The Super Bowl halftime show is perhaps the most highly coveted concert engagement in the American music industry. It’s a thirteen minute mini concert by a big name in music to not only entertain the camera and the jam packed stadium, but to also deliver statements – personal or political. Unhindered, unapologetic, and with no retribution.
In 1993, the King of Pop sang ‘Heal the World’ with over 3000 children to an audience more than ten times that large to drive home the philosophies of hope, compassion, and love after Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected President with a majority Republican Congress causing frictions between the Executive Office and the House of Representatives soar. Michael Jackson’s performance was a reminder of unity and a call to work together to provide a better future for children. Since then, hardly has anyone expected a Super Bowl halftime performance to be apolitical.
Last year, Beyonce made a cameo with her troop of fiercely dressed Black women as they nearly broke the stage with ‘Formation’. The message of her performance was clear: Black America would no longer stand for police brutality because of skin colour.
When Lady Gaga, a staunch supporter and campaigner for Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, was announced that she would headline the halftime show, expectations from both political camps soared. Gaga made it no secret that she was a victim of sexual abuse, and on several occasions, had taken stage to denounce and berate the actions of President Trump against whom a dozen lawsuits claiming sexual harassment was filed earlier last year. While Trump supporters waited with bated breaths and ready to denounce any anti – Trump statement Gaga made, resistance to demagoguery came, in fact, from the least unexpected of all places.
Two days before the Super Bowl was scheduled to start, several reports from The White House claimed that the President had asked his female staffers to ‘dress like women’ at all times. The comment worried even those that had stood by Trump during his refugee ban, and absolutely infuriated the others. This was, after all, the most powerful man in the world who had just won his election by claiming publicly “women should be treated like shit” and believed sexual assault and objectifying women were “common locker room talk”.
‘America the Beautiful’ was sung this year, prior to Luke Bryan’s National Anthem, by the Broadway trio of Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones who played the original Schuyler sisters from the hit musical Hamilton. Angelica Schuyler (played by Goldsberry) in the musical claims boldly that she was going to insist to Thomas Jefferson women needed to be included in the first line of his Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
Yesterday, when the sisters sang the line ‘God shed his grace on thee/And crown thy head with brotherhood’, Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler famous for her line ‘And Peggy’) piped up ‘And sisterhood’. The crowd, which included Trump supporters Tom Brady and the Patriots’ owner, erupted into loud cheers. This tweaking to the famous Katharine Lee song was a prompting to the football clubs to focus more on America’s female players, and a powerful wake up call that Americans – and the rest of the world – were still trying to let their leaders see that men and women were equal and deserve to be treated that way.
Lady Gaga was no slouch in her message either.
She started off her musical performance with a beautiful rendition of ‘God Bless America’ before delivering a statement of inclusion of unity by declaring “one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. This message was then immediately followed by her transgender anthem ‘Born This Way’ to a pumped up audience, among whom were the Vice President Mike Pence and his family. Pence, it should be noted, has a long standing opposition to the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Overall, the rest of Gaga’s performance was mellow as she sang a medley of several of her hits including ‘Million Reasons’, ‘Bad Romance’, and ‘Poker Face’. While not making its intent boldly political like Beyonce, Gaga still delivered a fantastic Super Bowl performance, that satisfied members belonging to both ends of the political spectrum. Or, perhaps, that was what she and her performance intended to do – promote bipartisanship, unite warring policy makers and remind themselves that America and American values always took precedent over presidents.