It’s official: Taking the stage for Super Bowl LIII’s halftime performance in Atlanta on February 3 will be Maroon 5, Travis Scott, and Big Boi–a lineup that under normal circumstances wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. But these aren’t normal circumstances.
Since the NFL’s hardline response to Colin Kaepernick’s take-a-knee protests and the litigation that followed, the once highly coveted gig of performing during the Super Bowl halftime show has become highly contentious. Rihanna reportedly turned down the headlining spot in solidarity with Kaepernick, which seems to be a consistent theme with other black artists. Maroon 5 was secured as the headliner in September, but they’ve struggled to find anyone to help fill their set. According to Variety, the band reached out to “more than a half-dozen” acts including Cardi B, Lauryn Hill, Usher, and Nicki Minaj–all of whom said no.
When Travis Scott signed on to perform in December, he was met with backlash from fellow rappers, including Meek Mill and Jay Z, who has reportedly tried to talk Scott out of the gig. Scott has since announced that he only agreed to perform if the NFL joined him in making a $500,000 donation to Van Jones’s social justice nonprofit Dream Corps.
“I back anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in,” Scott said in a statement. “I know being an artist that it’s in my power to inspire. So before confirming the Super Bowl Halftime performance, I made sure to partner with the NFL on this important donation. I am proud to support Dream Corps and the work they do that will hopefully inspire and promote change.”
And now Big Boi finds himself in a similar, if not worse, position as the most recent addition to the halftime roster. Given that the Super Bowl is in Atlanta this year and that Atlanta has long been influential in both rap music and black culture, it’s an odd move for Big Boi (a proud Atlanta native) to sign up for such a controversial slot.
What’s more perplexing is that Andre 3000, Big Boi’s Outkast partner, is apparently among the many names to have said no this year’s halftime show. Even if standing in solidarity with Kaepernick wasn’t a big enough issue for Big Boi to decline such a high-profile gig, any increase in streams or new fans will have to coexist with an inevitable backlash. (He’s already getting criticized on Twitter.) That is, unless he uses the opportunity to make a bold statement. Beyoncé went full Black Panther in 2016, so let’s just hope Big Boi has something similar up his sleeve.