You could say Lady Gaga blew the roof off at the NRG Stadium in Houston at the Super Bowl. The roof, which was closed for the game itself, opened up to allow the singer to start her halftime set from on high.
Gaga set the theme from the get-go, fusing snippets of “God Bless America” and the pledge of allegiance with “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie’s statement about an America of inclusion.
The singer promised an “inclusive” performance herself, though the LGBT-rights champion’s definition of inclusion is likely not the same as the National Football League’s more narrow attitudes about gender. She performed the gay-rights anthem “Born this Way” soon after descending to the stadium floor like a Cirque Du Soleil high wire act in android boots and “Ziggy Stardust”-style makeup. It was a somewhat subtle message that was likely not lost on her fans, but wasn’t aggressive enough to rile the tens of millions of viewers less familiar with her social-political views in between visits to the refrigerator.
“How ya doin’ tonight, Texas, America, world,” she said. “We’re gonna make you feel good.”
And Gaga pretty much delivered on that promise. The set was mostly a brisk, feel-good run through of some of Gaga’s greatest hits. In contrast to past years, which were heavy on cameos, the artist and a bevy of dancers performed without high-profile guests. A rumored collaboration with her recent duet partner, jazz great Tony Bennett, didn’t happen.
She made a case for that ’70s relic, the keytar, on “Just Dance,” and blasted out zesty, if compressed versions of hits “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” in what was essentially a 12-minute medley. A recent ballad, “Million Reasons,” performed at the keyboard, was the sole downtempo track. Otherwise this was Gaga in uptempo mode delivering a visually striking show that filled the screen.
And why not? Gaga has always been a performer who has understood the impact of the visual, pouring her talents into videos and concerts packed with ideas and provocative images.
Some fans undoubtedly hoped for something more edgy, in keeping with the Gaga who can push buttons with the best of them. But performers who push the limits of decorum as defined by the league and the networks, either voluntarily (Madonna, M.I.A.) or not (Janet Jackson) usually find themselves at the center of Monday-morning controversy. It’s not a bad place to be in this social-media era, but more recently the game has been framed as a giant marketing opportunity — a way to preview a new album or major tour, as Beyonce, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars have done.
It would seem inevitable that Gaga will follow suit with a tour announcement of her own in the next few days (or even hours).
Luke Bryan took the baton from Gaga, who sang last year’s pre-Super Bowl National Anthem. Bryan epitomizes “bro country,” the kind of artist who soundtracks spring-break blow-outs for a living. In other words, he was the perfect choice for singing the anthem before America’s biggest nationally televised frat party.
Whereas Gaga went over the top with a 2-minute, 23-second performance, Bryan — dressed down for the occasion in jeans and v-neck shirt — kept his version steady and stately. There were no ululations or bouts of over-singing, other than a long held “braaaaaave” at the finish, which tipped his anthem past the two minute mark, at 2:04.
He was preceded by the Schuyler Sisters, from the original Broadway cast of the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” who performed “America the Beautiful,” notably adding the words “and sisterhood” to the lyrical reference of brotherhood.
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