“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ Lady Gaga will incorporate politics in her halftime show, but rather, how far she will go,” confidently predicted USA Today last week.
Surprise! Lady Gaga avoided doing any overt Trump bashing or political monologuing during her highly anticipated and spectacular set during Super Bowl LI. The singer did seem to touch on the current political climate by singing “God Bless America,” citing a line from the Pledge of Allegiance (adding a bit of emphasis on “liberty and justice for all”), and throwing in a riff on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” But even the most ultra-sensitive Trump supporter would have a rough time taking offense at such flag-waving, apple-pie chestnuts — especially compared to Beyonce’s in-your-face Black Lives Matter shout-out last year.
“America, world, how you doing tonight? We’re here to make you feel good, you want to feel good with us?” she assured the Houston crowd midway through her 13-minute performance and even gave a shout-out to her mom and dad.
The effects-filled set had Gaga opening the show by singing “God Bless America” in a silver suit on the top of the stadium, then she descended on wires onto a tower to bust into “Poker Face.” Leave it to Lady Gaga to totally surprise by playing it safe — politically, at least (her wire-assisted dive to the field sure looked harrowing).
Prior to the game on Sunday, the performer hinted that there would be some kind of political component to the show.
“I have an opportunity with this performance to show a different part of this country that those who think that they are so different from me and my fans — to see that our hearts are really the same,” she told Michael Strahan in an interview Sunday. “It’s like the mecca for performers. We have 13 minutes with the world.” Directly pressed if she’d make some kind of political statement, Lady Gaga replied, “I’m extremely inspired.”
And in another interview, she said, “The only statements I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career. I believe in a passion for inclusion, the spirit of equality and the spirit of this country, one of love and compassion and kindness.”
Last year, Beyonce caused controversy during last year’s Super Bowl by paying tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the weeks leading up to the game, there was a rumor that the NFL warned Gaga not to talk about politics or Trump, but the league publicly blasted the report as “unsourced nonsense from people trying to stir up controversy where there is none.”
Gaga has long been an outspoken critic against Trump and protested outside Trump Tower while holding a “love Trumps hate” sign. But following the Super Bowl halftime show, the singer even scored a seal of approval from the first daughter:
While Hillary Clinton was among those who zeroed in on the “This Land is Your Land” reference, which as The Washington Post points out is a Trump burn if you’re big Guthrie fan or take the time to really dig into it.
So you could say that Lady Gaga gave both sides what they wanted. If you wanted a show that was pure entertainment and devoid of politics, you could easily watch the set and not see any at all — as most did. But if you wanted a message of unity that took a dig at the Trump administration, you could parse the history of her references and find that too.