After Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime Show last night, an inevitable flood of think pieces emerged online, all debating whether or not her performance provided a strong enough political message for Trump’s divided America. Some say yes, but many say no.
The Hillary Clinton supporter has been unusually quiet since the Presidential Inauguration, notably ignoring the Women’s March in D.C. and Trump’s recent immigration laws, despite being a vocal feminist and longtime advocate for inclusion. This left many Little Monsters to assume Gaga’s big message was waiting to be unveiled on the Halftime Show stage, though her statement in the end was too subtle for critics: an opening rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” and her mentioning LGBT people with “Born This Way.” Nothing more.
Gaga’s setlist was designed first for entertainment—not protest—spanning all her biggest hits, from “Poker Face” to “Bad Romance.” When performing these in the past, Gaga’s always infused her chart-toppers with challenging showmanship—bleeding on stage during “Paparazzi” or emerging from a vessel for “Born This Way.” This daring drama has elevated her radio singles, giving Gaga the reputation of being a pop provocateur who never plays it safe. Last night’s spectacle, however, was noticeably tame, which made Gaga's message depend entirely on a setlist that lyrically overlooked pressing political problems.
Had Mother Monster dove deeper into her discography to include "Angel Down," "Americano" and "Til It Happens to You," her Super Bowl performance would’ve offered a much stronger social statement on the world's biggest stage. An unfortunate missed opportunity, Gaga could've, and should've, bravely addressed relevant issues like racial inequality, immigration and sexual assault through these three tracks.
Lifted off Lady Gaga's last studio album, Joanne, "Angel Down" is a solemn piano ballad about Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. "Angel down, angel down, why do people just stand around?" she sings, referencing her qualms with America's Judicial system. "I was overwhelmed by the fact that people just stood around and didn’t do anything about [Trayvon] and that the justice system continues to over and over again not seek justice for these families,” Gaga said in an interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe.
The mariachi Born This Way cut was Lady Gaga's response to Arizona's anti-immigration law, SB 1070, which requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested when there is "reasonable suspicion" they are in the U.S. illegally. "Mis canciones son de la re-revolución," Gaga sings on the acid-house track, aiming to empower disenfranchised communities in our country. "Mi corazón me duele por mi generación." When the singer performed at Arizona's US Airways Center in 2010, she had the message, "Stop SB 1070," written on her arm, and told the crowd, "We have to be active, we have to protest."
"Til It Happens To You"
Co-written with Diane Warren for the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground, "Til It Happens to You" highlights the pain of sexual assault. The song, which was nominated for an Emmy, Grammy and Oscar in the same year, sees Lady Gaga remembering her own experience being raped at age 19 by someone she knew. "It’s something that changed me forever," she told Hollywood Reporter. In a nation where Trump's "pussy grabbing" rhetoric is passable, "Til It Happens to You" would've been a powerful option for Gaga's stripped-down piano moment.