The first Sunday in February is perhaps the most anticipated Sunday all year. People bypass their usual church going habits, disregard their weekly cleaning and forget to take the trash out. The first Sunday in February is Super Bowl Sunday, a day so devoted to one event that the phrase has to preface it, letting everyone know that if it’s not football related it doesn’t matter (even our Lord and Savior gets a day off). However, there is one event on this fateful Sunday that can surpass the sport being played- the performance by one individual during halftime of the game. This halftime performance is perhaps the most watched musical event all year, last year’s Lady Gaga performance scored nearly 117.5 million views for only a 13-minute set (Patten, 2017). With such a large radius of viewers, you would think that no one in their right mind would reject an offer to be in the spotlight at the biggest sporting event in the country. However, one Shawn Carter recently made news by turning down the National Football League and the show at Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis. You may know Carter better by his stage name, Jay-Z, the hustler turned rapper turned businessman who sits atop hip-hop’s throne as one of its most successful acts. The question is why? Was the event too big of a spectacle, too many fireworks that it takes away from the music itself? Or was Carter’s decision based on the fact that activist Colin Kaepernick has yet to be offered an NFL position, even though his credentials would certainly qualify him. With Carter not commenting on the situation, the reader must choose his own opinion on why the rapper declined the invite. Too much spectacle or not enough equality?
Jay-Z is not the flashiest celebrity out there, the rapper often chooses to don white tees and jeans or a nice suit rather than the diamond-infused outfits some of his rap counterparts prefer. Carter’s style is laid back, not flamboyant as his occupational title would suggest. An article written in 2011 by a photographer that did a shoot with Carter suggested the same tendencies, stating, “We were expecting him to have an entourage, but surprisingly he showed up alone…He was soft-spoken and a real gentleman, almost on the shy side.” With such a reserved personality maybe the bright lights were the reason behind his rejection of the performance. Other artists have noted that the event is quite superficial and not about the actual content of the artist. Singer Adele did not wish to perform for these reasons, stating “That show is not about music.” A show that is so far removed from the music that is supposed to be at the center of it could cause Jay-Z to reject an offer to perform.
The Carter family is no stranger to the Super Bowl and all that if offers. Jay-Z’s wife, Beyoncé Knowles, was a guest performer at Super Bowl 50, appearing with fellow pop star Bruno Mars. This was Knowles’ second time performing at the event, as she headlined Super Bowl 47 a few years earlier. With such a family history at the event, it is feasible that Carter’s decision to decline the offer was not based around the spectacle that comes with the performance as other artists have previously stated. Jay-Z’s most recent album was titled “4:44”, a record that dealt with issues of varying weight, from fatherhood and marriage to race in America. One track in particular stood out- “The Story of OJ”, a song delving into the problems of being rich and black in America. The song samples a Nina Simone song titled “The Four Women”, a track that discusses four black women and their struggles. With such intense and meaningful content like this, it is not a stretch to suggest that these ideas were on Jay-Z’s mind when he turned the offer down. Carter was also seen rocking a Colin Kaepernick jersey in his most recent performance in NYC, a sign of solidarity with the quarterback who was on the field to see Beyoncé perform in 2013. Kaepernick of course is famous (or infamous if you think police brutality is not a race issue) for taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before the start of a game. Kaepernick cited police brutality and injustices against minorities as the reasoning for his protest. Kaepernick is currently unemployed, apparently not one team has the need for the services of a quarterback who took a team to within one touchdown of a Super Bowl victory. By wearing his jersey, Carter sent a message that he agrees with and stand with the player who had the nerve to stand up to a corporation so powerful that it owns a day of the week. By rejecting the halftime offer, Carter is making a Kaepernick-like decision, choosing his morals over furthering his own career.
The NFL has a history of not picking African-American musicians to headline their most watched show all year, perhaps influencing Jay-Z’s decision to say no. Carter was finally in a position of power over the NFL, saying no could have been retribution for all the times black artists were ignored and absent from the big stage. Of the 50 halftime shows in the game’s history, only 16 times has there been a black artist involved, for a staggering rate of 32 percent of the shows. Even further, there have only been four halftime shows in which it was only black artists on stage, an event that occurred a mind-blowing 8 percent of the time. Only four times has there been in show in which a white artist was not involved. Four times over a span of 50 years in which dozens of black artists have filled the Billboard charts. If the NFL is not listening the charts, then room for other motives can be made. This is all coming from a league in which nearly 70 percent of its athletes are black, yet 0 percent of the owners are non-white/Asian. These numbers seem to indicate a definite trend in the halftime show, perhaps a trend that Jay-Z wished to highlight with his rejection, an event he knew would certainly get media coverage.
Jay-Z is one of the most well-known celebrities in the world, so when he rejected an offer to perform at the biggest concert in the country it was bound to make the news. But what was it that influenced his decision? The Super Bowl seems to have everything an artist would want: free publicity and the chance to be watched live by more than 100 million people all across the globe. Maybe the big lights were too much for the laid back rapper from New York, too superficial an event for an artist that talks with such regard on his tracks. Or maybe it was a nod to the racial problem that the NFL has been dealing with ever since Colin Kaepernick took that first fateful kneel. Whatever Carter’s motivation it was enough to make him to pass on an opportunity that some artists work their whole lives for. Perhaps he just did not want to add another problem on top of the 99 he already has on his plate. But one thing is for sure, Jay-Z won’t let anyone know what to think. It’s up to you to decide.