On Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., the Super Bowl halftime show will function the native rap heroes Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, putting hip-hop firmly at the middle of the annual spectacle, which is routinely watched by greater than 100 million individuals, for the first time.
The present, which is being produced partly by Jay-Z’s leisure and sports activities firm, Roc Nation, may also star Eminem and Mary J. Blige, however it is not going to be the first to embrace rap music. The style has taken a rocky, roundabout path to headliner standing at the Super Bowl, with this yr’s occasion coming at an more and more fraught second for the N.F.L. concerning race.
That baggage is nothing new: At least since 2016, when the quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling throughout the nationwide anthem to protest police killings of Black individuals, the league has confronted questions on its dedication to variety and social justice, on the area and off. More than 70 p.c of the league’s gamers are Black, however the N.F.L. has no Black homeowners and, till not too long ago, just one Black head coach. This month, Brian Flores, the Miami Dolphins head coach who was fired final month, sued the league, claiming he and others had been discriminated in opposition to in the hiring course of.
Those debates have trickled into its leisure enterprise. In 2017, nicely earlier than his company partnered with the N.F.L., Jay-Z turned down a proposal to carry out at the Super Bowl, and reportedly urged others to do the identical. In subsequent years, with Jay-Z declaring “we’ve moved past kneeling” to some backlash amongst gamers and followers, Roc Nation has booked pop extravaganzas that includes the Weeknd, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.
But Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg — whereas amongst the most recognizable hip-hop veterans with many years of hits and popular culture cachet between them — signify one thing completely different, and that could be the thought. “At one point, Dre was in a group that was banned by popular culture,” stated Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, which headlined the present in 2011, referencing the widespread controversies of Dr. Dre’s early gangster rap act N.W.A.
That the N.F.L. has now turned to these once-controversial figures with their very own checkered pasts could appear far faraway from the days of pearl-clutching concerning Janet Jackson’s 2004 wardrobe malfunction, M.I.A.’s center finger in 2012 and Beyoncé’s nods to the Black Panthers in 2016. But some say it’s additionally indicative of the league’s lengthy, jagged journey to embrace Black music and tradition — particularly rap — in addition to its want to shore up its group bona fides now.
“The N.F.L. is positioning the halftime show as a meaningful occurrence,” Dr. Ketra Armstrong, a professor of sport administration at the University Michigan and the director of the Center for Race & Ethnicity in Sport, stated in an interview. “But to some, it seems performative for the N.F.L. to feature these artists. It feels like window dressing. You’re using Black talent to entertain the masses, but what are you doing that would honor the essence of hip-hop, like addressing racial injustices in the communities that have bred this labor force of Black talent?”
Dive Deeper Into the Super Bowl
The Super Bowl halftime stage was not always a place for hitmakers. In 1967, with widespread music venturing into daring instructions, a tv viewers of about 51 million watched the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band carry out a number of tunes together with the Dixie anthem “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.”
Other marching bands had the highlight for years, as did avatars of secure, family-oriented leisure, like Andy Williams and Carol Channing. No rock performer performed the halftime present till 1988, nearly seven years into the MTV period, when the oldies act Chubby Checker twisted at Super Bowl XXII. Three yr later, New Kids on the Block would turn out to be the first modern pop group to carry out at the occasion, and the present remained blandly middle-of-the-road till Michael Jackson’s powerhouse efficiency in 1993.
In the years that adopted, established greats like Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder dominated, typically with extra trendy acts like Gloria Estefan and Boyz II Men as friends, although the burgeoning hip-hop of the Nineteen Nineties remained absent. When Queen Latifah joined the Motown tribute in 1998, she carried out “Paper,” one in all her first songs to not function any rapping.
The subsequent trendy M.C. to take the Super Bowl stage was Nelly in 2001, as half of a bigger ensemble of pop figures. He returned in 2004 and was joined by P. Diddy, bringing extra modern rap to the efficiency than ever earlier than. But that was additionally the yr that modified all the things: After a medley of appearances by Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock, Janet Jackson sang, amongst different songs, “Rhythm Nation” — an idealistic ode to unity and Black energy (“Join voices in protest/To social injustice”) — earlier than ending the present by duetting with Justin Timberlake on his hit “Rock Your Body.” Just earlier than the business break, Timberlake put his hand on Jackson’s costume, pulled at it and uncovered her proper breast, triggering a nationwide uproar.
For years after, the Super Bowl halftime producers retreated to the security of basic rock: Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and the Who all carried out. It was throughout that interval of cautious conservatism that Will.i.am noticed a gap.
“I flew out to New Jersey, went to the N.F.L. headquarters, and I pitched the Black Eyed Peas,” he stated in an interview. “We weren’t, like, ‘Yo, we’re family friendly!’ Or ‘We rated PG, bro.’ My pitch was, ‘You know you need to have pop on the halftime show again.’” It wouldn’t be lengthy, he warned the N.F.L., earlier than they ran out of basic rock bands.
In 2011, the Black Eyed Peas bought the gig, inching the N.F.L. again towards the trendy mainstream. But considerations about placing on a present palatable to all audiences lingered. “There’s a girl in our group,” Will.i.am stated, referring to the singer Fergie. “They were nervous about that,” he stated, and “checked our wardrobe like we were going through freakin’ security at the airport.”
