Super Bowl 53: Halftime show opts for diversity over controversy

Speculation was rampant, but finally, a mere three weeks before Mercedes-Benz Stadium would host the Super Bowl, the NFL officially unveiled its halftime lineup.

The announcement of Maroon 5, Houston rapper Travis Scott and hometown hip-hop hero Big Boi came months later than the usual entertainment proclamation from the NFL, owing to the difficulty the league experienced this year in finding marquee talent.

Many top music names, including primary targets Jay-Z, Rihanna and Pink, resolutely stated early in the NFL season that they had no interest in performing during the 12-15-minute spectacle as long as former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, sidelined over a national anthem controversy, remained unemployed by the league.

Even the final trio of performers has endured pushback from fans and peers.

When Maroon 5 — the Adam Levine-fronted septet with a stash of pop hits including “Makes Me Wonder,” “Payphone,” “Sugar” and “Moves Like Jagger” — was initially whispered as the chosen halftime act, a petition urging the band to nix its involvement garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

Scott, however, mandated that his participation come with a $500,000 donation to Dream Corps, a nonprofit organization that confronts social injustice issues.

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Likewise, Atlanta artists such as Waka Flocka complained publicly that a local act should have been tapped for what is still considered by many artists as a plum promotional gig.

But the Super Bowl halftime performer and the host city have never complemented each other. In recent years, Lady Gaga performed in Houston, home of Beyonce, while Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyonce handled Northern California, an area that spawned Journey, the Grateful Dead, Metallica and dozens of other major music acts.

Most notably, in 2014, Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers commanded the Super Bowl stage at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, a region that boasts music titans Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Bon Jovi.

So the fact that Big Boi, an Atlanta legend as a member of Outkast who has also experienced a successful solo career, is part of the 2019 Super Bowl is an anomaly more than an expectation. As well, Atlanta native Gladys Knight has been tapped to handle the national anthem, while local-based R&B/soul duo Chloe x Halle will perform “America the Beautiful” before kickoff.

Scott is a trendy pick, as the Kardashian-adjacent rapper is enjoying his biggest success with his third album, “Astroworld,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and generated the No. 1 hit “Sicko Mode.” Scott is also nominated for three Grammy Awards in rap categories at the February ceremony and will embark on a second leg of his largely sold-out “Wish You Were Here” tour a week before the Super Bowl (he returns to Atlanta March 22).

Credit: Theo Wargo

Credit: Theo Wargo

But Georgia artists are hardly overlooked throughout the weekend of events.

Revered music producer Jermaine Dupri is curating a week of free concerts at Centennial Olympic Park as part of “Super Bowl Live,” and has handpicked familiar names including Goodie Mob, Ying Yang Twins, Monica, Trinidad James and Waka Flocka to perform. Pop, rock, country and EDM artists will also take the “Verizon Up Stage” through Feb. 2.

At nearby State Farm Arena, a trio of concerts dubbed the “Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest” will launch on Jan. 31 with the Atlanta-focused lineup of Ludacris, Migos, Lil Yachty, Lil Baby, Metro Boomin’ and a DJ set from Lil Jon.

Rock veterans Aerosmith will play the arena Feb. 1 with Post Malone, and on Feb. 2, Bruno Mars and Cardi B — who guests on Maroon 5's recent hit "Girls Like You" — will wrap the event. Tickets for all of the concerts are available at

Other events around Atlanta spotlighting homegrown talent include the Zac Brown Band playing a free Pandora-sponsored show at the Tabernacle Jan. 31, Migos and Lil Jon participating in Shaq’s “Fun House” at The Battery on Feb. 1, and Future headlining a Maxim event Feb. 2.

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