As Gaga sang the lyrics “this land is your land, this land is my land,” the more than 500 drones behind her lit up in a divided red and blue ― immediately one could interpret this as a nod to the red and blue divides of the current political climate; a statement of unity, of America still being all our land. She continued by reciting the final lines of the Pledge of Allegiance with the drones now lit up to look like a waving American flag: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all.” After jumping off the roof of the NRG stadium, many who were worried about her performance as a platform against Trump breathed a sigh of relief. They were off the hook, or so they thought.
Lady Gaga’s performance was political, just in a very Lady Gaga way. She’s always been known for being a provocateur ― who could forget the infamous meat dress, or emerging from a vessel at the Grammy’s for her first performance of “Born This Way” ― so many were understandably either surprised or relieved when she didn’t explicitly call out Trump during her 13 minutes on “music’s biggest stage.”
Maybe it’d help to put the first two of her songs she performed back into perspective. “Poker Face” is a song about her bisexuality; about how she’s not “bluffin with [her] muffin.” When first released, the song was controversial for being so open about her bisexuality, especially so early in her career. And “Born This Way” became an anthem of the contemporary LGBT movement. While gay rights have become much more mainstream today, one shouldn’t forget that “Born This Way” came out in a world before marriage equality, and in a time where several gay youth unfortunately entered the news cycle for prematurely ending their lives as a result of bullying. It seems tame for Lady Gaga to sing the lyrics today, but it’s still noteworthy that she’s probably the first artist to say the word ‘transgender’ on the Super Bowl Stage. With the notoriously homophobic Mike Pence in the audience, this point should feel particularly poignant.
But these aren’t the most important political aspects of Gaga’s performance. As she played the piano to transition into “Million Reasons,” Gaga asked, “America; world ― how are you doing tonight? We’re here to make you feel good ― Do you want to feel good with us?” And that’s the nature of Gaga’s political statement of the Super Bowl: in a political climate of partisan vitriol, alternative facts, and incessant bigotry, we need to remind ourselves of the reasons to ‘stay’; in a time where identities are under attack, it’s of utmost importance to let ourselves still ‘feel good.’
It’s this concept that drove the narrative of her performance. While many wrote off her “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” as being a safe, easy patriotic statement, one can’t help but notice how each of these statements has been scrutinized over the past year: are we really one nation, or are we divided between the middle states and the coastal elite? We sure as hell aren’t indivisible, and the concepts of liberty and justice don’t particularly align well with a Muslim Ban. Yet when Gaga spoke this line, she didn’t do so with an admonishing or indignant tone. Rather, she sounded innocent, almost like an elementary school teacher telling her students to ‘be nice to one another.’ Maybe it’s because we’ve survived challenges to our self-proclaimed ideals before ― the Civil War and Japanese Internment, for example ― or maybe it’s just her Poker Face.
Right after she spoke those lines, she jumped from the roof of NRG Stadium while the introductory bars of fan-favorite song “Dance in The Dark” played. And that’s what Gaga did for the remaining 11 minutes of her performance ― she Danced in the Dark that defines America’s contemporary political moment.
As she sang about the importance of surviving and being brave despite having a marginalized identity in “Born This Way,” she didn’t point fingers or play a victim; rather, she was dancing, the joy in her spirit radiating through the screen. She held out her mic for the fans in the front to scream “Baby you were born this way.” Yet this wasn’t a screaming of angry protest; it was a yelling from the top of their lungs how proud they are to be themselves. She danced her way through “Telephone,” a song that be interpreted as feeling suffocated in an age of mass-communication. Halfway through the song, she brought back the iconic disco stick as if to say “Yes, times are tough and things look dark, but let me be your light once more.” After putting on a gold jacket and grabbing her keytar, she reminded us to “Just Dance, it’s gonna be okay.” And as she walked away from her piano for “Million Reasons,” she smiled, reach out into the audience, and hugged a young brown female while pleading for her to “stay…. Stay.” She finished her set with “Bad Romance.” A song originally about wanting to hold on to a less-than-ideal relationship, in this context it seems like a plea for a split America: “I want your love, I don’t want your revenge; I want your love…” Yet even through this she was still dancing; she was still telling us to “walk, walk, passion baby, work it you’re a free bitch baby.”
And that’s what Gaga’s performance was really about. It was about still finding your passion, still being a “free bitch” even in the most combative of times. We must still Dance in the Dark; and while we must once again fight for our identities to be respected by law, if not by society, it’s still gonna be Okay. In a time so full of division and hatred, positivity can be a political act. It’s a way to declare that “you won’t control me or my happiness,” it’s a way to recapture one’s locus of control. It’s a statement against the legislating away of existance, because gay people, immigrants, and other minorities are now permanently a visible part of our nation’s fabric. Dancing and positivity can be a form of protest ― just look at the Gay Dance Party in front of Mike Pence’s house the week before the inauguration for evidence of that. And while she didn’t sing any lines from the song, perhaps the lesson Gaga was trying to tell us was that for these next four years, “[We’ll] never fall apart // Together, we’ll Dance in the Dark.”