Maroon 5’s Controversy-Free Super Bowl Halftime Show With Travis Scott, Big Boi and Drones

Super Bowl stage
Rob Carr/Getty Images
– Super Bowl stage
A view of the Super Bowl halftime stage at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Feb. 3.

For all the drama baked into the runup to the Super Bowl LIII halftime show with Maroon 5 and featuring Travis Scott and Big Boi, the biggest surprise may have been how few surprises there were.

The appearance of SpongeBob Squarepants and Squidward Tentacles in tribute to the cartoon’s late creator, Stephen Hillenburg who died in November, gave fans a long-awaited treat with a clip from the show’s classic “Sweet Victory” episode. The animation sequence featured meteors descending upon Atlanta and Mercedes-Benz Stadium and concluded with Scott from a emerging from a pyrotechnic fireball to perform “Sicko Mode.”

The segment wasn’t completely unexpected: Maroon 5 included a flash of the cartoon sponge in its Super Bowl halftime announcement video.

But those tuning in expecting frontman Adam Levine to “take a knee” or otherwise address the controversy surrounding the halftime show, in light of the reported refusal by artists including Cardi B and Rihanna to participate in support of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, were likely disappointed.

Levine seemed to suggest in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that some kind of statement was in the offing. When asked about those who feel marginalized in the debate over equality, Levine replied, “They will be [heard] — that’s all I want to say because I don’t want to spoil anything,” he said. “And once again, I like to think that people know where I stand as a human being after two decades doing this. I’m not a speaker. I’m not a public speaker. I do speak, but it’s through the music.”

Adam Levine
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
– Adam Levine

And that’s what the performers did. Maroon 5 kicked off the show with “Harder to Breathe” and “This Love” before introducing Scott for his one song – after which the star crowd-surfed away from the stage. The band returned for “Girls Like You” (backed by a gospel choir) and “She Will Be Loved” before Big Boi, one-half of Atlanta’s OutKast, arrived at the midfield stage in what looked like the largest Cadillac convertible to ever roll off a production line. 

Sporting a huge fur coat, Big Boi performed “The Way You Move” and was joined by Levine and Sleepy Brown – an Atlanta producer and performer who has collaborated on hits for OutKast. An appearance by Andre 3000, Big Boi’s OutKast partner, had been hotly rumored, but a reunion wasn’t to be.

The roughly 13-minute show, besides being packed with hits, provided visual as well as musical entertainment. In addition to the SpongeBob animation, the crowd surrounding the stage produced lit lanterns with words like “love,” “unity” and “smile” written on them as a battalion of choreographed drones, outfitted with lantern covers, took flight to form the larger word “ONE” which dissolved into “LOVE” over the stadium audience in what was perhaps the group’s technologically impressive commentary on the days’ controversies.

Throughout the performance, Levine peeled off jackets, a windbreaker, and finally a tank top to end the show in bare-chested, tattooed glory – immediately prompting Twitter users to make comparisons to Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004’s Super Bowl halftime.

Of course, haters are gonna hate – Twitter was abuzz with it – but those who suggested Maroon 5 was punching above its weight by playing one of the most high-profile gigs of any career  were wrong. The band has consistently performed at the box office, and at a level that bears out Maroon 5 as a legit draw for NFL bookers moving away from classic rock fare like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Bruce Springsteen.

Over the last three years, Maroon 5 has averaged 18,596 tickets sold per show for an average gross of $1,491,912. The last two shows reported to Pollstar were sellouts at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Oct. 14 and 15, moving 28,275 tickets for a take of $3,660,042 with tickets ranging in price from $54 to $220.

Travis Scott
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
– Travis Scott

Scott added his own box office firepower to the lineup. In just two months from the Nov. 8 launch of his Astroworld: Wish You Were Here tour, he’s run the table on his shows to date – every show on the tour reported to Pollstar so far has sold out, averaging 16,867 tickets moved and gross of $1,134,817.

Levine acknowledged Scott’s added value, noting that the Super Bowl halftime has been fairly bereft of hip-hop performances, despite the genre’s dominance in the current musical universe.

“This is a moment for him and we love what he does […], what he represents,” Levine told ET in his pre-show interview. “This is the [Super Bowl halftime] show that is going to have the biggest hip-hop presence that there’s ever been […] So, he’s it, he’s the man, and he comes in hot.”

Super Bowl drones
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
– Super Bowl drones