Can Lady Gaga Handle the Super Bowl?


Design by Jena Salvatore Ah, the Super Bowl: the one night of the year where we lay down our differences, overindulge on wings, and cry at Budweiser commercials. Last year’s controversial halftime show, fronted by Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, and (ugh) Coldplay, had mothers across the country scrambling to keep their children from finding out who Malcolm X was. In another divisive move aimed at increasing ratings, the NFL decided on Lady Gaga to headline Super Bowl LI.

It’s hard to imagine the creator of Born This Way and football could be mentioned in the same breath, but here we are. It’s 2017, Donald Trump is president, and an icon of queer culture is about to interrupt the biggest white male circle jerk of the year. You should be excited.

But can Joanne, otherwise known as Lady Gaga, live up to the task at hand? When she first entered America’s consciousness, she eschewed definition. Like a generation of New Wave artists before her, she redefined pop with songs and style that were outrageous, but inescapable. There are hardly any college students today that couldn’t recite the chorus to “Just Dance” or “Poker Face.”

Then Cheek to Cheek happened. She had been slowly changing before her jazz standards album with Tony Bennett, producing weirder and more melancholy pop, but the 2014 album was the death knell of Gaga and the arrival of something that felt more like the real Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Last year on her newest album, Joanne, she swapped synth for acoustic guitar, her meat dress for a cowboy hat.

It’s easy to believe that Gaga doesn’t have it in her to take the halftime show from the hegemony, but you should choose to believe in the power of the platform. This is, after all, the yearly tradition that gave the world Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple (“accidentally” exposed by Justin Timberlake), Left Shark, and Prince’s gorgeous rendition of “Purple Rain.” On that stage, performers aren’t themselves anymore –they’re fodder for the anxieties and neuroses of sarcastic teens on Twitter and ultraconservative Midwestern moms alike, so something is bound to piss someone off and cause a media spectacle.

The game might also be Lady Gaga’s last shot at America’s undivided attention. Her new image seems much truer to herself, but she knows that she’s easier to ignore now. Today’s political climate, too, will absolutely play into her performance. In Trump’s America, Gaga can’t and won’t allow herself to stay silent, especially considering her fan base is hardly our president’s favorite people.

It’s impossible to say what exactly she’s going to do, but rest assured it will be big. Lady Gaga might be Joanne now, but she’s still just as much of a showman as she was all those years ago. Next weekend, she’s going to remind millions of people of that fact.

In the words of Joanne, herself, from her seminal album “The Fame Monster,” “Just give in / Don’t give up, baby / Open up your heart and your mind to me / Just know when / That glass is empty that the world is gonna bend, yeah.”

CultureJake SmithComment