Maroon 5, Travis Scott and the Super Bowl half-time show controversy

By Kameron Virk & Steve Holden
Newsbeat reporters in Atlanta, Georgia

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The Super Bowl half-time show draws in audiences of up to 100m people. As a musician, it's just about the biggest stage you could hope for.

Some performances - including shows by Michael Jackson and Prince - are still spoken about years later.

So surely no artist would turn it down?

But Cardi B and Rihanna are just two who reportedly rejected the NFL's offer to perform in Atlanta this Sunday.

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image captionCardi B won't be performing

Those who have accepted, including Maroon 5, Travis Scott and OutKast's Big Boi, were met with a petition asking them to pull out.

So what's the big deal this year?

'Enough is enough'

It's almost two-and-a-half years since former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem that's played before football matches in the US.

The quarterback was protesting police brutality against African-Americans.

Other players joined his protest.

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image captionEli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel in protest in October 2016

Many people, President Trump included, hated his stance. Last year, the NFL announced that teams would be fined if players knelt during the anthem.

Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL since 2016 - no club has signed him and the protests have largely disappeared.

But the player has had huge support too.

"People think enough is enough," according to Christina Lee, a journalist who's spent the past decade covering Atlanta's music scene.

She believes the reason there's been such a backlash against Maroon 5 is because of the "NFL's refusal to acknowledge" the situation.

"Why is Colin Kaepernick still a free agent?"

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image captionProtestors hold a demo outside an NFL meeting in New York, 2017

It's a tricky balance for artists.

The half-time show has, in previous years, made room for politics - such as Michael Jackson's 1993 performance of Heal The World or Beyonce channelling the Black Panthers when she debuted Formation in 2016.

But Christina Lee says Maroon 5 aren't normally "the type of group to court controversy".

In the week leading up to their performance, their press conference was cancelled, with the NFL saying they wanted to "let the show do the talking".

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Then followed an interview for Entertainment Tonight where frontman Adam Levine said the band had expected the controversy, and had been doing "a lot of looking inward".

"I've never been more excited in my entire life to present this to the people because I believe that it's truly a reflection of all of us."

As for the show addressing the Colin Kaepernick situation?

"I'm just wondering what statement it's actually going to make because they have never been the kind of group to speak about these issues," says Christina.

But there are those who think you should be able to separate the music from the politics.

Sonny Digital's a producer from Atlanta, who's worked with the likes of Future, Young Thug and Travis Scott.

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image captionSonny Digital has no issue with people performing at Super Bowl

"If they want to perform at the Super Bowl, why not?" says Sonny, who'd snap up an offer to perform there himself.

"That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he tells Newsbeat at his studio in Atlanta.

The focus hasn't all been on Maroon 5 - Travis Scott and Big Boi have been criticised too.

Meek Mill questioned why Travis would choose to perform for the NFL, and Jay-Z reportedly tried to get the Texan rapper to back out - even though he'd reportedly got the NFL to donate to a social justice charity as part of his performance deal.

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"What more do y'all want from him?" Sonny says. "They weren't going do it [donate] before, now it's been added in to the deal.

"Sometimes people ain't never satisfied, you've got to look at it from both ends.

"Why would he say no? Come on bro he's 26, he's on top of the world. Why wouldn't I want to have 'I performed at the Super Bowl in Atlanta' under my belt?"

'We control music'

There's also been a row over who isn't performing.

When Atlanta was announced as the host city, there were calls from fans - as well as prominent musicians - for the half-time show to represent the city's rich music culture.

Migos, Future, 2 Chainz, Ludacris, T.I, Usher, 21 Savage, Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Lil Baby and Jermaine Dupri are just a few Atlanta natives that could have performed.

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Atlantan legend, DJ Holiday was among those who thought the NFL would pick a local hip hop act as a half-time headliner.

"I ultimately thought they'd embody the culture of hip hop that we are," he tells Newsbeat.

"You've got to do that. Everybody knows what Atlanta is and what we've accomplished and what we've put on the map. We control music, period."

It means that Big Boi is Atlanta's sole representative on the bill.

But given he's one half of OutKast, who helped put Atlanta on the map back in the 90s, the NFL could have done a lot worse.

"I told him you have to do this, you have to make sure it feels like Atlanta," DJ Holiday says.

"He was like: 'I promise I'm gonna do everything in my power to make sure it's good'.

"I pray that he does something special."

Travis Scott's representative was approached for an interview but Newsbeat received no response. Big Boi's representative declined a request for interview.

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