when gaga took the super bowl

At last night's Super Bowl, Lady Gaga crowned her comeback with an incredible performance. Surprisingly, given last two weeks America has endured, and what we know of Gaga, what the show lacked was an explicit political message.

by Tom Rasmussen
06 February 2017, 12:35pm

"One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The closing words of America's Pledge of Allegiance were some of the opening words for Gaga's Super Bowl 51 half-time performance, just before leaping off the roof of the NRG Stadium in Houston; abseiling a la Tom Cruise circa Mission Impossible into a roaring pit of football fans.

You'll surely watch it, but the performance itself went a little like this:

*Sings This Land Is Your Land written by Woodie Guthrie, a response to the Berlin Wall (perhaps Gaga's only real indiscreet message to Trump)*
*Abseiling, flipping mid-air (iconic)*
*Poker Face*
*Born This Way (this was ace, retaining its political-pop-anthem-for-the-queers feel with guys and gals in pink plastic capes giving it, all over the stage)*
*Grabs keytar*
*Just Dance*
*Patriotic statement*
*Million Reasons on piano*
*Hugs fans, who are definitely planted due to choreographed audience dance moves, and all of them wearing earpieces (creepy)*
*Patriotic statement about Super Bowl and champions*
*Bad Romance (iconic)*
*Gif-able mic drop*
*Gags disappears, tonnes of fireworks*

Read: Before she released Joanne, we pondered why the return of Lady Gaga matters.

The reigning queen of the unexpected, it was an unexpected move for Gaga to make the most watched performance of her career uncharged with any sort of direct political message; doubly unexpected in such a time of political turbulence for an America which she is so proud of. The fifteen minute tour de force, vocally intense, stupendously choreographed trip-through-the-hits felt like it came from a different star than the Gaga who protested in a monster truck outside Trump tower on the day of his win, a different Gaga from the star who has built a career on speaking up for the oppressed and crying at big gay marches and stuff.

"I have an opportunity with this performance to show a different part of this country that those who think they are different from me and my fans — to see that our hearts are really the same," Gaga explained on Friday in a special pre-show press conference. The disappointing thing for those who once believed Lady Gaga could actually save humanity is that while a good intention, the show didn't really do that either. In fact it was really patriotic and kind of celebratory of the hyper-masc American Football industry: both systems which, by nature, omit diversity, and freedom, queerness, women, people of colour. It's really hard to get on board with any sort of full-on patriotism—because borders are constructs anyway—so when the iconic Gaga is spouting "God bless America" and "this land is your land, this land is my land", and "the Super Bowl is what champions are made of" you can't help feel a little let down.

It feels like high-treason to criticise Queen Gaga, who shouldn't necessarily be held accountable for being the voice for the underdog all the time, as she once was. If this was Taylor Swift, or Katy Perry, we would never even question the political intentions of a performance, and settle for a sickly-sweet-pop-performance. But it's Gaga: once the most famous, talked about, outrageous star in the world, there was nothing she wouldn't do, or say, or wear, if she thought it needed doing or saying or wearing. In fact, for my generation it was Gaga who made expressing yourself and being a loud and proud activist the thing to be: the number of queers I know who have an actual tattoo of a paw with 'Born This Way' scrawled beneath it is more than is countable on two hands. But after a tumultuous few years, an unfair fall from the throne (Artpop was a masterpiece, screw the critics), topped off by her critically-attacked Bowie tribute at last year's Grammys (her last big public performance, which was genius even though it was slated), the star had a lot to prove about her stakes at being a real pop-star, with real longevity. And she proved it, no doubt, just not very politically.

But is it the job of our pop stars to be political? Some might answer no, but I think it's a yes. Of course it is. You have 115.5 million-ish people watching (that's only 15 million less than votes cast in the 2016 US election), now is the time to send a message. When something shitty happens in the world we don't look to Theresa May, or Donald Trump, or even Jeremy Corbyn for guidance. We look to our artistic icons to speak up for us, and to represent their fans in their output: something which Gaga is still, thank Ru, famed for. Notable mention for Born This Way, reductive as it might be, for it is more political to sing those lyrics now, in Trump's America, than at the time of its release in 2011. If clutching at straws, it could be argued that there's politics in the union brought about by shared joy, by entertainment, and that was definitely the mantra under which last night's Super Bowl 50 performance was designed.

It's all a perfect plan, then, to drop news of the Joanne World Tour (obv still going) straight after she disappears off stage. Last night's performance was up there with one of Lady Gaga's most iconic, beautiful, skilled performances in her career: remove the need for politics, or plant this performance back four years, and she killed it on every level. But the truth is that right now we need a little more bite from our stars: especially the ones who are famed for their politics, especially when the world is watching.

For those slightly disgruntled by the lack of controversiality, a Gaga-Super Bowl fan fiction to conclude:

Lady Gaga descends from what looks like the openings of a vagina-shaped heaven-like land, atop 500,000 semi-naked queers of diverse body type making out in a giant human stiletto formation. She's holding a flag which declares the beginning of the revolution towards freedom; she's singing Born This Way. At the moment of climax (during the questionable rap which details the bunch of ways you can be 'born this way'), it is declared on Instagram via a surprise visual album that through the gathering of such gigantic swathes of Gaga-hype energy, Donald Trump has somehow been deleted from the face of history (and Twitter). Not so coincidentally homophobia, racism, transphobia, misogyny: they've all come to an end, globally. The press go crazy: finally giving Gags the adoration she deserves, she resumes her place as rightful queen of the gays, and it turns out that in this new Queertopia there's no need for leaders, or social media, or war, or borders, or Rita Ora's America's Next Top Model presentership. 

Read: Why Trump's ban is an attack on all Muslims.


Text Tom Rasmussen
Photography Wolfgang Tillmans [The Hedonist Issue, No. 313, Summer 2011] 

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