Maybe Tony Bennett should’ve shown up after all.
When rumors began circulating last week that Lady Gaga had arranged for her 90-year-old duet partner to appear during the halftime show at Super Bowl LI, the prospect rang alarm bells for anyone hoping that the outspoken pop star would address the tumult that’s spread through America in the two weeks since Donald Trump was sworn in as president.
What was she planning? To turn the Super Bowl into a supper club?
Well, Bennett didn’t materialize Sunday — but neither did the kind of bold, banner-waving performance for which Lady Gaga is known (and loved).
Instead, the 30-year-old singer offered up a disappointing 12-minute medley that lacked any edge or tension yet also failed for the most part to deliver the kind of warm reassurance that Bennett might’ve mustered.
The gig started out promisingly, with Lady Gaga belting out lines from “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land” on top of Houston’s NRG Stadium, the city’s skyline twinkling dramatically behind her.
Then she recited a bit of the Pledge of Allegiance — unity was clearly the idea she was going for — and took a swan dive toward the football field.
That’s an opening, folks!
Once she reached earth, though, Lady Gaga merely ran through a handful of her hits as dutifully as if she were playing the 48th date of a yearlong world tour.
“Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” “Telephone” (minus an also-rumored appearance by Beyoncé, with whom she recorded the tune): All are fine pop songs, with surging rhythms and powerful melodies.
But here, performed on a glittering chrome set that looked left over from the 1980s, they just sounded like objects of distraction, catchy baubles meant to entertain us in the absence of a broader message — a message, for instance, like the one that three women from the cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton” delivered when they added the word “sisterhood” to their lovely rendition of “America the Beautiful” earlier in the game.
Lady Gaga performs during the Super Bowl 51 halftime show.(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
Lady Gaga and her backup dancers get into gear at the Super Bowl 51 halftime show.(Elsa / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga plays the piano as crowds and candlelight form her background at Super Bowl 51.(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Lady Gaga struts on the angular stage during the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl 51 halftime show.(Tom Pennington / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga switches up costumes during her halftime performance.(Larry W. Smith / EPA)
Lady Gaga and her dancers.(Larry W. Smith / EPA)
Lady Gaga shows she’s as limber as any pro athlete during the Super Bowl halftime show.(Larry W. Smith / EPA)
Lady Gaga adds some heat to her Super Bowl performance.(Larry W. Smith / EPA)
Lady Gaga gets swept off her feet.(Larry W. Smith / EPA)
Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl show is a fiery display.(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga is carried aloft on a wire during the Super Bowl halftime show.(Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga soars above the Super Bowl during her halftime show.(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)
Lady Gaga flies through the air mid-song during her halftime show.(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga pulls some aerial tricks at the Super Bowl.(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
Smoke sets the scene as Lady Gaga flies through the air in her halftime show.(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga sets down onstage after an aerial display at the Super Bowl.(Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga is surrounded by her backup dancers at the halftime show.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga and her dancers onstage.(Elsa / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga performs on a pedestal during the halftime show.(Elsa / Getty Images)
Even “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga’s stomping ode to the value of individuality, felt like a missed opportunity to join the conversation about who rightfully belongs in this country.
This was her moment to say something profound (or at least grandly scaled) about American acceptance — yet she passed, seemingly eager to move onto the infinitely lighter-weight “Just Dance,” for which she hoisted a shiny keytar, again escaping into the past rather than facing up to the harsh reality of 2017.
The show improved during “Million Reasons,” Lady Gaga’s heartfelt stab at a mournful country ballad, which she did while seated behind a piano, one leg hiked up onto her piano bench, as audience members on the field waved illuminated torches. (It was leagues better than the dreary national anthem sung by an actual country star, Luke Bryan.)
Here was an instance of what felt like real emotion — and real personality — amid a tightly choreographed production that did little to acknowledge the outside world.
“Hey, Dad,” she said, evidently spotting her parents in the crowd. “Hi, Mom.”
You wish she’d taken in more of what was going on offstage.