The musical icons drew no small amount of ire online after the fan-shot video, first published by TMZ, showed the two remaining in their seats as Lovato belted out the “Star-Spangled Banner” prior to the climactic showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. Many observers construed it as a show of solidarity with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became a subject of intense controversy when in 2016 he began taking a knee during the anthem at football games in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, while speaking in front of a classroom of students at Columbia University on Tuesday night (Feb. 4), Jay-Z refuted that characterization of the incident.
"It actually wasn’t. Sorry," Jay-Z said when he was asked during a Q&A whether remaining seated was meant to convey a statement. "It really wasn’t. ... It was not premeditated at all."
The rapper went on to allude to his role as a stakeholder in the big game's musical portions, a role he assumed last August when his entertainment company Roc Nation entered a controversial partnership with the league that gave him a hand in developing the Super Bowl halftime show and other major performances at NFL games. Given Jay-Z's role in developing the show -- which included the pre-game performances, a source tells Billboard -- he says he and Beyoncé became so focused on Lovato's performance that they simply forgot to stand.
"So we get there, and we immediately jump into artist mode," he said. "So I’m looking at the show. ‘Did our mic start? Was it too low to start?’ ... ‘Is it too many speakers on the floor?’ ... So the whole time we’re sitting there and we’re talking about the performance. And then right after that, Demi comes out, and we’re talking about how beautiful she looked and how she sound[ed], and what she’s going through in her life for her to be on the stage and we’re so proud of her."
Jay-Z hastened to add that he would never have pulled a protest stunt in the presence of his and Beyoncé's daughter, Blue Ivy, who was seated next to them at the time. "We wouldn’t do that to Blue and put her in that position," he said, adding later, "If anyone knows Blue ... if we told her we were gonna do something like that, you would have seen her tapping me a hundred times. She’s the kid that gets in the car and closes the door and says, ‘We there yet, Daddy?’ So she would say, ‘What time? Are we doing it?’"
The hip-hop icon later pointed out the diverse array of talent he helped assemble for the big game, including Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and other Latin music superstars -- as well as the Roc Nation co-produced commercial featuring Botham Jean, the man murdered by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in September 2018 -- made a "silent protest" unnecessary.
"We were making the biggest, loudest protest of all," he continued. "Given the context, I didn’t have to make a silent protest."
The Super Bowl incident was widely condemned by conservative-leaning pundits on social media, many of whom deemed the superstar husband and wife unpatriotic, while others rushed to the couple's defense -- the majority under the assumption that the two had been engaged in a conscious act of protest. Kaepernick himself appeared to be critical of the couple, albeit in a different vein, sharing a screenshot of another user's post on his Instagram Stories (itself screenshotted) that implied they were hypocritical for remaining seated after cashing in with the NFL-Roc Nation deal.