“Watching Gaga?!” I texted my 62-year-old father on Sunday evening.
“Fantastic,” he replied.
That pretty much sums it up. Lady Gaga kept me in awe for the 13 minutes of flying, fire and fierceness that was her Super Bowl halftime performance. Gaga has been quite outward about her political opinions in the past, but refrained from directly addressing politics despite the immense visibility of the Super Bowl platform. She noted in an interview with an Atlanta radio station that she wanted to refrain from “saying anything divisive.” By doing so, Gaga managed to unite viewers in her electric performance and let the mantras of her music do the talking.
Atop the upper edge of Houston’s NRG stadium, Gaga began sentimentally, crooning a mashup of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.” She then dropped into her speaking voice to recite a segment of the Pledge of Allegiance. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice,” she paused briefly, cocked her head a little, and finished the phrase, “for all” with a little lift in her voice. Her slight tone change seemed to say, “Remember? the core of our country is really that simple — liberty and justice (and football) for everyone.”
Gaga managed to keep herself remarkably cool and collected during this patriotic intro — all while knowing she was about to launch herself head-first off of the 260-foot-high roof the stadium. In hindsight, her composure was stunning. I bungee jumped off a 360 foot high bridge last summer, and could not even form words leading up to the jump because I was shaking so aggressively. But I digress. After this intro, Gaga flung herself off of the stadium’s edge in a squirmy, spider-woman-like sprawl. She landed cleanly on a platform, clearly high on adrenaline, and belted “I’m on the edge!” before breaking into a fierce, metallic shoulder bop during the intro of “Poker Face.”
A few airborne maneuvers later, a harnessed Lady Gaga planted firmly on the stage for an energetic rendition of “Born This Way.” Iconic for its celebration of diversity, the ballad was accompanied by troupe of multiracial dancers who surrounded Gaga as she sang, “No matter black, white or beige…I was born to be brave.” This ode to self-acceptance and love is inherently political, and the artist let the lyrics ring as the instrumentation silenced when she sang, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life, I’m on the right track baby I was born to survive” while the crowd clapped along. The combination of the choreography and the anthem was electric, collective and intoxicating. How could you not clap (or excitedly hip-shake) along?
Lady Gaga literally did not skip a beat while transitioning into “Telephone.” The pop monster’s captivating weirdness surfaced here and flowed into “Just Dance.” Some of the highlights included: An oversized star spear, Gaga convulsing sideways in a random man’s arms, a male dance squad doing *NSYNC-like moves while wearing spiky puffer coats and Gaga using a dancer as a human mic stand while playing a keytar. Needless to say, she kept me in a jaw-dropped trance for what was then a seven minute mashup of my middle school jams.
By this point, my roommate and I had our money on a Joanne reveal — specifically “Perfect Illusion” ’s notorious key change — but instead Gaga simmered down into a candlelit “Million Reasons.” She utilized this mellow piano ballad to put things in perspective. She asked “America — world — how you doing tonight?” While undoubtedly aware of the huge scope of her performance, Gaga seemed genuinely grounded — she juxtaposingly shouted out, “Hey dad, hi mom,” after the first chorus. The singer even ventured into the audience to hug one of her starstruck fans before vamping it up for the “Bad Romance” finale.
By the end of what may have been the quickest 13 minutes of my life, Lady Gaga reminded me of what true dedication to art of live entertainment looks like. She reminded me of what it feels like to be moved into movement, to dance along to a song about diversity and inclusivity (“Born This Way”), as well one that simply celebrates dancing (“Just Dance”). While Gaga neglected to capitalize on the Super Bowl’s 111.3 million viewers to voice her opinion of the current political climate, her values rang clearly, accessibly and attractively through her music. Lady Gaga reaffirmed the power of the arts to bridging gaps: She used the spirit of music not only to voice her beliefs, but to inspire people (even 62-year-old dads) to sing along with her.