Many Americans were bracing themselves for the halftime show of the Super Bowl Sunday. Lady Gaga, a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter and left-leaning activist, had a huge stage for 13 minutes. Recent precedent suggested such a performance could not take place without some kind of obvious anti-Trump political statement. Some boycotted in anticipation.
Those like myself, who like sports to be an oasis from politics, were skeptical but hoped for the best. She’s a great performer with a great voice. She’s also been inventive in her career, if not subtle, so a run-of-the-mill Trump denunciation would have felt pretty tired. It would have won her plenty of the usual social media plaudits, but she went a different route. I underestimated her.
Gaga opened her performance atop the stadium, clad in iridescent armor, singing “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” against a back drop of the American flag formed by the red, white, and blue head lamps of 300 synchronized drones.
She transitioned to the Pledge of Allegiance, pointing at the sky for “under God” and adding special emphasis to “for all.” Some, seemingly looking for offense, accused Gaga of omitting “under God,” but she did not.
Gaga then tore through a medley of her greatest hits, even teasing the Houston audience by doing a verse of her Beyoncé collaboration “Telephone” but without an appearance by the hometown diva. Power move. She sang a cappella, she played the piano, she said hi to her parents, and she put on a hell of a show.
She hugged someone briefly during her song “Stay,” and the Internet is trying to figure out if that had any political significance. “This Land Is Your Land” was written by folk singer Woody Guthrie as a response to “God Bless America,” with critical lyrics and a chorus of “God blessed America for me,” so, the performance was not without its messages.
But they were subtle. They were savvy. They were interesting. So interesting, Gaga no doubt earned many new fans—or, at the very least, grudging respect from skeptics, who will be more open to her work and the work of her Born this Way Foundation and its Share Kindness campaign than they would have ever been had she taken this opportunity to read Mike Pence some scathing slam poetry. It was the opposite of blowhard. It was art, and in times like these, unifying.
I confess my bar might be low these days if I’m elated by a performance without a lecture, but not going full Streep required some gumption from Gaga and I appreciate it.
She did exactly what she was there to do, on the biggest stage in the world, and she did it so well, it’s hard for anyone to argue with it.
Many Americans were bracing themselves for a Patriots romp at the Super Bowl Sunday. Outside of the New England region with its residents who are wicked awesome at snow shoveling and Super Bowls, few were excited about an easy Patriots win. Recent precedent suggested such a performance would be a robotic and uninteresting flattening of the Atlanta Falcons under the boots of the Belichick/Brady juggernaut.
Brady, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft are all friends of President Trump’s. Trump was rooting for the Patriots, who it must be said, win so much they might be tired of winning. It was all too much for some. Columnists demanded Brady “explain” his friendship with Trump and “apologize,” and attacked his patriotism because he’d once been spotted wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in 2015.
Those, like myself, who had no particular dog in this fight, were skeptical but hoped for a good show. He’s a great quarterback with an almost miraculous ability to focus and win. A flogging of the Atlanta Falcons would have felt pretty tired. It would have won him plenty of sportswriter and social media plaudits, but he went a different route. I admit I underestimated him.
Down 21-3 in the first half thanks to an authoritative performance from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons defense, Brady looked uncharacteristically rattled at times. Down 28-3 in the third quarter, he looked uncharacteristically cornered. But the Patriots made the best of a flubbed fourth-quarter Falcons pass on third and 1, recovering and later scoring to bring the game to within 8, and a couple more bad pass play calls that took the Birds out of range of the field goal that might have put the game out of reach.
In the end, Brady’s performance wasn’t without his customary dominance and grit. But it was different. It was unexpected. Brady no doubt earned new fans—or, at the very least, grudging respect from skeptics—who will be interested in his game, no matter his politics. He won dramatically and he won graciously, though not without knocking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell obliquely in his acceptance speech, which is something we can all get behind. He orchestrated the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, was named MVP in the only overtime the Super Bowl has ever seen, and he accepted the giant trophy from his nemesis while acknowledging his sick mother, in the crowd to watch her son win.
It was pure sport, and in times like these, it was unifying.
He did exactly what he was there to do, on the biggest stage in the world, and he did it so well, it’s hard for anyone to argue with it.
I’m thankful for both of them for being good at what they do. Sunday night, they showed art and sports and people can be so much more complex and surprising and enjoyable than politics allows them to be. It was pure fun, and in times like these, unifying.