Halftime in America: perfect tribute or wasted opportunity?


Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show has left the nation with a lot to talk about. The Super Bowl Halftime Show has become something of an American institution. It is a show that is about so much more than sport; an artist who can score the Halftime Show gig is the modern day equivalent of performing at Madison Square Garden. So when Lady Gaga was announced as this year’s sole headline act (no guest performers allowed – she was taking this one all by herself), there was a buzz surrounding this famously controversial artist. Choosing Gaga to headline the Super Bowl alone! The woman who wore a dress made of meat to the MTV VMAs and was carried into the Grammys in a giant egg would surely cause some controversy at the Super Bowl, especially given America’s current political situation. Then, the day came! …and she didn’t.

Gaga’s Super Bowl performance was, in many ways, an exceptional success. She began her set with a beautiful and impassioned version of “God Bless America” on the roof of the NRG stadium. Her voice was as clear and crisp as a bell, cutting through the night while red, white, and blue stars twinkled behind her. She proceeded to literally leap off the stadium roof and tumble down onto a throne of silver spikes, from the lofty heights of which she belted out her 2011 hit “Edge of Glory.” Her performance never slowed down; she managed to retain the infective energy and showmanship which catapulted her to global stardom throughout the entire 15 minute show. She did all the hits; “Born this Way,” “Just Dance,” “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” as well as a moving piano rendition of her 2016 hit “Million Reasons,” which was the only song from her most recent album Joanne to be performed. Her performance was captivating, showy, and thoroughly entertaining. In many ways, what else can you ask for?

Yet, despite the obvious entertainment value in Lady Gaga’s performance, I can’t help but feel disappointed that she didn’t utilise her platform of 15 uninterrupted minutes of performance time to draw light to the tumultuous state of American politics. In fact, scratch that, disappointed is an understatement. I feel ripped off; because, isn’t that Lady Gaga’s whole thing? Yes, she’s a pop star, but she’s also a staunch activist! Her songs have always been great, partly for the music, but equally for the statements they put across. Gaga is the queen of controversy, so much so that she has to actively go against her normal formula by not bringing something new and shocking to her performances. Bringing politics to the Super Bowl may seem contrived, but lest we forget Beyonce’s Malcom X themed performance of Formation last year, which was both flawlessly entertaining and an important tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.

I know what you’re thinking. The Super Bowl has never been political. It’s a sport’s game, for goodness sake! Leave your demonstrations at the door, we don’t want them. America wants sports with a side helping of Katy Perry riding on a light up tiger. But, this isn’t Katy Perry. This is Lady Gaga. This is the woman who stood tall and proud astride a monster truck holding the sign “Love Trumps Hate” outside Trump Tower after the election results. This is the outspoken LGBTQ+ activist whose political agenda has never been separable from her works as a pop star. For Gaga, Left Shark just doesn’t cut it.

Many critics claim that her performance was highly political. “Think about that moving rendition of God Bless America,” they cry. She said the words “This Land is Your Land!” How inclusive! How progressive! To some extent, I do agree with them. Signing “Born This Way” in President Trump’s America is a political statement after all, however depressing that may be. To some extent, the sheer act of having Lady Gaga as the sole headliner of the Half Time Show sends a powerful message. It defines American Icon as a brave LGBT pop powerhouse, a woman who laughs in the face of Right Wing gender boundaries and is unapologetically herself. If the Super Bowl is an American institution, then that makes the Super Bowl headline act the embodiment of an American hero or heroine, a worthy role to cast Gaga in. She has proven her activism before, during, and after the performance; she did not let the body-shaming internet trolls who picked on her stomach go without letting them know that “This is Me! Get Over it!” Although I can’t help feeling that she could have, or even ought to have done more, her presence alone signifies an America that supports ALL of its people and doesn’t intend on changing that any time soon.

Also, do we really need any more half-hearted thinly-veiled anti-Trump speeches that ultimately do nothing? Meryl Streep recently launched an attack on then President-elect Trump at the Golden Globes, in which she expressed her disgust that the President-elect of the United States was a man who recently mocked a disabled reporter. Her speech was calm, well put together, and moving. While I greatly admired her for speaking out and using the platform that her fame gives her for good, one couldn’t help but notice that what she was saying was nothing new, however well she put it. As a rule of thumb, free speech is a very, very good thing. Yet, Streep’s speech was not ground-breaking enough to convince anyone to stand against Trump who didn’t already feel that way. As for Trump fans, her speech will become yet another point driving them further and further away from the “biased” liberal elites. I greatly admire Streep for speaking up, but all the media headlines brazenly declaring “Meryl SLAYS Trump without even mentioning his name!” are crediting her for not actually solving anything. So, although I would have loved nothing more than for Lady Gaga’s performance to include an anti-Trump statement, I can’t help feel that her subtle, entertaining form of protest which reminded everyone just who she was and what she stood for while not repeating what has already been said before was very subtly powerful.
Maybe Lady Gaga has also learned her lesson after years in the business. She’s toned down her act recently, opting for quality over gaudy shock factor displays. Maybe she’s learned she can’t rely on caking herself in slime and glitter to sell units unless the music behind the façade is actually good. And musically, her Halftime Show smashed it out the park. After the flop of ARTPOP in 2013, Lady Gaga has gone back to basics (or at least as much as she can while retaining her incredible performative nature). In an odd twist of fate, Lady Gaga’s display of politics-in-moderation has hit the headlines to a greater extent than the many anti-Trump speeches have. Her performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show lacked drama, but made up for it in energy, sparkle, and sheer entertainment factor. Good on you, Gaga! I salute you for your talent, your subtle political message, and for continuing to break from the crowd.


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