I worked at Kohl’s my senior year of high school, and, as first jobs went, it was pretty good. It was easy, the pay was better than minimum wage, and I liked my coworkers well enough. And the store was close enough to my parents’ house that I could hop in the car at 3:50 p.m., drive to work, park, clock in, put my dinner in my locker in the break room, and get to my register at 4 p.m. for my shift.
An integral part of my memory of this time in my life is that every weekday afternoon around 3:52 p.m., Philadelphia’s 95.7 BEN FM, “Playing Anything We Feel Like,” would spin up Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved.”
I wouldn’t call myself a Maroon 5 fan—I put them on Spotify to get in the mood to write this post, which I think was the first time I’ve listened to Maroon 5 on purpose in my life—but by God, I’d sing along. I’d harmonize. On those 10 days a year in South Jersey when it wasn’t oppressively hot or pouring rain, I’d even roll the windows down.
That’s the beauty of Maroon 5, a competent power pop band from the mid-aughts that’s been granted uncommon staying power thanks to their handsome frontman, Adam Levine, and his successful second act as a judge on NBC’s The Voice.
Now they’re playing the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl, and it’s the end of the goddamn world.
The late film critic Pauline Kael apparently never actually expressed wonder at Richard Nixon’s electoral win, which is fine, because a generation of cultural critics who also went to high school in the mid-aughts has risen to the challenge. The irony-poisoned teens of the 2000s are the irony-poisoned, self-appointed tastemakers of the 2010s, shooting off barbs at the insipid vulgarity of the pop culture mainstream under the mistaken impression that (1) the mainstream cares what they think and (2) it’s been clever to hate Coldplay more recently than Coldplay has been good. (And not for nothing, it doesn’t make you cool or hip or edgy if your answer to “Who should play this gig instead?” has been Beyoncé for every major televised musical performance since Rollerblading went out of style.)
Is Maroon 5 the best or most popular band? Of course not. Does Maroon 5’s music appeal to a boring, down-the-middle, white bourgeois taste? It does indeed.
And you know what? That’s fine. It’s the Super Bowl halftime show, not the fucking papacy. The Super Bowl halftime show hasn’t been emblematic of what’s cool or representative of broader American music in at least 15 years. Justin Timberlake, a far zeitgeist-ier artist than Maroon 5 has ever been, played the halftime show last year, and he sucked.
Ever since The Great Wardrobe Malfunction of 2004, we’ve thrown artists like Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and yes, Beyoncé, at the halftime show, and not one of them has generated a truly memorable musical performance. (The one exception, as is so often the case, is Prince.) The Super Bowl halftime show is just not a great concert environment. The sound balance is never good, the crowd is 50 yards from the stage, and the artist has about 15 minutes to cram in all their hits. Playing the Super Bowl halftime show is, frankly, for suckers.
What the halftime show does provide, however, is the longest window in which one can take a dump during a four-hour window full of wings, salsa, and beer, and in which the commercials are as unmissable as the event itself. I don’t trust Maroon 5 to carry the weight of American Culture At Large or whatever, but I do trust them to crank out a competent four-song medley, and I’m happy to tap my toe to “Payphone” or “Harder to Breathe” while I’m waiting in line for the john.
God bless America.