Last year, although Coldplay headlined the halftime show at Super Bowl 50, it was Beyonce who stole the spotlight with her phenomenal politically charged performance that took on Black Lives Matter and police brutality.
Naturally, this year, a lot of people expected and hoped — and some even feared — that Lady Gaga would go political during her Super Bowl LI halftime gig, given the tense political climate of the country in light of President Donald Trump’s Islamophobic immigration ban.
But that didn’t happen — at least, not as loudly as Beyonce’s Black Lives Matter tribute.
Prior to her big performance, Gaga said she would promote "inclusion" and the "spirit of equality" during her show and she did just that when she became the first Super Bowl halftime singer to reference gay rights and utter the word “transgender” when she sang “Born This Way.”
A lot of people believe Gaga made a subtle reference to Trump’s draconian immigration plans when she hugged an unidentified young woman of color while singing the lyrics “please stay” of her song “Million Reasons.”
And that was it.
Her “Born This Way” performance, while incredibly moving and much-needed, was the only overtly political statement of her entire Super Bowl gig.
Here’s why: Gaga had already stated she did not plan on making an in-your-face reference to Trump or his controversial executive policies during her performance because she wanted “people that watch the half-time show to feel the greatness of the USA,” according to her interview to Atlanta’s 98.5 KLUC before the show. “Saying anything divisive would only make things worse. And that’s just not what I want for my country,” she added.
To some extent, this makes sense. It’s an artist’s choice to pick their own battles and, like Billboard’s contributor Joe Lynch wrote, Gaga “doesn't owe anyone a 'F--k Trump.'” So, the fact she chose to keep Trump out of her performance was understandable.
However, the disappointment of some people with her failure to highlight Trump’s bigotry, not even subtly, is also understandable for two major reasons: a) Gaga was the first Super Bowl halftime performer under Trump’s presidency, a period that’s been plagued by rampant racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; b) She has never shied away from making political statements on big stages.
That said, her performance was nothing short of stellar.
However, the reaction or criticism to Gaga giving an apparent pass to Trump highlights an important new phenomenon: entertainment platforms like Super Bowl are increasingly becoming a source of political commentary. While some might find it unnecessary, for a lot of other people, it has become an important form of political expression.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Robert Seale