“You’ve got to understand the circumstances, and the walls that were up,” Will.i.am added. “We cracked open the door to get the N.F.L. out of that fear of pop and urban music after a seven-year break of only going legacy. To now have everybody from Bruno to Beyoncé to Dre and Snoop — talk about a total perspective change on the importance of diversity and inclusion,” he stated, referring to Bruno Mars, who headlined in 2014 and returned as a visitor two years later.
Yet whilst rap slowly regained its place on the Super Bowl stage — with Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Travis Scott and Big Boi all making cameos in the final decade — questions linger about whether or not the music and its messages can transcend the 12-minute present now that the style is taking prominence.
“The N.F.L. is trying to look better by celebrating hip-hop, but they need to do better,” stated Dr. Armstrong, the professor. “I’m hoping the artists are going to use their own power and influence to get them to do so.”
A Brief History of Hip-Hop at Halftime
Super Bowl XXXII (1998)
When doubtful, it’s all the time secure to program one thing nostalgic, like a salute to Motown’s fortieth anniversary (the label was based in 1959). The featured acts have been the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and Martha and the Vandellas. To stability the generational enchantment, they have been joined by the label’s then prime present act — the throwback concord group Boyz II Men — in addition to the Motown rapper Queen Latifah, who sang a new-jack-swing-inspired model of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
Super Bowl XXXV (2001)
The St. Louis rapper Nelly, who’d launched the breakout Top 20 pop hit “E.I.” in 2000, was an afterthought on this invoice, which featured the rock band Aerosmith, then in its fourth decade, and the peppy pop phenoms ’N Sync. The two teams alternated songs, then united for the massive finale, “Walk This Way,” joined by Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly, whose “E.I.”/”Walk This Way” mash-up included solely half of his first verse. Total digicam time for rap: 18 seconds.
Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)
Three years later, Nelly returned and carried out his No. 1 hit “Hot in Herre,” which urged listeners to “take off all your clothes.” Combined with Kid Rock and P. Diddy, there was way more rap included than in any earlier Super Bowl present. But this notorious halftime present is generally remembered for the Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake incident, wherein her breast was largely uncovered. Not lengthy after, Jawed Karim, a pc science and engineering pupil, grew pissed off at how troublesome it was to discover a clip of that second on-line, and sensing a market area of interest for a video-sharing website, quickly helped discovered YouTube.
Super Bowl XLV (2011)
The N.F.L. disappeared pop music from the halftime present for a number of years, keen to keep away from unhealthy publicity or Congressional criticism. But the provide of broadly beloved rock stars was restricted, and Ricky Kirshner, in his debut as the present’s producer, introduced in the pop-rap group Black Eyed Peas. The group dashed by way of their many hits whereas leaping round a set that seemed like a “Tron” reboot. And in the Super Bowl’s try at broader enchantment, Slash of the rock band Guns N’ Roses performed guitar whereas Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, sang the band’s ferocious “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Super Bowl XLVI (2012)
Madonna headlined the present in a gladiator’s cingulum — with ample assist from the briefly large party-rap duo LMFAO; the rapper and singer Cee Lo Green; and Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., two creative rap skills who’d not too long ago recorded “Give Me All Your Luvin’” with Madonna. M.I.A.’s verse had a couple of expletives, which have been bleeped out, and of their stead, she raised her left center finger to the digicam. The F.C.C. reportedly acquired greater than 200 complaints, about one for each 450,000 viewers. The N.F.L. apologized to its viewers and filed arbitration claims looking for $16.6 million from M.I.A., whom they stated violated a contract requiring her to adjust to anti-profanity requirements. This prompted M.I.A. to tweet at Madonna, “Can I borrow 16 million?” The battle was settled out of courtroom for an undisclosed quantity.
Super Bowl XLIX (2015)
In the most-watched halftime present ever, with almost 115 million viewers, the headliner Katy Perry was joined by Lenny Kravitz for a rocking rendition of her hit “I Kissed a Girl,” however the true second banana was Missy Elliott, who carried out components of three of her tracks: “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It” and “Lose Control.” The pairing of Perry and Elliott appeared extra pure than different shotgun marriages, as a result of each are pop surrealists. More than two years later, Elliott tweeted that she’d been in the hospital the night time earlier than the Super Bowl, and when her first music began, “I was SO SHOOK. I said Lord I can’t turn back now.”
In solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, quite a few Black artists have been rumored to have turned down offers to perform in 2019. Instead, Maroon 5 headlined with visitor spots from Travis Scott and Big Boi of Outkast. “It’s what it is,” the Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine stated after individuals criticized the band and accused it of violating a boycott. “We’d like to move on from it.”
Super Bowl LIV (2020)
The N.F.L. knew it had to repair its relationship with hip-hop, and partnered with Jay-Z and Roc Nation to produce the Super Bowl halftime present. Kaepernick “was done wrong,” Jay-Z told The New York Times. “But it was three years ago, and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’” The headliners have been Shakira, a Roc Nation administration consumer, and Jennifer Lopez: two Latina girls who’ve launched albums in Spanish in addition to English. They have been joined by Bad Bunny, a Puerto Rican rapper and singer; and J Balvin, a Colombian who introduced reggaeton, rap’s youthful Spanish-speaking cousin from the Caribbean, to the Super Bowl stage.