The main response from event entertainment pros is that the 2019 halftime lineup—with Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi—was the “safe” choice in light of ongoing controversy over the National Football League’s struggles with player protests against racism. The result was a show that was adequate but not extraordinary.
“While all artists have the right to make individual decisions they feel are right for them, I can’t help feeling that the NFL had an impossible needle to thread--albeit much of it of their own doing,” notes Paul Creighton, CSEP, executive vice president with T. Skorman Productions of Winter Park, Fla. “The result was a mismatch of talent that seemed more designed to try to appease all sides than making sense from a show perspective. The addition of Travis Scott made no sense, and the fact that a third of the number ended up being ‘bleeped out’ is a testament to that decision.”
He adds, “It felt like they were trying to please everyone while not upsetting anyone. In my opinion that’s a terrible way to construct a show, and it showed.”
Maroon 5 “mailed it in,” says Scott Frankel, president of New York-based Animatic Media. Instead of synergy, the three acts offered “completely disjointed performances. I tuned out after a few minutes.”
But some elements were winners.
“I liked the ‘M’ stage; it gave a lot of different looks to work with,” Creighton says. “The drones [see video above] were a personal highlight to me; they were beautiful and well-coordinated. The pyrotechnics were as expected and well delivered, if not memorable.”
Sam Trego, longtime head of San Diego-based Imagination Entertainment, is also a fan of the drone lanterns, which spelled out “ONE” and “LOVE.” “It is horrible what is happening in our country and I respect all other artists’ decision to boycott, but it’s also time to heal, and they provided a healing message,” Trego says.
And while the drones were high-tech, Trego notes one special effect was strictly old school. “I have to admit that the room I was watching it, which was filled with 30 entertainment people, busted out into cheers when [Maroon 5’s] Adam Levine tore off his shirt. I think that was the best special effect of the halftime.”
Creighton also calls attention to the fact the show goes on at all. “How about a shout-out to the staging crew that puts that production together flawlessly in less than 15 minutes?” he says. The secret to that success: “By the client giving them enough time to rehearse!”
And what should halftime producers have done?
“I feel they should have gone bigger in regard to production value,” says Eyal Simko, creative director with the One Up Group, West Hollywood, Calif. “With today's technology, there were so many missed opportunities to create something memorable to uplift the performances themselves. Personally, I would have loved seeing the use of holographic light shows, or perhaps build on the current lantern light show effect--but go much bigger where the entire stadiums is engulfed in lanterns. Bigger is better and more impressive, and this is something that I feel was lacking in this year's halftime show.”
Trego has a one-name answer: “Bring in Cher. Nobody does the theatrics necessary at this large a venue than Cher. And with her hit new album out and a new Broadway show about her life, it would have been incredibly timely.”
What were the best halftime shows? Eyal Simko ranks his faves:
“No. 1: Michael Jackson . His entrance synced with the Jumbotron was fantastic, and his reappearance on the main stage with his silence and frozen stance created such an incredible energy in the stadium. MJ is the master of performance, and got the entire stadium riled up. Hands down, this was the performance that revolutionized what the halftime show is all about.
“No. 2: Bruno Mars/Red Hot Chili Peppers . The performance, stage design, use of LED panels and complete light show covering the entire dome was an epic and energetic halftime show.
“No. 3: Lady Gaga . Her entrance using aerial rigging descending into the stadium was extremely memorable. She is very theatrical in her performances and using drones back then to illuminate the American flag was very advanced for its time. Overall, it was a fantastic performance.”