To speak or not to speak: The choice is Lady Gaga’s at the Super Bowl

Lady Gaga at a Super Bowl news conference Thursday in Houston.
Lady Gaga at a Super Bowl news conference Thursday in Houston.
(Tannen Maury / EPA)
Pop Music Critic

Lady Gaga isn’t one to pass up an opportunity to make a statement.

In 2010, the pop star famously wore a meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards as a way to critique the soft brutality of female beauty standards. And when she performed at the Academy Awards last year, she surrounded herself with young people identified as survivors of sexual assault.

Now she’s preparing for a gig — and a platform — bigger than any other: the halftime show at Sunday’s Super Bowl, which she’ll headline before an estimated television audience of more than 100 million viewers.

But how to make use of this closely watched moment?

Lady Gaga certainly has things to say about LGBT rights and the plight of the marginalized. And she’s certainly known for saying them — albeit in settings (like a Hollywood awards show) generally sympathetic to progressive causes.


Yet the Super Bowl is a different proposition, as Beyoncé found out last year when her halftime performance of the black-pride anthem “Formation” inspired a conservative backlash.

For some, America’s highest-profile football game — a locus of so-called traditional values — wasn’t the place to express such an idea.

That view is sure to be even more widely held this year. The U.S. seems particularly polarized in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his tumultuous first two weeks as president.

In cities across the country, protesters have come out in enormous numbers against such actions as a ban on travelers from certain predominantly Muslim countries.

But polls show that many of those who voted for Trump — millions of whom, it’s safe to say, will be watching the Super Bowl — endorse what the new president is doing, despite an overall approval rating hovering around 43% according to Gallup, which has measured job approval for presidents for decades.

Last fall Lady Gaga publicly supported Hillary Clinton for president, and she was photographed on election night holding a sign that read “Love trumps hate” in front of Trump Tower.


At an NFL news conference on Thursday, though, the singer appeared to tamp down expectations that her Super Bowl production would take specific aim at President Trump.

“The only statements that I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career,” she told reporters — a sign, perhaps, that in this deeply divided environment she’s looking to avoid the type of criticism that Beyoncé triggered.

Then again, for all the scorn heaped her way, Beyoncé’s performance of “Formation” was hailed by many as the most consequential Super Bowl moment in years. And Lady Gaga is hardly indifferent to the need to be seen as moving the needle, especially given the lukewarm reaction to her latest album, last year’s “Joanne.”

A bit of controversy might serve to get people talking about her again, and just as she’s expected to announce the details of an upcoming world tour.

After all, if even a corporate giant like Budweiser is willing to make waves — as the beer company did this week with the early release of a seemingly pro-immigrant Super Bowl ad — you can bet that Lady Gaga is thinking hard about where she wants to stand.


Twitter: @mikaelwood


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