Oftentimes, the Super Bowl halftime show is memorable for rather innocuous reasons, such as Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in 2004 or Katy Perry’s uncoordinated left shark in 2015. However, in 2016 Beyonce changed the game and used her performance as an opportunity to promote the Black Lives Matter movement and criticize the increasing incidences of police brutality.
She did this explicitly by outfitting her dancers in Black Panther-esque berets, performing the black power salute, referencing Malcolm X through choreography and all to the tune of her hit single “Formation” — a song where she expresses pride in her identity as a black woman. Needless to say, responses to her decision to incorporate politics into her performance were mixed. Some praised her for using one of the most-watched events in American history as a medium to raise awareness for an important cause, while some accused her of being divisive and promoting anti-police sentiments. Regardless of how people perceived her performance, Beyonce’s message was forward, clear and thought-provoking.
And now, considering the increasing dissatisfaction with our current president and his policies, people were expecting Lady Gaga — an outspoken LGBTQ and anti-bullying activist and openly bisexual woman, well-known for her conspicuousness — to perform something as forthright. While the performance itself was outstanding, many were left to question its message, or whether there was a message at all. However, a closer look at her song choices indicates that her performance did have a purpose, and while it was not as explicit and inciting as Beyonce’s, it is just as important.
While Gaga’s opening medley of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” might seem like a nod to American nationalism, it was actually a subtle critique of it. After all, “This Land is Your Land” was written by Woody Guthrie as a rebuttal to “God Bless America.” Both songs depict America in different ways. The former paints America as desolate and poverty-stricken yet open to everyone, even those who are poor, while the latter depicts it as luscious, majestic and the property of its citizens.
By combining the two, Gaga still describes America as beautiful, but not without its faults and more importantly, as belonging to everyone. This is noteworthy considering President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration and recent immigration ban. With the current political situation and the seemingly growing divide between social and racial groups, it seems as if the nation is going to shit. Gaga’s rendition instills a sense of hope that things aren’t as bad they seem and that we all belong here regardless of what the current administration seems to think.
In addition to her mash-up of “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless America,” Gaga also performed her inclusive and LGBTQ-positive anthem, “Born This Way.” Besides being one of her biggest hits, the song promotes self-love, open-mindedness and pride with one’s identity. From the very beginning, this song was meant to be a jab toward bigots, and performing it with such a large audience only increases its reach.
Granted, these meanings are indeed subtle — and maybe they were missed initially because they weren’t even there in the first place. However, when Gaga’s predecessors had nip-slips and dancing sharks, the decision to perform a patriotic medley and a song about inclusiveness seems like a deliberate one.
Gaga’s performance wasn’t as controversial as Beyonce’s, but in a time when protests and riots are rampant, more conflict is not what this nation needs. Gaga’s performance promotes unity and solidarity in these trying times, especially when it seems like certain people are intent on dividing the nation further.