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Was Lady Gaga's halftime show political? Or not political enough? Four arguments for the former

Lady Gaga performs during the halftime show of Super Bowl LI in Houston. (EPA)
Lady Gaga performs during the halftime show of Super Bowl LI in Houston. (EPA)

Heading into Super Bowl Sunday, plenty of people were predicting that Lady Gaga's halftime show would spark controversy. They weren't wrong, but the debate created by Gaga's performance wasn't whether it was too political. Rather, it was about whether the performance was political at all .

Although many critics, including Sonia Saraiya at Variety and The Times' own Mikael Wood , found the production to be apolitical and uninspiring. Others disagreed, seeing the pop star's glittering spectacle to be a master class of subversive political messaging.

Here's what the latter saw in Gaga's show:

1. Gaga herself

When Lady Gaga locked down the halftime gig in late September, she ensured an artist who has given much of her career to advocacy for LGBT issues and anti-bullying initiatives would perform on a stage that reaches more than 100 million people worldwide. That alone, some felt, ended up playing out like a rebuke of the current presidential administration.

2. Patriotic medley

Before ( seemingly ) diving into NRG Stadium, Gaga began her set with a few stanzas of "God Bless America" before transitioning into Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and landing on a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance.

What would seem like good old-fashioned patriotism gets more complicated when considering the inclusion of Guthrie's classic, penned in 1940 and originally titled "God Blessed America for Me."

As noted by the Washington Post , a lost verse of the song included the lines:

"There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me."

Though Gaga may have been unaware of the protest origins of the song, she is surely aware of folk legend Guthrie, who regularly performed with a guitar declaring, "This machine kills fascists."

3. "Born This Way" and Vice President Mike Pence

"No matter gay, straight, or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I'm on the right track baby
I was born to survive"

During a set that crammed in most of her greatest hits, Gaga included "Born This Way," her radical anthem of self-acceptance and inclusion, a message that was potentially resonant for one audience member in particular.

Vice President Mike Pence attended the Super Bowl and has an embattled history with the LGBT community , previously referring to homosexuality as "a choice" and saying that preventing gays from marrying was enforcement of "God's law" and not discrimination.

Lady Gaga and friends (EPA)
Lady Gaga and friends (EPA)

4. Unity in diversity

There was something vaguely nostalgic about Gaga's halftime show, which featured a sea of backup dancers who looked like a bedazzled United Colors of Benetton ad.

The united-in-diversity vibe was particularly powerful when coupled with Gaga's past message of inclusion and surrounded by so many Super Bowl ads with messages of unity .

Case in point: Coca-Cola resurfaced a commercial from 2014 embracing multiculturalism, a choice that seemed especially pointed.

Was Gaga's halftime show political? Or is apolitical impossible in the current cultural atmosphere?

"The only statements I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I have been consistently making throughout my career,” Gaga said in a news conference Thursday. “I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality and the spirit of this country. It’s one of love and compassion and kindness. So my performance will uphold those philosophies."

Check out the entire performance below.

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