Each year, the conversation about who should perform at the Super Bowl generates enough conversation to eclipse the teams playing in the game. This year, artists' decisions to align themselves with the NFL, in a post-Colin Kaepernick world, is loaded. If you support the football league, it appears that you're choosing to oppose the meaning behind Kaepernick's kneel—which was prompted by police brutality across America. Cardi B shouted out the former San Francisco 49er at the 2017 VMAs. "Colin Kaepernick, as long as you kneel with us, we'll be standing by you, baby," she said. It first seemed the Bronx rapper was a likely option for this year's halftime show after Maroon 5 was scheduled as a headliner (the two appear on the chart-topping "Girls Like You" together). She quieted any existing rumors, stating she wouldn't perform until "they hire Colin Kaepernick back." Today, a new clip that surfaced online, and it looks like Cardi B is joining the ranks of mega performers to have a Pepsi commercial during Super Bowl's broadcast. In the teaser, Cardi taps her red, white, and blue nails across a matching jewel-encrusted Pepsi can. That's kind of a huge deal.
Last year, 112 million people tuned into the Super Bowl, making the ads sandwiched between the programming a coveted spot on the air. Over the years, we'd caught glimpses of Hollywood's elite advertising our favorite products. There was the 1992 Nike commercial with Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny commercial that spawned the concept of Space Jam, and Betty White running plays for Snickers. Cardi B even swapped voices with Alexa for Amazon last year. It was the definition of influence before being an influencer was an actual thing people put in their social media bios. When it comes to who rules the airtime during Super Bowl, PepsiCo is the definitive answer given the fact that they own Doritos, Pepsi, and Mountain Dew. For the past 25 years, the soda company has managed to get some of the world's biggest stars to hold their blue and red cans.
To be synonymous with the brand was a big deal. Michael Jackson inked an unprecedented (for the 80s) $5 million deal in the 80s when he moonwalked in the street with a young Alfonso Ribeiro. In 1992, Cindy Crawford released what many consider an "iconic" Super Bowl spot sauntering out of a red sports car only to crack a cold Pepsi as two young boys drooled. Last year, she'd go on to remake her version of the commercial. Over a decade later, Britney Spears secured a 90-second Pepsi commercial during Super Bowl XXXV at her peak (Think Oops!… I Did It Again era). It would be another three years until she had another Super Bowl placement, but this time she shared it cosplaying as a gladiator with Pink and Beyoncé. When Beyoncé obliterated her halftime set in 2013 and 2016, it was sponsored by none other than Pepsi. Now, Cardi is a part of the long lineage of stars to join Pepsi's biggest night, but does that make it right?
Pepsi's done a great job at choosing artists who shift culture in exchange for advertising dollars whether or not it warrants a spot during the Super Bowl. But, let's not ignore the elephant in the room. In 2017, Kendall Jenner was the latest star to join Pepsi's army. Instead of an elaborate performance scene, Jenner walked through a protest handing a police officer a Pepsi as a peace offering. It sounds a lot more innocent than it actually was, and the commercial was removed after the backlash that both Jenner and Pepsi were opting to capitalize off social movements like Black Lives Matter. Enlisting someone as universally beloved as Cardi is a good way to make up past misdeeds. And no doubt, it's a move that'll benefit Cardi's brand recognition too—no doubt there'll be millions and millions of eyes on her. But it's complicated by the fact that Pepsi will again sponsor the very halftime show she made a big deal out of turning down—and that by appearing in a commercial during the big game, she's nevertheless profiting (albeit indirectly) off of the systems she's attempting to critique. Cardi B has positioned herself as a rapper with opinions on not only Colin Kaepernick, but Donald Trump and the government shutdown as well. She's clapped back at critics like Tomi Lahren and other conservatives without thinking twice. But existing under capitalism ensures ethical and moral compromises. We'll just have to trust that she thought this through. Here's hoping the commercial's good at least.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.