travis Scott. And that set off a fiery reaction from some fans. I was talking to NPR Music's hip-hop writer Rodney Carmichael about who turned the NFL down and why.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Well, this is a really long list. But the main three that were asked at different points are Jay-Z, Rihanna and Cardi B. And they all turned it down to stand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who's, you know, been on the outs with the NFL since his protest against racial injustice.

GREENE: They do seem to have gotten a few, it looks like - Big Boi, Travis Scott, Maroon 5. Why those three?

CARMICHAEL: Well, here's one interesting thing. All three of these acts are managed by Irving Azoff's management company - you know, a longtime music industry guy who has a lot of power in the industry. But, you know, on the other hand, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, he's been super coy about talking about why his band chose to play the show. And Travis Scott, he apparently told Billboard magazine that he would only accept the invite if the NFL joined him in donating $500,000 to Dream Corps. Now, that's the nonprofit that focuses on criminal justice reform. And then there's Big Boi. I mean, I have to imagine that Big Boi's loyalty is with his hometown on this one.

GREENE: The home - oh, that's right. The Super Bowl's in Atlanta. And that's where he's from.

CARMICHAEL: Exactly.

GREENE: I see.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And I'm from Atlanta, too. You know, ATL, what's up?

GREENE: All right (laughter).

CARMICHAEL: But, you know, in theory, the NFL really couldn't have picked a better time to come to what's essentially the black mecca and the hip-hop capital, right? I mean, the city is sitting in the driver's seat of pop culture right now. And making this an A Town halftime show, it would've been such an easy ratings victory. But this league policy that they have against taking a knee during the national anthem, in a lot of ways, is really blocking them from capitalizing on this blessing.

GREENE: So what do you take from this? It's so interesting they're coming to a city that could've just been this moment to showcase such great music. And people associate the Super Bowl with music recently. So what does that tell us about this halftime show, the Super Bowl and the NFL right now?

CARMICHAEL: Well, I mean, I think in a lot of ways, this says what we already know, which, you know, is hip-hop is cooler than the Super Bowl. You know, even Jay-Z made this point. He said now that rap is the most consumed genre in America, artists really don't need the halftime show to play stadiums. It also says that a lot of black artists know that their core audience is rooting for Kaepernick. And it's not just a political play if you think about it. I mean, playing that stage, it really has the potential to hit black artists in the pocket, especially if they lose cool points with their fans.

GREENE: So there's been a real reaction among hip-hop fans in support of Kaepernick and against the NFL. I mean, is - or are there - have there been mixed reactions?

CARMICHAEL: It's mixed. It's mixed. I mean - because, obviously, you have hip-hop fans who are still fans of the NFL, right? There is an online petition. And it originally asked Maroon 5 to back out of the show. Now it's asking all three acts to take a knee during the show.

GREENE: Rodney Carmichael from NPR Music. Thanks, Rodney.

CARMICHAEL: Thanks a lot, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.