The gig of a lifetime – that nobody wants to play
Watched in the US by more than 100 million people and attracting performers such as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake, it is one of the most prestigious music shows in the world. But the Super Bowl’s half-time slot next month is facing an unfamiliar problem: a lack of artists willing to perform.
As the National Football League digs in its heels in a dispute with Colin Kaepernick, the star quarterback who refused to stand for the national anthem in protest at police brutality against racial minorities, the show this year has become more about politics than music. The fact that the Super Bowl is taking place in Atlanta, arguably the capital of black music in the US, has only added to the storm.
Some of the biggest names in pop and rap, including Rihanna and Cardi B, have turned down the opportunity to appear, while Maroon 5, are under pressure to pull out. Rapper Travis Scott also faces pressure from hip-hop superstar Jay-Z and civil rights groups. With four weeks to go, producers of the 13-minute event are scrambling to find additional performers for what Variety has called “music’s least-wanted gig”.
Gerald Griggs, vice-president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP civil rights group, said: “The majority of artists we’ve reached out to are standing in solidarity against the NFL. They do not want to be associated because of the protest that was started by Mr Kaepernick against racial injustice and police brutality.”
Kaepernick, who was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and led them to the Super Bowl in 2013, accuses NFL owners of colluding to keep him out of the league after his decision to “take the knee” during the national anthem at games sparked a mass protest movement. In 2017 the player filed a collusion grievance against the NFL, claiming team owners had conspired to keep him off the field due to his protests.
He is seeking damages equal to what he would have earned if he was still playing in the league. The NFL denies the allegations.
For protesters who back Kaepernick, the Atlanta show is the ideal venue to send a strong message about the league’s refusal – backed by Donald Trump – to support players’ right to refuse to stand for the anthem. The Super Bowl half-time show “is the biggest stage in the world to bring our message to the world about the atrocities that are happening in the United States, and particularly in Atlanta, that have not been addressed,” said Griggs.
The first star to clearly link the Super Bowl show to Kaepernick was Rihanna. In October she confirmed she had been approached to perform but had decided to support the quarterback. “She said no because of the kneeling controversy. She doesn’t agree with the NFL’s stance,” a representative told US Weekly.
With typical flamboyance, Cardi B initially said she wanted a solo slot and $1m to perform (artists are not paid for the half-time show, but are given a “gift in kind” by the NFL), though a representative later said “she was not particularly interested in participating because of how she feels about Colin Kaepernick and the whole movement”. So far Maroon 5 have been absent from the conversation. The band have not been formally announced by the NFL, but a representative called the invitation “a dream come true” and their participation has not been denied. Observer
Justin Timberlake performs at last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis