Lady Gaga opened her halftime show at Sunday’s Super Bowl with an earnest call for unity.
Quoting the Pledge of Allegiance as she stood atop Houston’s NRG Stadium — and let’s pause here to salute her for willing that vision into being — the pop star was asking us to arrange our sorry, sectarian selves into “one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Beautiful words, and an even more beautiful sentiment. But they didn’t work, at least to judge by the deeply polarized response to my review of Lady Gaga’s performance, in which I expressed my disappointment that she didn’t explicitly address the recent actions of President Trump.
To be clear, readers agree I got it wrong.
But half of the many emails and tweets I’ve received since Sunday insist that it was precisely the lack of my longed-for political message that made the show such a success. And the other half tell me I’m too dumb to have recognized the very clear stand Lady Gaga was taking.
So which was it? Was the halftime show a welcome diversion from all that’s roiled us — “entertainment for entertainment’s sake,” as one person described it approvingly? Or was it, as someone else said, an “iconic” exercise in protest theater?
My feeling is that the prevalence of the first reaction diminishes the credibility of the second.
Many have applauded Lady Gaga in particular for doing her song “Born This Way,” a widely recognized anthem for LGBT rights, before an audience that included Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, who’s known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and his apparent support of conversion therapy.
And yes, the choice was an admirable one, as was Lady Gaga’s recruitment of a gorgeously diverse dance crew filled with folks of all shapes and colors.
That she could perform a song whose lyrics include the word “transgendered” at America’s biggest football game — and only months after an election in which the rights of transgender people were said to be diverting attention from the plight of coal miners — is a true victory for anyone who thinks this country’s arms can’t open wide enough.
The same goes for the singer’s use, early in the show, of a few lines from “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie’s complicated ode to a United States defined by splendor and hypocrisy.
I see you, Gaga.
But how many others in the Super Bowl audience did?
As even his supporters would acknowledge, President Trump has hardly ushered in a new era of intellectual nuance. His instrument is blunt, his manner brutish.
In my view, then, effective resistance to his ideas — and surely Lady Gaga resists some of them — must meet Trump not with knowing subversion but with the same intensity he brings to his inflammatory tweets about “bad people” and “fake news.”
That’s not even a political argument (or it’s not entirely one); it’s also an aesthetic strategy: You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, as the old saying goes.
Beyoncé understood that last year at the Super Bowl when she flipped wigs left and right with a rendition of “Formation,” her statement of radical black positivity, that rose to the level of urgency required by the moment.
But I needed more from the usually outspoken Gaga, whose showing Sunday was simply less impactful than the indelible sights and sounds we’ve witnessed over the last two weeks.
The emails I’ve gotten demonstrate that her message wasn’t getting all the way across — that she was merely reaching a choir eager to be preached to.