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Super Bowl halftime show: NFL should have gone with Usher over Maroon 5

And rappers? There hasn’t been a single rapper to headline a halftime show. Ever.

If there’s a sporting event happening in Atlanta, then you can pretty much guarantee a hip-hop collaboration isn’t far behind. The Hawks spent the past few seasons having three-time Grammy winner T.I., Gucci Mane and six-time Grammy winner Big Boi giving halftime and postgame performances. Atlanta United has hosted Waka Flocka and Killer Mike at its games. The Falcons have a new theme song by Ludacris and Hall of Fame songwriter Jermaine Dupri, a remix of their classic “Welcome To Atlanta” hit. Even the Braves had Flo Rida this summer (hey, it’s a start).

So it makes sense that the NFL’s chosen halftime performer for the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2019 would be … Maroon 5. Yes, that Maroon 5. The reactions across social media were as biting as they were swift, with one overlying question: How does the NFL miss out on having a local act that reflects the culture of the big game’s host city?

The very non-hip-hop, mostly white, three-time Grammy-winning pop rock act being chosen for the performance in Atlanta (which, by the way, is 53 percent black) is yet another reminder that the NFL is uninterested in embracing black culture. That stubbornness is only to the detriment of the league’s cultural relevance. Since 2017, hip-hop/rhythm and blues has been the dominant musical force in the United States of America. The NFL itself, in terms of players, is more than 65 percent black.

Of course, we can’t talk about the Super Bowl halftime show without talking about the 14-year-old racially controversial elephant in the room. The 2004 Super Bowl halftime show was marred by the controversy of Justin Timberlake ripping off a piece of Janet Jackson’s top, exposing her breast on live TV — a move, as we recently learned, that led the CEO of CBS to embark on a crusade to sabotage Jackson’s career. The NFL’s reaction to the controversy was to go as sterile as possible for its Super Bowl halftime shows, which is just a nice way of saying they went very, very white.

The years after “Nipplegate” were full of acts such as The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and The Who. Prince performed in 2007 and Beyoncé performed in 2013, but the number of black artists to perform at the Super Bowl isn’t nearly representative of the black artists on the music charts. And rappers? There hasn’t been a single rapper to headline a halftime show. Ever. Which is simply absurd considering how rap has become the foremost genre of music in America. Oh, by the way — Timberlake was welcomed back to perform last year.

Atlanta isn’t most cities. Atlanta is black America’s cultural capital, with a whole community of chart-topping artists.

If Maroon 5 had been announced in a city less black, then it would have been received as the same old NFL making the same old saccharine decisions. But Atlanta isn’t most cities. Atlanta is black America’s cultural capital, with a whole community of chart-topping artists born and raised mere minutes away from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Even if the NFL wanted to stick to its archaic anti-rap stance, eliminating crossover rap stars such as three-time Grammy winner Ludacris or T.I., it could at least consider the eight-time Grammy winning Usher, who is a rhythm and blues star with two decades of chart-topping hits. It’s possible — probable, even — that some of these artists will pop up during the Maroon 5 set, but the league possibly marketing a show in the shadow of Maroon speaks volumes.

And rappers? There hasn’t been a single rapper to headline a halftime show. Ever.

This may all seem innocuous — after all, it’s just a 15-minute performance during a sporting event. But it’s bigger than that. This is the same league where Colin Kaepernick can’t get a job because of a desire to end police brutality. The same league that spent the offseason trying to find ways to penalize players for continuing Kaepernick’s protest. The same league that had to enact a farcical rule to ensure teams maintain a facade of trying to hire black coaches. Picking safe, white acts year in and year out is just a continuation of the NFL choosing white at the expense of black players, black fans and black culture.

One can only assume that the NFL feels like it has an inelastic product and won’t suffer much from continuing to disappoint its minority fan base. But the league will learn the hard way that once black fans leave, so does a product’s cool factor. And deteriorating relevance is never far behind.

David Dennis Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the Internet.