After being asked to turn down the 2019 NFL Super Bowl Halftime Show, Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton tells PEOPLE they're "tuning out the noise"

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January 18, 2019 01:15 PM
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PJ Morton is gearing up for a jam-packed February.

The Maroon 5 keyboardist will headline the 2019 Super Bowl Halftime show on Feb. 3 alongside his bandmates — Adam Levine, James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, Matt Flynn and Sam Farrar — before hitting the Grammy Awards, where he’s up for four honors, including best R&B album for his solo record Gumbo Unplugged, a week later on Feb. 10. 

“You work hard and you expect and you want these things to happen, but there’s no guarantees,” Morton tells PEOPLE. “We were just in shock initially, and then all of the excitement came.”

Morton says that getting the opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl has been a “lifelong dream” of his as a musician, but it’s one currently marred in controversy as some fans have called for the band to forego the event in support of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who started the #TakeAKnee movement to protest racial injustices.

D Dipasupil/Getty

“I think there are plenty of people — a lot of the players, to be honest — who support Kap and also do their job for the NFL,” Morton says. “I think we’re doing the same thing. We can support being against police brutality against black and brown people and be in support of being able to peacefully protest and still do our jobs. We just want to have a good time and entertain people while understanding the important issues that are at hand.”

He adds: “There was a lot to go into that decision.”

Maroon 5
Travis Schneider

Despite some backlash about their decision to sign on for the high-profile gig, which Rihanna reportedly turned down, Morton says their focus now is on the music.

“You can get bogged down by those things, we’re not focusing on the negative now [while] being aware, being open, and definitely not ignoring the voices,” he says. “But we’re definitely not focusing on the things that don’t help, that are counter-productive. We’re blocking out the noise. We’re just doing what we do. We look to have a good time.”

As to whether the band will make some kind of statement during the performance, Morton plays coy: “We’ll see, man,” he says. “We got some time before we get there, and whatever we do, I’m going to stand behind [it] and be proud to be up there doing what I do. I want to make sure we get the show down, and that’s the matter at hand right now.”

RELATED: Thousands Have Signed Petition Asking Maroon 5 to Cancel Super Bowl Show to Support Kaepernick

On Jan. 13, it was announced that Travis Scott and Atlanta native Big Boi of Outkast will join the band for their headlining performance, which will be held at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

“Travis is an amazing musician, and he has had an amazing year,” Morton says. “Big Boi is Atlanta royalty. I went to Morehouse College so I was in Atlanta during the time when Outkast was really going. It was important to us to have an Atlanta legend a part of this.”

Morton will soon celebrate his ninth year as a member of Maroon 5, as he first joined them as a touring member in 2010. He says being able to balance his work with the band and his solo projects has become “less of a challenge now.”

“I think we’ve found the rhythm,” he says. “There were challenges, initially, with us figuring out how I can balance both things. But I think we’ve gotten pretty good at it now, knowing the gap and knowing when Adam is taping [The Voice] and all these things. Tours are planned pretty far in advance so I’ve kind of gotten the hang of it.”

He adds with a laugh: “It only took eight years to figure it out.”

Maroon 5
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Airbnb

Maroon 5’s hit “Girls Like You” is nominated for best pop duo/group performance at the upcoming Grammys. Along with his nomination for best R&B album, Morton picked up nominations in the best R&B performance category for “First Began” and in the best traditional R&B performance category for “How Deep Is Your Love.” Last year, he earned nominations for Gumbo and for “First Began.”

“It feels amazing to put your heart into something and to have people notice it not one year, but back-to-back,” he says. “It really makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing.”

Both years, Morton says he was on tour when he found out about his nominations. This year, though, was different in that the nominations fell on the last date of his More Gumbo Tour.

“The first award they announced was best R&B album so I almost fell out of the bed,” he says. “I texted family and my band because they were so much a part of this live album. I woke everybody up, and it was a good day. We ended the tour, and we celebrated the nominations after the show.”

In the past, Morton has collaborated with musicians like Solange Knowles, Erykah Badu and The Roots. Though he says he doesn’t get starstruck much, he admits it’s pretty surreal to say that he knows Stevie Wonder now.

“I have his number, but I’m still scared to call!” he says. “Unless I really, really need something. So I guess I haven’t gotten comfortable with the relationship — I don’t think I ever will. He’s Stevie Wonder, he’s my hero.”

As for the turning points in his career, Morton lists two: one being when he first joined Maroon 5, and the other when he moved back to his hometown of New Orleans, where he recorded his Grammy-nominated albums Gumbo and Gumbo Unplugged (Live) and released them through his own record label, Morton Records.

“I would definitely say moving back to New Orleans has been the most recent turning point,” he says. “That’s where Gumbo came out of and now Gumbo Unplugged and these Grammy nominations that we’re talking about. That definitely brought me back to myself.”

Maroon 5’s 2019 Super Bowl LIII Pepsi Halftime Show airs Feb. 3 on CBS, and the 61st Grammy Awards will take place at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Sunday, Feb. 10. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m. EST.

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