Several weeks ago, millions of Americans tuned in to watch Super Bowl LIII, which saw the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams in a low-scoring game. One of the most talked about elements of the event, however, was the Halftime show. Headlined by the pop rock band Maroon 5 and their lead vocalist Adam Levine, the show also featured special guests, including rapper Travis Scott and Outkast member Antwan “Big Boi” Patton.
To the surprise of many people, however, the performance included a surprise cameo by the animated cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants. The titular character of the popular Nickelodeon animated TV show of the same name, SpongeBob instantly made headlines with his appearance, despite the confusion of some.
To explain why SpongeBob was included in the Halftime show, one must go back several months to the tragic passing of SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg on November 26, 2018, who died after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In response, SpongeBob fan Israel Colunga started a petition on Change.org to have Hillenburg honored at the then-upcoming Super Bowl LIII, “as a tribute to his legacy, [and] his contributions to a generation of children.”
Colunga proposed Maroon 5 perform an iconic song from SpongeBob, titled “Sweet Victory.” Initially created by rock singer David Glen Eisley, “Sweet Victory” debuted in Season 2 of the show, in the episode “Band Geeks.” Released on September 7, 2001, “Band Geeks” saw SpongeBob’s neighbor Squidward Tentacles putting together a band to perform at the “Bubble Bowl”, the show’s parodied version of the Super Bowl. Ultimately, SpongeBob performed “Sweet Victory”, to the great appeasement of Squidward. “Band Geeks” has been recognized by both fans and critics alike as one of the best episodes of the series.
Colunga’s petition gained well over a million signatures in the weeks before the Super Bowl. In response, the Twitter accounts of Maroon 5 and Mercedes-Benz Stadium (The Super Bowl venue) teased a performanced of Sweet Victory at the game. During a rehearsal of Maroon 5’s performance, several reporters noticed an image of SpongeBob on the screens inside the stadium. Heading into Super Bowl LIII, many seemed confident that “Sweet Victory” would be performed.
During the Super Bowl, however, only a brief clip from “Sweet Victory” was played, in addition to a short animation featuring Squidward and SpongeBob. The quick intro to “Sweet Victory” was performed as a method to introduce rapper Travis Scott and his expletive-heavy performance of “Sicko Mode.”
While some appreciated Maroon 5 permitting a cameo from SpongeBob in their performance, many were outraged at the group, viewing that it was an inadequate tribute to Hillenburg - and that nothing short of playing the song itself would suffice. Furious Reddit users even caused the site to crash for several minutes. “Heading into the show, people were expecting a bit more than a wink and a nod, with many folks believing that Maroon 5 might be playing ‘Sweet Victory,” reported Kevin Skiver of CBS.
It is confusing why the NFL did not allow for “Sweet Victory” to be played during the show. Maroon 5 was already surrounded in controversy before their performance, with many potential artists, including Rihanna, Cardi B. and Jay-Z declining to perform at Super Bowl LIII in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick's controversial protests of the National Anthem. Maroon 5 was even criticized for accepting an invitation from the NFL to perform. A performance of “Sweet Victory” could have been a way for the NFL to gain positive press coverage in the wake of so much controversy. Instead, Maroon 5 has been heavily scrutinized for not playing “Sweet Victory”, and the rest of their performance was panned by critics as well. Bryan Rolli of Forbes even described it as a “boring halftime show performance for an incredibly boring Super Bowl.”
Ultimately, Maroon 5 missed the mark on their Super Bowl LIII Halftime show - and one can only hope that next year’s performance will be less controversial and more exciting.