We Need to Talk about Adam Levine’s Nipples

Hold up, did the NFL just #FreeTheNipple? Oh wait…

Katherine Singh
Adam Levine poses shirtless at the end of his Super Bowl halftime show performance.

(Photo: Getty Images)

This year’s Super Bowl LIII halftime show had nearly more controversy than it had viewers. Cardi B and Rihanna both turned down the offer to perform. Multiple celebs publicly boycotted the game in support of Colin Kaepernick, who hasn’t been signed to an NFL team since he began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to raise awareness about police brutality and racial inequality. And leading up to game day, many questioned what could have possibly possessed the NFL to give the once-iconic halftime stage over to L.A. pop-rock band Maroon 5.

And this was all before an appearance from two, um, surprise guests.

At the Super Bowl LIII halftime show on February 3, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine made quite a statement, but it wasn’t with his vocals or his pyrotechnic-filled performance. It was with his nipples. Performing with rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi, Levine’s set was basically a lengthy, unsolicited on-stage strip down, going from trench coat to track suit to bare-chested over the course of a few mediocre pop songs. And no, this wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction.

While the musician is no stranger to baring it all, the Super Bowl halftime stage is also the setting of perhaps the most infamous nip slip of all time, with many online pointing out the discrepancy between Levine’s celebrated toplessness and the treatment of Janet Jackson after her breast was unintentionally exposed at the halftime show in 2004. But the sexist double standard isn’t the only issue Levine’s bare-chest brings to the forefront.

By flaunting his nips, Levine inadvertently revealed some serious truths about the industry, and society in general. And we are fired up.

Janet Jackson deserved better!

Seriously, #JusticeforJanet. As soon as Levine unabashedly whipped off that tank top, Janet Jackson stans and non-fans alike called out the Maroon 5 frontman and CBS, the network that broadcasts the Super Bowl, for double standards.

ICYMI, in 2004 Jackson performed at the Super Bowl halftime show with a then newly-solo Justin Timberlake. She was obviously the star power of the pairing, and she was GREAT. The entire performance was a bop until the end, when Jackson suffered a “wardrobe malfunction” ie: Timberlake pulled down her bustier, exposing her breast. While the actual exposure only lasted seconds, Jackson has been suffering career repercussions ever since. At the time, Jackson was forced to issue an apology, reportedly banned from the 2004 GRAMMYs and allegedly blacklisted by ex-CBS exec Les Moonves because of the on-camera incident.

Meanwhile, Timberlake—who, let’s not forget, was the one who exposed Jackson’s breast—headlined the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show.

Cut to 2018 and once again, we’re treated to some nipples at the Super Bowl halftime show, and yet, the response was markedly different. Levine’s ability to casually and intentionally put it all out there on national TV and the blasé reaction to his toplessness, once again highlights the seemingly never-ending—and seriously problematic—sexualization of women’s bodies and hyper-sexualization of Black women’s bodies. I mean, if we’re doing the math, Levine showcased double the amount of nip, but received zero backlash. That just doesn’t add up.

The hypocrisy is real, y’all.

The rise of (mediocre) white dudes is still a thing

Levine’s freeing of the nipple(s) not only highlighted the unfairness of Jackson’s treatment since 2004, but further emphasized the mediocrity of Maroon 5 as this year’s Super Bowl halftime headliners. TBH the entire halftime show was boring AF, with some on social media calling it the worst performance in Super Bowl history. From Levine awkwardly bopping alongside Scott (aggressively air-guitaring for added dad effect), to his Armie Hammer-inspired tracksuit: it was a hot mess. Not even a frantic attempt at a thirst trap, with Levine stripping down to his mistranslated tattoos and Hot Topic belt with nipples bared to the world, could save this performance from being as monotone as you can get.

Levine’s performance gave us serious flashbacks to another mediocre performance. Yup, we’re looking at you, Justin Timberlake. These performances were both a  *far* cry from the spectacles put on by female performers in the past, including Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Queen Bey herself, who simultaneously reunited the greatest girl group of all time, made a powerful statement in support of Black Lives Matter and made the leather catsuit an everyday staple—all in under 14 minutes.

In comparison, both Timberlake and Maroon 5’s performances—nipples and all—were seriously lacklustre.

But should we expect anything less? In December, a photo of Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran performing at the Global Citizen’s Festival made the rounds on social media, with many using the artist’s differing attire to call out the wildly unfair expectations put on women in comparison to their male counterparts.

If the treatment of Jackson, her subsequent blacklisting from the industry, and the continued success of Timberlake has shown us anything, it’s that women—and specifically women of colour—have to work harder and are held up to higher expectations than men both on and off stage. Meanwhile, men—white men in particular—continue to do the least, but are given the biggest platforms and often, fail upwards (despite terrible reviews, Maroon 5’s sales rose more than 400% after their halftime performance).

Adam Levine’s message was loud and clear

Three days before the Super Bowl, Levine responded to backlash over the band’s decision to take the halftime stage amidst the Colin Kaepernick controversy by promising that their performance would carry a strong and inspiring message for overlooked communities and voices. “They will be [heard]—that’s all I want to say because I don’t want to spoil anything,” Levine told ET. “…I’m not a public speaker. I do speak, but it’s through the music… So, what I would say is, you know, we are going to do what we keep on doing, hopefully without becoming politicians and continuing to use the one voice we know how to use properly.”

And the band delivered…sort of. Taking a cue from the Fyre Festival book of overhyping, the band’s “inspiring” message came in the form of lanterns spelling out “One Love.” Which is fun, but kind of dated? Bob Marley did it first and better.

In the wake of their performance, Levine shared photos of the light display alongside a thank you to both fans and critics. In the Insta post, Levine detailed the inspiration behind the messaging, as part of a long list of words that “came to [him]” in the moments after accepting to play at the Super Bowl—which includes everything from “Fortify” to “Smile.”

View this post on Instagram

When we accepted the responsibility to perform at the SBHTS, I took out my pen and just wrote. Some of the words that came to me in that moment eventually made their way onto the incredible lanterns that flew high and low tonight. We thank the universe for this historic opportunity to play on the world’s biggest stage. We thank our fans for making our dreams possible. And we thank our critics for always pushing us to do better. One Love. ❤️ And the list of words is… Forgive Laugh Cry Smile Share Live Endure Embrace Remember Enlighten Preserve Inspire Sweat Fight Express Give Receive Elevate Climb Unify Fortify Soften Dance Scream Dream Educate Provide Inhale Exhale Persevere Stand Kneel Overcome Love Listen

A post shared by Adam Levine (@adamlevine) on

While Levine’s tone deaf post looks more like a grocery list of bad tattoo ideas, onstage the message was crystal clear: thanks to his privilege, Levine showed us he can do whatever he wants, including taking both sides (*cough* “Stand” and “Kneel” *cough*).

Ultimately, Levine’s nipples—and his freedom to flaunt them without consequence—just added two more reasons to turn off the Super Bowl halftime show, and continue calling for #JusticeforJanet.

Related:

Justin Timberlake’s “Return to Whiteness” Is Super Problematic
It’s High Time That We Start *Actually* Listening to Black Women 
Why Being a Black Woman Is My Greatest Power

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